The Happiness Inquiry

A teacher's quest to cultivate happy habits in her students


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16: A Sense of Home

This morning, Greg and I swam in the North Sea at a little beach just a few blocks from our Copenhagen apartment. Our flight was leaving in 3 hours but we had to squeeze in what we could!

Now, just 17 or so hours later, we are back in Chicago, bellies full of deep dish pizza and eyelids heavy because we’re on Denmark time and it feels like 5:00 a.m.

The trip really did go by as fast as everyone warned me it would. Our time in Aarhus flew because we were so settled, and the days were paced in such a relaxed way that hours would slip by without you even noticing. I got so used to the relaxed pace that a very busy day consisted of an interview for the happiness documentary, a yoga class and Wednesday market day grocery shopping/cooking lunch. Ahh…the life. I shall try to hold onto some of that pacing back here in Chicago. Walking places by choice. Chatting with market vendors. And always stopping to find the birdies in the treetops.

Norway was all go-go-go since our time there was very brief. Lots of driving. Gorgeous, jaw-dropping scenery. Unbelievably expensive food that I could have cooked better. Mountains.

And then we landed in Copenhagen to round out our final 2 days, and try as I did to get us to all of the delightful-sounding neighborhoods, cafes, and diversions that I’d compiled, we only made it to about half and had to be happy with that. More days of walking 14+ miles while being very leisurely about it at the same time.

It was definitely sad to leave Denmark, and we lamented all that we didn’t do, or didn’t do long enough, or didn’t go back and check out for a second time. Yet I do feel that we truly enjoyed our time and allowed ourselves to get a feel for the country and the people as much as one can in a month.

I have so many take-aways, observations and amazing interview recordings, and I can’t wait to create this documentary and share it with everyone. I know actually putting it all together is going to be a major process and not necessarily one I’m prepared to undergo, but I look forward to the learning experience–and who knows? Maybe it’ll turn out to be a hidden talent! In any case, there are posts I’ve planned on writing and never had, and things I saw and never shared, but I intend to put a lot of that into the documentary itself.

Since the goal of this blog was to share my travel experiences and reflect on things that made me grateful and happy on the trip, and I’m now back home, sitting on my own couch, trying to finish this blog and not fall asleep, I think this is the time where I must say bye for now. I’ll still be thinking about happiness, and have several articles to read recently sent by my uncle and another on I need to translate out of Danish. The research will continue, rest assured! However, I won’t be writing regularly any more after this, just to, for example, share the link to the documentary once it’s done.

I’ll leave with this: traveling is definitely a rite of passage. It takes you out of your familiar surroundings, makes you more observant, more sensitive and forces you to think. It allows you to recognize what you take for granted, and revise tastes and preferences. You can surprise yourself, by discovering that you have unexpectedly made yourself at home in a place that once seemed so foreign and strange, or in other cases, find that you can’t quite get comfortable even when it seems you ought to be able to!

With all this in mind, today I am most grateful for the sense of home, wherever you are lucky enough to find it. I had it in Aarhus, but not so much in Ålesund. I think I would’ve had it in Copenhagen if I’d been there long enough to settle in, or maybe if we’d visited another city in Norway that was neither the capital nor the tiny tourist town. In previous travels, I had it in Padova and Freiburg, but not Munich. I definitely have it here in Chicago, my favorite place of all. Just smelling the air near O’Hare had an affirming effect on me, and I must have felt mighty relaxed on the blue line because I fell asleep sitting up almost instantly and stayed that way until we almost missed our stop. Only when you feel at home can you pass out cold on the train, I don’t care how jet lagged you are!

So enjoy your sense of home, everyone! It’s a precious thing and not to be taken for granted. 🙂

Thank you all for your encouraging comments and for sharing in my experience. It’s been a pleasure doing this work and I look forward to piecing together the documentary, which will delve much deeper into the happiness inquiry. Check back in in a couple weeks to take a look!

Ciao for now 🙂

Kat/Ms. Henry

 


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15: Insight

The night of the Sukkertoppen Hike, we decided to hang out a bit in the hotel lounge overlooking the bay before heading to bed. I ended up having a nice long chat with the front desk attendant, who seemed happy to have someone keep her company for a bit during her graveyard shift. She was originally from Romania, and shared with me her story about her accidental move to  Ålesund. While visiting a relative for what was supposed to be a 3 week vacation, she ended up being offered a summer job at the hotel and thought it sounded like a fun thing to do just for a few months. At the end of August, the company offered her a year-long contract. When she saw the salary she would be receiving compared to what she might get back home for the same work, she simply couldn’t refuse it. 

Four years later, Ålesund is her home, but she wants to leave. Yes, the money is better than ever (several promotions and raises later), but she misses her friends and family and the laid back lifestyle she had in Romania. People in Norway are perfectly nice, she said, but not terribly warm. In all that time, she hadn’t made a really good friend, and she found that had to shut herself down a bit to avoid feeling disappointed all the time. I certainly didn’t visit long enough to draw any real conclusions, but I got the sense that the culture there wasn’t as accepting or liberal as I had enjoyed so much in Denmark. Of course, it’s beautiful and incredibly wealthy in Norway, but in the end can you be happy someplace without good friends and family nearby, or that unmistakable sense of being home?

Talking to this woman was a highlight of this whole trip for me. She was open, honest and down to earth. I’m so grateful for these moments when someone shares their insights with me, and can only hope she got half as much out of our conversation as I did.


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14: Reaching the Top

According to my handy dandy fitbit app on my phone, on Saturday Greg and I had already walked 5 miles just exploring around Alesund and visiting a couple of museums. We were both feeling a bit rundown from a poor night’s sleep (it doesn’t get truly dark out in Norway this time of year, and I guess I’m just not used to it). A little midday nap was sounding pretty good come 5pm, but we only had one day in Alesund and I REALLY wanted to hike up the Sukkertoppen. I’d read that from there, you get a breathtaking view of the Atlantic Ocean to the East, Alesund to the West, and a number of smallish mountains to the South. The pictures looked awesome. 

So we decided that we would head out to the “mountain” (it’s 300 meters high, or about 1000 feet, or like if you walked UP about two city blocks). The first 2 miles just to get to the trail head were not terribly pleasant; a slow trudge slightly uphill through a dingier part of town with limited shade on a very sunny evening. 

When we got to the trail, there were two locals ahead of us getting started on their hike. They looked like pros. One man, it turned out, was RUNNING up the path. Another lady, probably in her 60s, had her nordic walking sticks and went zooming right up. I figured it couldn’t be too bad at all! Wrong. I mean, it was doable, but by no means easy-peasy. After about 10 minutes of steady climbing, I realized I was pretty out of breath and extremely thirsty. We stopped for our first of probably half a dozen breaks on our way up. Along the way, we were passed by a number of more experienced hikers than us, all moving at a pace I couldn’t believe and many without even a water bottle! Halfway up, the running man from the beginning whizzed past us, presumably already having reached the top and headed back down again. I mean, I don’t think of myself as out of shape, but I think it’s fair to say that hills, whether on bike or on foot, have a way of wearing me out pretty darn fast. I guess this isn’t something yoga and Chicago biking has really conditioned me for, huh? Time to start running regularly again at the very least. 

The woodsy walk up before the rocks got really huge.

The woodsy walk up before the rocks got really huge.

On at least five occasions, I was sure that we had reached the top. The ground ahead appeared to flatten out and the sky opened up. A few steps later, I’d realize my foolishness. Ahead lay another uphill climb, this time with the added fun of boulders to clamber up instead of a root-laced path. I handled the disappointment with relative grace the first several times, but when we finally got to the pre-summit and I gazed up at the final 100 or so steep “steps” that lay ahead of me, I admit that I briefly considered calling good good enough. The view by then was pretty sweet, after all. But luckily I do have a stubborn side and was pretty determined not to wimp out, and Greg wouldn’t have stood for it anyway—the guy is not a quitter. 

Anyway, I don’t want to give the impression that this was utter torture or anything. It was actually pretty enjoyable despite all of the panting and fear of running out of water (I had NOT brought enough—a 12 ounce bottle for the both of us, half of which was consumed on the too-sunny roadside walk to the trailhead). The scenery was beautiful the whole way up, though, and the forest smelled unreal.

So I dragged my sore legs up the last 20 meters, and then I saw the real view. Like, 360 degrees of gorgeous deep blue water and dark green hills everywhere you looked. It was the closest I’ve experienced to being on the top of the world, I think. 

What do you say? Does it look like it was worth all the effort? 

Ahh....

Ahh….

Looking back the way we came--whoa!

Looking back the way we came–whoa!

Sweet, I have arrived.

Sweet, I have arrived.

Greg learns about each little island by using this neat device--just line it up to the one you want to know about, and get its name and distance from where we're standing.

Greg learns about each little island by using this neat device–just line it up to the one you want to know about, and get its name and distance from where we’re standing.

One of Greg's expert panoramas.

One of Greg’s expert panoramas.

The day Greg learned how to take a selforama. Pretty groovy trick, eh?

The day Greg learned how to take a selforama. Pretty groovy trick, eh?

Oh, and check it out—after the walk back, and then to and from dinner, when all was said and done, we had walked 32,992 steps, or 13.98 miles. Not bad for a day of vacation! In the end, I was pretty glad to have done it and am pumped for another hike when we go to Colorado in three weeks. 🙂


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13: Scenic Drives

I’m still a bit stunned by the drive we took today. It had to be the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen in person, and without question the prettiest journey from Point A to B, beginning to end and without lapse. 

There’s so much I want to write about, and I’m suddenly feeling like time is going too fast and I’m several posts behind (I still haven’t told you guys about the AMAZING sand sculpture exhibit we saw back in Aarhus, or the ferry ride to Oslo, or a quite intense art museum experience that I will be talking about for years).

But for tonight–it’s 2 am in Ålesund, yet the western horizon still shows the oranges and pinks of a recent sunset–I’ll keep is simple and leave you guys with some pictures from our drive today. We took the E6 from Oslo through Romsdalen, where Greg’s ancestors are from, and finally landed here, in this port town all done up in an Art Nouveau architectural style which we’ll explore in more depth tomorrow.

I’ll post in order of increasing magnitude, which coincidentally is also the order in which they were taken. 🙂

Heading out from Oslo we saw a few of these neat bridges.

Heading out from Oslo we saw a few of these neat bridges.

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Wall o rock!

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A neat little church. Did you know that it used to be mandatory for Norwegians to attend church, no exceptions? Some had to travel quite a long way to get there, so they had special changing houses next to the church so you could switch from your hiking clothes to your Sunday best.

About 90% of our drive today featured some sort of water nearby--we saw lakes, rivers, so many waterfalls I failed to photograph, and finally the North Sea.

About 90% of our route today featured some sort of water–we saw lakes, rivers, so many waterfalls I failed to photograph, and finally the North Sea.

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This one really doesn’t capture the magnificence of these mountains. Rivulets of water danced down the faces of the rocks, and in other places waterfalls poured 200 feet down into the riverbed. The mountains looked like they were crying with the shimmer of the water.

Mighty mountain, topped with clouds.

Mighty mountain, topped with clouds.

This is the house where Greg's great great grandfather Knut was raised. We wondered today whatever made him want to leave such a picturesque homeland.

This is the house where Greg’s great great grandfather Knut was raised. We wondered today whatever made him want to leave such a picturesque homeland. What a backyard…

Ålesund: town by the sea

Ålesund: town by the sea. Photocredit Greg Dhuse.


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12: New Orleans

Ok, I know I’m in Denmark right now, and farther than ever from Louisiana, but for the past two nights I’ve had the privilege of enjoying some good old, knee-slapping, toe-tapping, horn-tooting, booty-wiggling, brass-forward New Orleans jazz on the streets of this very Scandinavian town. After finishing a meal of oysters and king crab, Greg and I were lucky enough to saunter down the very street that brought us to this little slice of heaven.

This week is Jazz Fest in Aarhus, and it’s marvelous. Just turn a corner and there’s another venue offering up who knows what sort of it–I’ve seen listings for a solo stand up bass act, trios that rock it Keith Jarret-style, and old timey bluesy with a crooner up in front. I honestly enjoy most any of it, but since it just so happens that after Chicago, New Orleans is my second favorite place in the world, to find a piece of it here is perhaps a little bit for me like being home, just for a few moments.

Tomorrow I’ll post a cute video of an older couple cutting a rug cobblestone path, but for now it’s bedtime since we have a big (and uncharacteristically early) day tomorrow. Wake up and eat something, go pick up the rental car, and then it’s off to Norway! Drive 2 hours, take a ferry for 4, and then another 2 hours and we’re in Oslo. 🙂 More soon and in case I don’t say it enough, thank you thank you thank you for reading, folks!

 


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11: Home Cookin’

Growing up, the kitchen was my mom’s sanctuary. The entire cooking process all the way through doing the dishes was therapeutic for her, she said. She was (and still is, just don’t get to enjoy it as often) an awesome, cook, too. She did the classics really well: lasagna with all day long-simmered marinara sauce was my perennial birthday dinner request, but I also loved her fried drumsticks, chicken and rice, and roasted chicken and gravy. To prepare these dishes, she’d disappear into the kitchen for hours at a time while I was probably tucked away in some corner reading a book, both of us enjoying our alone time. In retrospect, my mom probably only allowed herself that one activity in solitude because at the end of it all, she was still creating a meal for us to eat. She was never one to partake in purely self-serving activities, you see. That’s just my mom. 🙂

The result of years spent staying out of the kitchen? I didn’t pick up many cooking tips as a kid. In college, I did work as a Cook’s Help and enjoyed sneakily assembling dishes without measuring like I was supposed to. I never did like exact measurements so baking has been a bit more of a challenge for me…But still, there was only so much actual cooking I got to do in that position, and in the end I was only slightly better off than before. Living alone after college, I mostly enjoyed making myself “killer salads”, as I call them. There’s no cooking involved, really, just a lot of fresh veggies and ALWAYS an avocado and some soft cheese, like a goat or feta. I admittedly was a bit thinner living alone, but still not fit to cook for anyone, including myself.

Luckily, from 2009-2011, I was fortunate enough to live with the sister Marks, also known as Gwen and Meliss, and Liz, who were all quite a bit more experienced that I was in the kitchen and exposed me to all sorts of delicious foods. They also came with a number of useful gadgets, quality pots and pans, and cookbooks (two made by the sisters themselves) that I was at liberty to experiment with as I so pleased, and they were always willing to give me last minute advice and answer questions when I got hopelessly lost. 

It didn’t take long for me to realize that cooking was not only something I could do pretty well, but it was something that I actually needed to balance out my day. My roommates learned that on Kat’s dinner night, it’s best to just leave her be with the music blaring, and definitely don’t talk to her–she’ll lose her momentum and probably measure wrong or burn something. This was especially true because starting then and still today, five years later, I love to cook new recipes the majority of the time, and feel like that requires a bit more attention.

But even if I had the recipe memorized, it wouldn’t matter. It turns out that I’m just like my mom when it comes to cooking, and prefer it be just me, some music, an open window if it’s nice out and the ingredients until it’s all said and done. And don’t expect me to have it ready when I said it would–tack on an extra 30 minutes at least. Again, just like her. I just get so relaxed that I guess I dilly-dally sometimes. Once everything is finished, though, the more the merrier! Cooking for others is one of my favorite things to do in the world and luckily, my friends don’t seem to mind. 🙂

All of the plated pictures below are dishes I’ve made on this trip. Below all that are some throwbacks. 

Salmon roasted with a lemon/garlic/dijon sauce

Salmon roasted with a lemon/garlic/dijon sauce

A really simple dish you should try at home--roast some salmon in olive oil, salt and pepper wrapped in foil for about 12 minutes. Serve on couscous and a salad of avocado, chives, olive oil and lime juice. Based on a recipe from the first cook book I ever owned.

A really simple dish you should try at home–roast some salmon in olive oil, salt and pepper wrapped in foil for about 12 minutes. Serve on couscous and a salad of avocado, chives, olive oil and lime juice. Based on a recipe from the first cook book I ever owned.

My first attempt at french fries (twice fried) and a burger to quell some nostalgia for home

My first attempt at french fries (twice fried) and a burger to quell some nostalgia for home

Pork fricassee with a creamy mushroom sauce. Man, this one was good...

Pork fricassee with a creamy mushroom sauce. Man, this one was good…

This recipe I made from a Danish cook book--chicken curry with fresh snap peas and cherry tomatoes. Also, coriander--aka cilantro.

This recipe I made from a Danish cook book–chicken curry with fresh snap peas and cherry tomatoes. Also, coriander–aka cilantro.

Roasted garlic

Roasted garlic

Broiled whitefish with remoulade and dill, alongside roasted new potatoes.

Broiled whitefish with remoulade and dill, alongside roasted new potatoes.

The Marks sisters taking names in the kitchen one friends Thanksgiving, about 5 years ago.

The Marks sisters taking names in the kitchen one friends Thanksgiving, about 5 years ago.

30th Birthday friends dinner in Wisconsin--the perfect birthday gift!

30th Birthday friends dinner in Wisconsin–the perfect birthday gift!


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10: The Good Kind of Tired

We enjoyed probably our last long bike ride for the trip today (bike rental goes back tomorrow), and it was perfect weather for it! We headed 29 or so miles out to Silkeborg and had some memorable experiences to be sure, only to come home and boil a lobster, which may have been the most daring adventure of them all. In case anyone is concerned, I’m still an omnivore, but I can’t say I loved doing that to the poor girl (even if she did end up tasting delicious).

Before I sleep like the dead as one does after such a ride, I thought it’d be easy enough to post a few pictures from today.

Panorama from an observation tower

Panorama from an observation tower

Pretty cows!

Pretty cows, but watch out for that fence! Oww…Just kidding. 😉

Standing above a beautiful forest path, which just moments later a thoughtful woman passing by suggested we reroute onto for the rest of the way into Silkeborg. Great tip!

Standing above a beautiful forest path, which just moments later a thoughtful woman passing by suggested we reroute onto for the rest of the way into Silkeborg. Great tip!

We came upon these hills covered in wild flowers--pretty neat!

We came upon these hills covered in wild flowers–pretty neat!

The sunset on the way back was killer but unfortunately, inadequately photographed.

The sunset on the way back was killer but unfortunately, inadequately photographed.

So what do we DO with this thing? And is it still alive by any chance (my irrational fear, not Greg's).

So what do we DO with this thing? And is it still alive by any chance (my irrational fear, not Greg’s)?