HAPPINESS, TRAVEL

 

Finding happiness and connection
(A travel tale from Nairobi) 

Nikki Michelle Soo, Bestselling Author | Fun & Productivity Coach

This is a story about finding happiness in Nairobi – in the most unexpected ways.

On the streets of Nairobi

In the back of the taxi, I look out to the busy streets of Nairobi.

My eyes meet those of another. She sits in the passenger seat of a matatu van next to my car. Just moments before this, I watched her say something funny to the driver and they both cracked up laughing.

Now she turns her head out to the window. And our eyes connect. She smiles at me as if I was in on the joke too.

And we are in Kenya, so it is the kind of smile where all the lights are turned on bright in her eyes, and nothing is held back.

For a few moments, we gaze into each other’s eyes and smile.

The heavy traffic flows like a trickle. And we find ourselves going separate ways.

As my driver turns a corner, I see people walking on the dusty streets. Perched on those streets are stalls selling snacks. It’s boiled eggs and Smokies, little local sausages that are served with a tangy kachumbari: tomatoes, onion and chili.

A typical cart on the streets of Nairobi – selling eggs and smokies.

 

Photo credit: Nairobi Wire

In the dusty heat of the day, my eyes pick out a beautifully fitted shirt in the crowd. Its pink fabric brings out the rich tones of its owner’s brown skin.

And the whites of his teeth.

Because he has seen me looking at him – from 7 metres away, in the back seat of a moving car.

And now he is smiling widely. He stretches his arm towards me with a thumbs up gesture.

He looks ridiculously, spontaneously and wonderfully happy.

For no good reason, except maybe why not. I grin widely, back in his direction.

It all happens in a flash, as my car turns a corner.

And in this moment, I realise that I am feeling unexpectedly and delightfully happy.

Finding happiness and connection

That was me in Kenya, in 2017, finding happiness in Nairobi.

There, I experienced a richness of connection. Even in brief encounters passing by in a car through these streets. 

Nairobi is a busy city. When locals come here from the countryside, it is said that they find the people too rushed. And the city too busy.

That may be true. But, Nairobi still finds time for connection.

For brief moments, yes. And for longer, more lingering ones too. 

I revelled in this sense of connection during my month in Nairobi. It wasn’t all the time or every time. But it was a lot of the time.

The sheer delight of connecting, just for the pleasure of connecting. 

I wrote more about this in an earlier blog post. 

I didn’t stay in Nairobi for long enough to make generalisations. I speak only from my own experience.  

And my experience is this:

In Nairobi, I encountered this sense of connection everywhere. On the streets. Often with strangers and passers-by who had no vested interest in my sex or my money.

These connections happened with bright spontanaeity and generosity.

Many times with people who just wanted to help out by answering a question. And helping a traveller like me find her way.

When connection is missing

As I write this, I remember the voices – and see the faces of the people I have met living in Australia and Europe. People who speak to me of their desire to find happiness.

And how they feel like something is missing in their lives. That sense of connection. Or a sense of belonging.

Even when they have families. And many friends.

Once again, I don’t mean to make generalisations about Nairobi versus the rest of the world. I’m simply talking from my own experience.

Very likely, I’ve simply had deeper conversations with more people in Australia and Europe, than I have in Kenya.

In Australia, I’ve coached people who are in so many ways successful. And still, they feel a keen yearning for something they cannot put words to.

When they find what they’re looking for, it is only then that they can name (for themselves) what was missing: connection

And it’s a connection not just within themselves. But a connection with others. And often, with life itself. 

If you’re on a path of finding happiness – more happiness, then this is what you want to experience more of.

And this is the essence of the work I do with people: returning them to a clearer, richer connection within themselves.

And from that, everything flows. So many of the problems they come to me about – those problems fall away easily. Effortlessly.

It’s connection not just within themselves. But a connection with others. And often with life itself.

Research and observations

What does connection have to do with you finding happiness? Or more happiness?

Research tells us that your social connection improves your mental and emotional wellbeing. And of course, these contribute to your sense of happiness. 

But that’s not all. your social connection also improves your physical health in tremendous ways. 

You can check out the references below. 

Outside the research, what I’m seeing in life is that connection fills us up deeply. Regardless of whether we are rich or poor.

This is what I’ve observed in my work, and in my travels.

Is it the only thing that you need? Of course not! But it sure makes life a whole lot sweeter. And more fulfilling.

When everyone is already your friend

I am reminded of a friend I used to go to festivals with. 

He would walk into a room and treat everyone like they were already family. And he was real and genuine about it too.

I was fascinated to see how everyone responded, many treating him like he was long lost family too. 

Everywhere he went, people warmed to him and welcomed him. Because he had already done that with them. And for them. Instantly. 

People lit up in his presence. Their and eyes faces became brighter. He brought joy to those he met. 

And I know that he felt that joy for himself too.

I’m not saying you have to be like him. His story is simply about connection and finding happiness in his own way. 

Nor am I saying that’s the only way to find your happiness. I believe there’s a smorgasboard of ways for that!

I would love to hear from you about how you’re going with finding happiness? And your experience of connection.

Please share a few words with me in a comment below. And share this article with those who would love to read it.

References

Baumeister, Roy F., and Mark R. Leary. “The Need To Belong: Desire For Interpersonal Attachments As A Fundamental Human Motivation.”. Psychological Bulletin 117.3 (1995): 497-529. Web.

House, J., K. Landis, and D Umberson. “Social Relationships And Health”. Science 241.4865 (1988): 540-545. Web.

Lee, Richard M., Matthew Draper, and Sujin Lee. “Social Connectedness, Dysfunctional Interpersonal Behaviors, And Psychological Distress: Testing A Mediator Model.”. Journal of Counseling Psychology 48.3 (2001): 310-318. Web.

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