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“A day without sunshine is like, you know, night.” –Steve Martin

When Steve Martin said that, I laughed, but I thought about it this way, too –  The sun goes down, you lose it.  There is the darkness of night, and the next day, how great! There you are again, back in the sunshine.

I thought about Steve’s quote when a friend of mine back home asked what causes me to be so positive much of the time.  I started to answer her in an email but I decided I’d like to share my thoughts with the rest of you, too.  Why do I often think in a positive manner?  I don’t always.  There is sunshine, there is darkness.  I have some fairly ugly days, filled with tears and spews and sputters, but I think the experience of valleys and peaks results in overall joy, with one creating appreciation for the other.  My life here in the Peace Corps seems to have so many ingredients that work well for me.  I will return to the states with a goal of duplicating these things as much as possible in my next chapter.  Here are my thoughts on the specifics:

Living here is not like anything I’ve done before.  I’ve lived in foreign countries, but not for this long.  There is a lot of mental stimulation just in living day-by-day  in this sort of existence.  I think I’ve always liked stimulation, things that challenge, shake things up, disrupting the norm.  I enjoy the challenge of daily accepting the differences in cultures and seeing how they play out in my life, observing how I accept them within myself, given my own personal background of another culture.

I’ve made such good friends here, both Paraguayan and among Peace Corps volunteers.  These are friendships that will last a lifetime.  It’s so obvious, so certain.  Moments with my friends are very valuable.  I can attribute that to lifestyle, to convenience and inconvenience, to tranquility, to change, to intrigue, to acceptance.  More on these things below.

This is a tranquil environment where most everyone takes it easy and pleasure is found in the moment.  In years past, whether planned or whether circumstances created it, I found myself doggedly thinking mostly about the past and the future and not much about this present moment.  By past, I’m meaning the distant past and yesterday; by future, I’m speaking of the mind-planning I’d do regarding tomorrow’s agenda or next month, next year, or even for the far future.  My thoughts would continuously travel to these places instead of sitting comfortably in the here and now.  But here in Paraguay, in order to integrate, enjoy your life and get along, you must take it easy and live in the present as much as possible. That doesn’t mean things don’t get done. I have a full day of work each day, getting up at 6:00 a.m., staying up late, and usually working 6, if not 7 days a week.  My previous lifestyle said that the future is the most important thing to think about – how else would you accomplish much?  The practice of living in the present has given me a new perspective and has changed the way I operate.  I’m not sure how that will translate into my life in the states, come August 2015, but I will do my best to maintain that.

Paraguay is known for its happy people, and it’s not because they aren’t aware of the things to be unhappy about.  I tell you, they are.  But, they are accepting of others, of life.  They are mostly a non-judgmental people, they are gentle-spirited, and kindhearted. These qualities altogether make me breathe easy and smile.  When I use the term kindhearted, I mean it very literally.  In a room full of people, I know that there is admiration and charitable thought more often than not.   There is appreciation of the small things.  Often, a thoughtful conversation is treated like gold.  True, there is gossip, their is rudeness, but the larger view is that of kindheartedness.

Of course, it’s not all positive, my life here.  There are folks who don’t like me, or are wary of me.  But, somehow, in this environment, I don’t mind that so much.  I find it interesting.  And, I am confronted with corruption I can do nothing about.  I’m naturally bent towards problem-solving, big problem solving, and some things seem way too big to tackle, but I can do my part to enlighten and inform and empower.  At times here, I’ve felt that I was in a dangerous situation.  But, I’ve felt that in the past before living here, and I know that I’ve been fully equipped to handle it as best as possible.

In a world where competitive one-upmanship abounds, I enjoy this non-competitive lifestyle.  It’s relaxing; it’s a pleasure.  I like to compete with myself, but I can’t abide being confronted with subtle (or even not-so-subtle) one-upping, and having to deal with that spirit in basic conversation in daily tasks.

I enjoy the unconditional acceptance and respect that I feel I receive quite regularly.  Acceptance takes the place of criticism.  Most everyone accepts others and appreciates others.  It is not that whatever a Peace Corps volunteer or Norte Americano has to say is appreciated.  It’s that whatever anyone has to impart to another is taken very seriously.  Listening is important here, giving respect is important, honoring others is important, and I like that.

Independence plays a big role in my level of happiness.  I don’t do well taking orders and following the commands of others.  It makes me feel underestimated.  There have been times in my life when, for extended periods, I have had to follow someone else’s agenda, ignoring my own, and I have felt both underestimated, under-utilized, and ashamed of myself for remaining in the situation.  In this work, I do have guidelines and expectations, deadlines, reporting, and rules, but those are just undergirding.  I’ve been given incredible resources and with those, I’m expected to run my own show, design my own plans, and make my own decisions about my daily work.  I’m in my element.  I feel productive and that I’m living a very worthwhile life.

It makes me happy to learn new things.  I like the interchange.  I like the give and take.  Each time, I hear something new from the people around me.  All I have to do is listen.  I enjoy knowing that each day, simply by speaking with and listening to others, I’m learning.  Living in a country where I’m speaking a new language, (and language is such an integral part of one’s existence) and constantly learning about a new culture, makes for moment-by-moment education.

There are always the unexpected jewels that occur while on a bus or at church or in a store or while chatting with friends.  New insights seem to come from all directions.  Poignant experiences show up fairly often.  Relationships form, even if for a short time.  Those moments add richness to my life.  They happen so often, that now I have begun watching for them, expecting them.  Is there anything better than that?

I enjoy that I get to share with others and utilize my past experiences.  I feel that my past chapters have been different from the norm to great extent, and I’ve been strengthened and educated by them.  At times I’ve felt like I would burst at the seams because of an enormous desire that would bubble up in me, wanting to share with others anything helpful I’ve learned, if it could be of benefit.  Now, I’m having that chance and it feels good.  I’ve been given the opportunity to teach and share many topics.  The subjects I’ve chosen to teach and the initiatives I’m a part of, all have to do with self-improvement: character-building, leadership, setting values, setting goals, making decisions, planning your own business, building courage, building dreams, enjoying the good things that life has to offer, including self-expression through music and art and dance and communication.  Researching and planning these lessons, then teaching them, is a process that keeps me immersed in encouragement and positivity.  I suppose we become what we think.

Although my service seems like a twenty-four hour job, and I sometimes feel that because of the languages and culture, I’m working harder than ever before, this environment brings a calmness that allows me to think things through, research topics, plan and learn, all at a pace that is very agreeable with me.  Reviewing my past, I know I once thought that perhaps the tranquil “tomorrow” nature of various other cultures meant that things were not being accomplished, or at least not being accomplished expediently.  However, it’s time to review how I see accomplishment in my life and the lives of others.  Perhaps my former methods of operation in my daily life are now changing and my priorities are shifting around for the sake of a truly good life.

I have quality free time.  I am not distracted by shopping, tv, rushed schedules or worries.  When free, I can spend more time learning to do things better, hone my abilities and do new things that previously I felt I had no time for.  I can spend more time taking care of myself physically, mentally and most especially, spiritually.

I’ve described to you as best I can some of the reasons I feel such peace and joy, but I have to say, I believe it is simply a decision to be made.  Living positively is a matter of choice.  That sounds easy, doesn’t it.  It sounds unrealistic.  But, as you’ve heard and read many times… “Life doesn’t happen to you, you make life happen.”  You make the choice in how you live your life, how you respond to circumstances.  From my perspective, it is a day-to-day decision — a good thing to add to your morning list of things to do.  “Choose joy”   Hopefully that choice will serve as an example to others, and they’ll decide to choose it, too.

I believe that this lifestyle won’t end for me when I leave.  While here, I’ve just gained a better knowledge now of what to look for when making choices.  All these factors contribute to a happier life.   Thank you Paraguay.

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