10/14/2014 12:14 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

I Now Pronounce You Happy

I think we'd all agree that life is filled with unexpected experiences. This is especially true, it turns out, when you travel overseas. And it's even more true, I now know, when you do it for an extended period of time.

Take, for example, my recent participation in Barcelona's fire-throwing parade, and the moment I realized that actual fire was about to be thrown my way.


The good news is that not every unexpected experience has been about escaping death. Instead, several have brought unexpected lessons for a happier life.

Three recent lessons have proven themselves to be particularly happiness-building. I present them to you now...

Lesson #1:
There is no such thing as control.

The big Picasso Museum re-opening in Paris got delayed until after we left town. Our apartment in Barcelona fell through one week before we arrived. A loved one died back in the U.S. during our time away.

And, no matter how hard I tried and despite our limited hot water supply, I couldn't get Hubbie to shut off the sink for even a minute during his morning shave. Which took a while.

Plan as we might, in the end we really have no control about how things will go.

Now, we can make our plans, and I advocate doing this 100 percent. But we cannot let those plans mean everything. Their success or failure alone cannot determine our happiness or misery. Because sometimes those plans will fall flat. Life will do what it wants. And people will, too.

But wait... this is a good thing! Because the seemingly crappy stuff... the stuff we didn't plan for... is what forces us to grow, learn, expand, discover. It's what forced me to find other beautiful art, to secure a new (and better) apartment, to remember to hold loved ones closely whenever I can, to be more efficient in my showering.

This isn't about accepting that we can't control the outcomes of life. It's about not even trying to. We must know that if things don't go as planned that it's more than OK. It's teaching us something new. It's part of the magic of life. Even the really hard stuff helps us learn and grow.

So drop the tension in your shoulders that comes with trying to control everything. And, say it with me...


I now pronounce you free.

Lesson #2:

Do not surround yourself with poop-heads.

I begin this lesson with a picture taken shortly after our arrival in Madrid last week:


I just couldn't completely hide my crabbiness. I was tired, I was weary, and...frankly...Hubbie was getting on my nerves.

Now, to be clear, I am a big Hubbie fan. And throughout our six months together packed into tight European quarters, we've actually done pretty well (despite the shaving thing). Part of the reason is because we just like each other.

Because we know the other person isn't a poop-head.

I've said it before. Life is too short to surround yourself with people who aren't delightful. Who aren't on your side. Who don't make you laugh. Life is too short to spend it with poop-heads.

Pick the people you spend your time with -- including partners, friends and bosses -- very, very carefully. They are the ones you travel on this journey with -- literally and metaphorically speaking. They make a big difference in your day... can make your day a blast or a bummer. So choose wisely.

And know that, even then, no relationship is perfect. We're all different, which means there will be differences. And when they happen, we need to work it out carefully and with respect (and with as few crabby-faced photos as possible).

So cut out the poop-heads and bring in those who delight you. Every chance that you can.

I now pronounce you joyful.

Lesson #3:
Chill that inner voice out.

I learned this one from lots of conversations with my foreign compatriots.

You know why the French have the reputation that they don't like to speak English? Because they're afraid of getting the accent wrong and looking foolish. You know why people from England have the reputation that they are a bit cold and stiff-lipped? Because they're afraid of saying the wrong thing and offending people.

You know why most of us don't always pay attention to what others are saying? Because we're too busy listening to that freaked-out, inner voice of ours telling us we're about to screw up in some way.

At one time or another we all have to deal a nasty, critical, negative-Nellie in our heads. And we must work hard to make it stop. Life is so much better... so much lighter... when we're not living under some kind of distorted, self-abusive cloud.

So recognize when you're inner dialogue is being ridiculously critical and force it to chill out. And if nothing else, take solace in the fact that the inner voices of the people next to you are freaked-out as well.

No matter where they're from.

I now pronounce you peaceful.

So there you have it... a few life lessons from afar. No doubt there will be more coming soon. Just as soon as the adrenaline in my body subsides.


I now pronounce you happy... and free to go.