Practice Happiness

Most of the Time, I Make It a Good Day


This is not the first time I’ve changed my life on purpose. I have a lot of experience taking unlikely or unusual paths to happiness… sometimes making new paths. It’s probably because happiness is a priority for me and the things that make me happy change over time, so I have to change to stay happy. I know some people are happy with no change; they want a quiet and predictable existence. Different strokes for different folks; the way I live won’t work for everybody. But a lot of people want more out of life and ask me how I do it. I can imagine some pretty wild workshops:

“How to Be Happy? Start Something New!”

The life I live now… as an expat in Poland… seems a natural transition from my last life and I’m excited about the change. You might not think so; not many 66-year old mountain men move from the Rockies to a Slavic nation to retire. At first glance, it looks pretty extreme and not at all natural; a completely different people, culture, and language. But those challenges are part of the excitement of this adventure. And, unlike most of the adventures in my life, this one is pretty cozy.

Here in Strzelin, I am pampered with all the comforts and conveniences of civilization. All the things I missed while living eight years as a hermit are available in this city. But it’s not too loud or busy; the streets are narrow cobblestone and there’s only traffic on Tuesdays and Fridays when neighbouring villagers come to market. There is one cinema and zero franchise fast-food joints. We call it a village, but more than 12,000 people live in Strzelin. We have European versions of Home Depot, Best Buy, and Walgreens and a few supermarkets owned by large EU companies, but Ela and I take most of our business to the small stores (called skleps in Polish) that sell fresh fruits and vegetables, bread and milk, and consumable household supplies. We buy fresh meat products from real butcher shops stocked with pork and poultry, occasionally beef, and every kind of kielbasa and galaretka imaginable. And every trip to town includes a stop at one of the dozen local bakeries and pastry shops which – to this American – are European treasures. My life here in Poland is comfortable and convenient compared to some of the lives I lived and I still have my daily adventures.

Layers of History in Strzelin, Poland

Rain or shine, we walk around this old town together every day to do our shopping. We only take the car if we’re buying heavy things. It’s a couple kilometres to the city center and we walk past stone walls older than America. Literally, old Duke Bolko gave the town rights in 1292 and built a wall around it. And the walls from the Late Middle Ages are still visible, integrated with the rest of Strzelin… like the German architecture from the 1800s and bloc apartments from the Soviet occupation after World War II. My active imagination weaves a tapestry of the history wrapped around this city.

Ela visits the cemetery every time we go to town. While she tends to her family, I sit outside in Observation Mode. I watch people walk or ride bicycles, but not many speak English so there’s a sense of isolation. That’s too hard for most expats; who wants to live where they can’t speak the language?

But people communicate in other ways; with body language, tone, and energy, too. I see people on our daily walks through town and, though we don’t speak the same language, we communicate very well. We wave and smile, trade a few words or phrases, exchange some good energy.

Slavic Languages are Most Difficult for English Speakers

I can complain about the language barrier, all the great things I left in America, and good friends I’ll likely never see again. Or I can appreciate the history I enjoy in Poland, the foods I never tasted before, and the friendships I build with love, not language. Happy or sad; it’s a choice everyone makes moment-by-moment throughout their lives. I choose to be happy and I practice all the time.

It took a while for this new adventure to come together and, like many of the big changes in my life, it was not actually planned…. not like a climbing expedition or new business venture. I HAD planned to re-engage with the world after seven long years in isolation, but I did not plan on a romantic relationship with a woman in Poland that I met through social media. And I certainly did not plan it to happen at the same time as a border-closing pandemic. Can you imagine? A Marine Corps mountain man courting a retired Major from the Polish Police… meeting every day online for a year – a YEAR! Finally, in July 2021, I flew from Idaho to Poland to begin a new adventure; in fact, a new life. People on both continents were surprised by our plan and some voiced their concerns.

“What if it doesn’t work? What if you’re not happy?”

I heard those questions every time I talked with anyone about big plans. They are the questions that stop the vast majority of people from making changes in their lives.

If the doing of a thing is not enough to make you happy,
you picked the wrong thing to do. Try again.

Happiness is intentional, a conscious choice, and a skill that can be developed with practice. I learned a lot about happiness when I lived those years alone in the Frank Church Wilderness. When I stripped away the outside influences, I learned what I did and did not need to be happy, and I don’t want to forget what I learned. I practice to improve my happiness skills. It’s an important life hack, for sure.

A Winter Alone in the Frank Church Wilderness

I make it sound simple, but I know it’s not easy to stay happy. Like every adult on earth, I’ve gone to bed knowing I would wake up to a long day of hard work for a thankless boss who paid me poorly, and I would return late, hungry, and tired to a cranky family that wanted more than I had to give. I’ve been in bad relationships… with a lover or a boss or a bill collector. I’ve been in the military and, unless you served, you have no idea what kind of misery comes with that sacrifice. Yes, something is always testing my happiness, too.

When I’m doing it right, it becomes routine. No matter where or what I am doing, I start my day with coffee (or tea) and a few words of wisdom, maybe music to get my mood right. Then I engage with the world using my good energy to magnetize and attract the things that make me happy. And watching it work in real-time in the real world motivates me to practice more.

Practice happiness. It needs to be intentional. Practice until you anticipate good things; when you’re excited but no longer surprised by them. You can make happiness last longer if you practice.


8 comments

  1. Only a happy person can bring happiness to others. You are a happy man Pat.

    • It is truly wonderful to see two people happily pursuing adventure together. It takes a willing spirit on both parts to make it work and to share in the burdens and successes. Failures, when they come, are also best addressed together with a sense of purpose that unites toward a common goal. All of our life experiences are what makes each of us unique and special. Keep sharing the goodness of adventure and your triumphs over adversity. Much love to you both. I look forward to the time when we can finally meet in person Ella. Yours and Pat’s happiness is abundant, overflowing and contagious.

  2. Pat, I’m so happy for you. I relate to you saying people had comments about your new adventure with Ela in Poland. David and I met online and 6 weeks from the day we started talking we got married. Oh yes people had comments. Now 14 1/2 years later we are still very happy and seeking out new adventures.

    Our paths briefly crossed here in Challis but I daily look forward to reading your and Ela’s posts. Blessing and love to you and Ela.

  3. Pat my friend, we connected the minute we met and our size (both tall and proud men), background, sense of humour and first name were a good start. After you left the world of technology, I followed your new path via LinkedIn and was shocked…but on the amazed side, to learn that you left the mondaine life of all of us, mere mortals.
    It was outstanding to see your desire to live as an hermit in the mountain (I remember our conversation about Montana), and even if shocked, I was jealous of such a bold move.
    And now, I see this picture of you, smiling large, riding a bike like a 10 years old….in Poland. Beautiful writing about Happiness and your move there. Happy for you that you found love and what a pair of Corones to decide to leave in a country where most people will not think about even for vacation.
    Bravo my friend, once again you changed the cards and play your own game that fit you so well. I wish you all the best in this new adventure. From Pat the French man

    • Patrick, your message brings great joy to me. I remember your smile & laugh best of all. Thanks for taking time to share your thoughts and feelings. You are right; we knew each other the first time we met 🙂😎

  4. It’s great to see Poland with your eyes, Patrick. You really enjoy being here! Which probably is very strange for many Polish people but I think it’s fantastic. I met my husband online too, maybe this is why your history and happiness are even more touching me. We never know what new adventures the life will bring. All the best for you and Ela!

  5. Wise words Father. Thanks for the inspiration.

    “There is no path to happiness: happiness is the path.” ~Buddha

  6. It was a great practical lesson in being happy. Thank you. Only a happy person can make others happy.

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