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Making sense of what it means to live a happy, productive, and meaningful life

During our time here, we’ve gone through numerous activities that I never would’ve never experienced back home. From staying at a Buddhist monastery while gleaning important takeaways from Lama La, to living on a farm house where we were introduced to sustainable farming practices, to navigating through Bhaktapur, Dhulikhel and Boudha with close to no knowledge of our environment, to finally embarking on a 17-day trek in the mountains of Rolwaling, I’ve been encouraged to adapt to a slower, and more intentional pace of life.

While at first glance, these program components may seem rather independent of each other, I’ve found that a thread which links them all together is happiness. How this state may be achieved follows the idea that by disconnecting, we reconnect. Coming in, we all feared that the absence of a phone or internet would deprive us, but had I been listening to music or podcasts during walks or bus rides, I wouldn’t have been able to connect with other people. The sight of children playing on homemade swings constructed with bamboo and rope while on trek and others enjoying rounds of ping pong with a makeshift ‘net’ composed of rocks and corn cobs in Bhaktapur reminded me that we have all we need, so long as we’re intentional with how we utilize our resources. Lama La’s core teaching was entered around the philosophy of being attached and how we should strive to be less so. This idea manifests itself in the documentary we watched in Gundu, Minimalism, which reminded me that to be truly happy, we should live with less things and more love-and not the other way around.

I’ve always understood productivity for how it’s defined in the dictionary: output over time. If I could take a 15-minute bus ride opposed to a one-hour walk to arrive at my destination, then I’m being ‘more productive’. If I’m listening to an educational podcast or reading a book while riding that bus, then even better! If I wasn’t doing something that could directly lead me to become more intelligent, successful, or athletic, for example, then it was rendered useless. But over the course of this trip, I’ve taken a lot more time to reflect and slow down. Be it journalling, walking in silence, meditating, or simply being, I’m beginning to believe that productivity does not equal doing. Taking time for self-care is just as essential towards achieving whatever goal we set for ourselves, and rather than associating productivity with the constant hustle, a more accurate definition should be balance.

On the note of balance, I believe that a meaningful life should consist of all the things we were designed to be capable of doing. As stated by one of the quotes a student read from the quote book, mountains exist so we can climb them. So even if it means taking several hours as opposed to a much shorter jeep ride, there’s no reason not to ascend it. Similarly, people exist so we may connect with them (so we should make the effort to speak their language!), rivers exist, so why not dip your toes in them, and food exists so we may indulge. Surely, there’s flexibility in what constitutes ‘meaning’, but to me, leading a meaningful life involves taking full advantage of everything that exists in our periphery and finding a way to make the most of what we have.