The Joy of Walking

I recently found myself relaxing on Dronning Louises Bridge in the heart of central Copenhagen.  The bridge, affectionately referenced as Copenhagen’s hipster bridge, is the perfect spot for enjoying the late afternoon sun.  Situated as it is, the eastern side is bathed completely in warm white afternoon light. Though ostensibly a bridge built for cars, it was taken over long ago by bicycles and pedestrians. One of the great automotive arteries that once fed central Copenhagen has been re-worked, narrowed, and refined with pedestrian benches and sidewalks wide enough for five people and two dogs to stand abreast.  The old streets have been further narrowed in favor of bike lanes in each direction which can comfortably handle two, perhaps even three bikes, shoulder-to-shoulder in the middle of rush hour. After all, the bridge, which sees more than 30,000 bikes pass across its old square stones, is no minor thoroughfare.  Not unlike the once great and mighty Colorado River, Norrebrogade has been narrowed – its grand flow of cars and buses choked to a trickle of what they once were. Yet, unlike the great Colorado whose story is a sad one, the story of Louises Bridge is a happy tale still being written.

Live Better: How I Seek Inspiration

Antalya Near Sunset

A few years ago I made an internal decision:  I was happy dedicating myself to my career and to “growing up” but that I was unwilling to simply blindly conform to what society told me I was supposed to do.  Perhaps the most extreme case is the push to find the perfect girl, get married, toss up a white picket fence and to get a dog all by the age of 25.  On a smaller level, the messages were clear – act your age.  Which is to say, don’t jump into puddles. Grow up. Leave behind your pre-pubescent sense of humor.  Frankly, it’s bullhonkey.  Which isn’t to say it doesn’t have merit.  I have friends who have done the white picket fence route and love it.  It’s also important to learn how to carry yourself and when splashing through puddles or laughing at dog farts is acceptable.

My philosophy over the last few years has been to look to young children and old men for inspiration.  These two groups operate by their own set of rules and seem to have a rich appreciation for life that most young and middle-aged adults have forgotten.  Children have the wide eyed innocence and curiosity of youth, two things that most of us lose as we grow older.  Old men have a vast mixture of experience, wisdom, and perspective which can only come through a lifetime of experiences.

Want to live well?  Observe what these two groups do and then try it. You may not like it, but if you’re like me – chances are it will open your eyes to a wealth of different experiences which you’d otherwise miss out on.

Just what do I mean?  Here are a few examples:

Child With Balloon - Bergen, Norway

My Inner Child

Today while walking home in a light snow storm I was hunkered down, frowning, and feeling slightly bitter. As I impatiently stood at a stop light debating jaywalking I paused and watch a young kid who was far more entertained than annoyed.  Instead of standing there cold and vexed he turned full into the blustering snow flakes and tried to catch them on his tongue.   It looked ridiculous and childish – but let’s be honest, which was actually more ridiculous?  Him standing there, tongue out, in the middle of a snow storm that he was enjoying thoroughly – or me, standing there muttering to myself.  I almost missed the moment completely.  Inspired, and with a chuckle – I decided to abandon my sour sulking and to follow suit.  Together we stood waiting for the light to turn, faces uplifted, mouths open, and giant smiles on our faces.  My mood changed immediately, and that one small act has re-framed the rest of my afternoon.

As I mentioned above.  I still jump into puddles.  That’s right, I’m 27, 193 cm tall (6’4″), about 190 pounds and if you catch me on a rainy evening , you’ll see me splashing around in puddles like a kid.  It drives some of my friends crazy.  Others, after a brief hesitation, will join me. There’s something liberating about it.  Something empowering, and energizing. There’s a reason that street scene has come to define Singing in the Rain.  More than the specific act though, I think it ties into taking stock of small moments which can be turned into enjoyable experiences.  It’s the small things that can add the most to our day-to-day lives.  When rushing from meeting to meeting armed with a brief case, and shielded behind a suit and tie that’s easy to forget.

Be curious. Kids and their questions can be borderline obnoxious at times.  As an expat, I find that re-visiting a child’s curiosity is a huge asset.  Why do things work the way they do?  Am I confident enough to ask about things I don’t understand?  Why do words mean what the mean?  Re-discover your inner curiosity.  Touch things, ask questions, taste things, smell things, and truly explore the world around you. As “Why” not “Why should I?”.

The City of Edinburgh

My Inner Old Man

One of the first experiments I ran was also one of my most successful.   I was aware that most older men knew how to, and enjoyed traditional dances.  At the time, this was in major conflict with my generation’s views on things like the Waltz or Foxtrot.  As a result, and out of an aspiration towards the ideal of the Renaissance Man, I signed up for a Ballroom/Latin/Swing course at my local University.  My friends thought I was either crazy, or was subtly coming out of the closet.  This was back in 2004 and pre-dated the widespread resurgence of traditional dances that Dancing With The Stars and So You Think You Can Dance have helped bring to fruition. I’ll never forget the first day of class. I had no idea what to expect, and was second guessing my decision.  Then I ended up in a class where there were six girls for ever guy and learning life skills that have been instrumental in helping me become a better business man, public speaker, and more confident socialite.  On top of all those perks, the dancing itself has been a wonderful boon to my routine, and I still dance on a weekly basis more than 9 years later.

This time last year I found myself in a small Turkish pipe shop.  Prices were rock bottom and my curiosity was piqued.  Tobacco pipes have been an integral part of our cultural portrayal of many of history’s greatest thinkers, and philosophers. It was anything but an accident that pipes also played a powerful descriptive role when J.R.R. Tolkien set to crafting his characters, particularly Gandalf, in the Lord of the Rings.  These days, if you see a pipe smoker on the street, he’s likely in his 70s or 80s.  Personally, I’ve never chewed, am not a pot smoker, and have only tried two cigarettes in my life – both of which I found quite unpleasant. I have, however, been known to pick up and enjoy a periodic cigar. So, when I decided to experiment with a pipe stuffed with vanilla tobacco on a quiet Turkish beach my expectations were quite low.  What I discovered was an enjoyable activity that, yes, may not be great for my heath, but which truly was conducive to relaxing, musing, and pleasantly enjoying the moment.  In many ways, I found smoking my pipe to be a more active version of the controlled breathing many do as part of their meditations.  Instead of tossing the pipe as I expected, I’ve kept it and typically smoke it a few times a month.  As you might imagine, this still gets me extremely weird looks from people my age who are either surprised to see someone their age smoking an “old man’s pipe” or who wrongly assume that I must be using it to smoke pot or hash.  Little do the know or appreciate just how enjoyable spending a relaxing afternoon on a park bench, watching bicyclists bike by, enjoying my pipe and lost in my own musings can actually be.

Another favorite has been my discovery of Scotch.  My first introductions to Scotch were, shall we say, uninspiring.  As with most undergrads it came in the form of cheap Scotch and Whiskey downed unceremoniously from overflowing shot-glasses or, in other regrettable situations, the form of the Four Horsemen (a dastardly mixed shot, 1 part bourbon, 1 part Tennessee whiskey, 1 part Scotch, and 1 part Irish whiskey).  After my first few introductions to Scotch’s sharp bite, I wrote it off completely.  It was only later, when chatting with several elderly gentlemen in Scotland that I was introduced to Scotch properly.  It was amazing the difference properly enjoying a glass of Scotch made;  the sweet honey’d accents, and potent peaty-smokey flavors of highland and lowland Scotch enjoyed casually in a relaxed environment.  As with the pipe, it was as much about how to enjoy the activity as it was about the substance of the activity itself.   It might have taken me years, decades even, to re-discover Scotch and to learn how to properly enjoy it if I’d listened to and conformed with my peers.  Even now, I’ll still encounter a periodic snarky comment when someone overhears me order a Balvenie Doublewood on the rocks.  After all, I’m not doing what I’m supposed to – not drinking what or acting as I should.

Men At Play in Antalya

Find Your Inspirations

These six examples are just limited samples which I hope helps more concretely convey the lifestyle approach I’m suggesting, and how it can be applied.  I have no doubt that the same is equally relevant for women.  I’m also sure that there are many activities that old women engage in, which I could draw wonderful inspiration from.

At the end of the day though, I encourage you to re-frame your lives and to ask yourselves what opportunities are available that you’re neglecting, overlooking or missing out on?  Either because they’re not activities that you feel are “appropriate” for your age group, or because you’ve never considered them.  When was the last time you watched a proper musical?  Went to the symphony?  Played Backgammon? Made airplane noises while throwing paper airplanes at friends?

So, start tomorrow – when you leave your house keep your eyes open.  Re-discovery your inner child and be inspired.  Find a puddle and jump in it. Then, ask yourself what your grandfather enjoyed, what he did, and why?  Seek out and explore the foods, drinks, and activities you wouldn’t normally do and don’t forget that it’s as much about the process as it is about the result.

I think you’ll find that the results are life changing.

A Danish Life Lesson: The Simple Joy of Sunshine

Sunbathing in Copenhagen

When was the last time you got up from your desk, stepped outside, stretched, paused and truly enjoyed a sunny day for more than a few seconds?  I’m talking about heading down to a park, or out to your back yard to lounge in the sun like a cat on a lazy afternoon?  If you’re like me you probably haven’t in a long, long time.

It’s no secret that Denmark isn’t exactly the world’s sunniest destination.  Located at a similar latitude as Newfoundland, Edinburgh and Moscow the summer days are long and the winter nights are even longer.  The city of Copenhagen is located on one of the many islands that make up the nation and like most coastal cities it experiences more than its fair share of rain fall.  In winter the Danes battle the inevitable creep of depression as they break out vitamin D supplements and sun lamps to offset the extended periods of darkness. Despite these challenges they’ve regularly been ranked some of the happiest people in the world and with good reason!

I recently relocated from one of the sunniest places in the United States. In Phoenix, Arizona blue skies and hot weather are the norms. So normal that even the periodic white puffy cloud can be cause for conversation.  Unfortunately, it’s something that I’ve only begun to realize we not only take for granted but also completely under utilize.

Sunbathing in Copenhagen

When a sunny summer day hits here in Copenhagen the locals are out en-mass. Streets are clogged by bicyclists, outdoor cafes filled past capacity, every park awash in half clothed bodies, and the harbor areas decorated by sunbathers and people out to enjoy the weather.  In Copenhagen the sun isn’t something that is ignored or tolerated. It is something that is celebrated.  When the weather is beautiful the people genuinely go out of their way to enjoy it.   I’m not just talking about pausing casually here or there. I’m talking about putting on bathing suits and heading to the park or stripping down to bras and shorts to lounge along the docks or in the city parks.

As I found myself meandering the city the positive energy and general approach to the sunny weather was intoxicating.  It truly WAS a beautiful day and the people not only knew it, but embraced it! I’ve spent years with more sunny days than I can count, but I don’t think I’ve ever been surrounded by people who made such great use of them.  Oh, sure we’d have the occasional day on the river and pool party in Arizona but even those were more about time in the water than enjoying the sun.  The real shame is that even though the summers are genuinely too hot to enjoy properly in Arizona everyone I know there lets that poison the chance to enjoy incredible weather when it does come during spring and fall. Arizonans aren’t alone it’s a similar mistake shared by people all over the world.

So, the next time you find yourself waking up to a bright sunny day don’t just hide inside or take it for granted.  Smile, roll up your sleeves, take off your shirt and head somewhere where you can enjoy it.  The sun and summer are things that should be shared so don’t just do it alone, make it a social outing and take a friend, a loved one or a family member with you!

For my part, now that I’m learning to slow down and smell the sunshine you’ll find me joining the Danes and relaxing in the sun.  It’s time I made up for lost time – life is good!