On a tour to teach positive psychology and the study of happiness, Christophe Goll from Sweden has visited numerous ecovillages. Loving contrasts, he spent some nights in a 5 star hotel in between, and now is trying to seduce an old friend into trying the ecovillage life. This is the result.
My wonderful friend, Piotr, is the successful man many mothers hope for. Our friendship started in an office tower in 2001, when I was longing for everything the corporate world promised. Today our friendship is a Bollywood movie in which we are lovers from opposite castes.
I was in Zajezova, Slovakia, when Piotr contacted me. I have been to 60 ecovillages and Zajezova, it must be said, is an especially lovely one. So Piotr contacted me and said I could tag along on his next business trip in nearby Krakow. This would be four nights in a fancy hotel. I love contrasts and said sure!
My last night in Zajezova was in this charming dorm room on a bed of straw, with a chimney that looks pretty but heats little. “People of Zajezova have in their hearts the warmth that lacks in their bedrooms” is my improvised translation of a French song: “Les gens du Nord ont dans le coeur la chaleur qu’ils n’ont pas dehors.”
A last visit to the dry toilet, a hug to everyone – including Tonicka the pregnant goat – and off to Krakow. No time to freshen up. I check in the five-star hotel with mud on my shoes and the smell of the prototypical ecovillager who showers … some days.
The hotel was an avalanche of yummy. Five stars of yummy every day for four days.
The sauna. Yummy.
The buffet of unlimited delicacies. Yummy.
The king size bed with king size pillows. Yummy.
Happiness is being happy about our lives and being happy in our lives, and the two are quite independant of each other. When I say that the hotel was ‘yummy’ I mean that ‘I was happy in my life’. My belly was happy, my body was happy. I felt full of positive emotions the way the buffet was full of expensive food.
Expensive food … of which 80% goes to waste (I asked the waitress). Oops! And here come the ‘oops’. The waitress had a big smile, the same big smile I got when entering the gym. The big smile I got from everyone everywhere I looked. But they were not Duchenne smiles. Oops! Why oops? Because a Duchenne smile is a ‘real’ smile: one that involves the muscles of the eyes, not just those around the lips.
Turning my attention to ‘being happy about life’, the five-star experience suddenly had ‘oops’!
Saying yes to life in an ecovillage is saying no to standard life. Standard life is clear, simple; it is the mono-currency life where all that we experience is based on money. Who we are is based on money, too, and we call it status. If this life was a chair, it would be a beautiful chair made of platinum, but it would have only one leg. You could sit on it, but you would feel stressed.
Saying yes to life in an ecovillage is saying yes to a multi-currency life. If this life was a chair it would be made of wood and would have at least six legs, one for each basic human needs: security, excitement, significance, connection, growth, contribution.
How difficult is this journey from mono to multi-currency! We know what we lose: money. In other words, we loose status, approving colleagues, the yummy hotels and corporate perks. What we gain is uncertain: we have vague notions of a life with vaguely more Nature, vaguely more connections, and vaguely less stress.
I have read books and research papers making one fact really clear: more money does not bring more happiness. And yet when reading this fact, I have to knock myself on the head to make it sink in. ‘Money is not a path to happiness’: I know it, and yet I don’t know it. This is Piotr listening about life in community. He hears promising truths that are vaguely enticing. But they’re not sticking.
I can’t help thinking that I know better than Piotr what would raise happiness by a notch. Try the ecovillage life! I tell him. There lies the secret formula to happiness about and in life! Now in Warsaw, people hand me leaflets advertising restaurants. When they say “Try my restaurant!” I hear myself saying to Piotr “Come visit my ecovillage!”
It takes a dose of charisma to talk about ecovillages and make them sound yummy. I sound dry when I explain that dry toilets don’t smell. I explain that our monkey great-great-grandparents loved community and the longing is still with us, but I sound prehistoric. I tell people that privacy exists in community but I feel like I’m selling a carpet they never asked for.
I won’t go to a restaurant based on a leaflet. Piotr won’t visit an ecovillage based on my advertising. If one day he does, it will come from the simplest source: a Duchenne smile. ‘Being the change I want to see’ and letting it come out in a smile.
After years of visiting communities and learning the science of happiness, there is one life change that I realize crystalizes most of the teachings of positive psychology. The ecovillage life.
Now on my way home to Sweden, after the five-star experience I went back to the future: to a lovely zero-star caravan in an ecovillage on a hill. And there, the ecovillagers of Bhrugu Aranya gave me one more wonderful lesson in smiling.