Three Life Lessons Learnt in Vietnam

Hi readers, I’m back! My husband and I just spent two weeks in Vietnam and a week in Thailand and it was an amazing trip.

Three weeks felt like aggggggggeeees and we saw and did so much. It was super warm (35 degrees Celsius plus) which was amazing, but I’m actually kind of happy to come back to cooler weather.

I highly recommend travelling to both places, but I thought today I’d reflect on the three major themes I took from my experiences in Vietnam.

Keep it slow and fresh in the kitchen

Vietnamese food is incredible - at almost every meal my husband or I would say to each other ‘I know I said this last time, but this food is just so … fresh …’ and we’d laugh.

We visited bustling food markets in Saigon, Hoi An and Hanoi and whipped up some dishes at a cooking class on the river in Hoi An.

The experiences really inspired me to slow down and take the time to make fresh, healthy, delicious food.

Often when I’m racing home after work, it’s a case of ‘what can I cook the fastest, with the least amount of steps?’ and although there are times when that is called for, it’s not that difficult to shred up mountains of fresh green herbs, slice your meat carefully for optimal cooking and stir fry delicious noodle dishes while meditating over the steam.

Relax and take risks in life

As some of you may know, Australia is often referred to as a ‘nanny state’.

Australia has a LOT of rules and laws and the complaint is that we are way too over-regulated compared to the rest of the world. Think - you have to wear a helmet on a bicycle, you really can’t smoke anywhere anymore and the restrictions go on and on.

As I grew up in Australia I’ve obviously grown accustomed to the safety and comfort of where I live, but I do love going to other countries and observing the differences.

Well the cities of Vietnam are perfect for that - in particular, gawking at the traffic.

Leaving the airport at Saigon, we were caught in a semi-traffic jam.

I peered out the taxi window at motorbikes weaving in and out of the lanes (often with up to a family of 4 on the motorbike), cars and buses beeping their horns (always as a warning that they’re there, not in an aggressive manner) and random people strolling into the middle of it all as they try and cross the road. It is truly an incredible sight.

Although I’m aware Vietnam’s road toll is much higher than Australia’s - I love that the chaotic traffic situation just works.

People live with more risk and get on with walking, driving and living without fear.

Be grateful for what you have

Vietnam is not a rich country and is still officially a communist nation. Although the food, the people and the places are amazing, I was reminded how lucky I am to come from a safe, spacious, wealthy country.

In Vietnam there is more poverty, no free healthcare for citizens and a very low pension for retirees so most are looked after by family into old age.

On the positive side of that, you see many older people floating through tai chi routines or using the free exercise equipment in the park on a plight to remain healthy for as long as possible.

Vietnamese-owned companies require employees to work six days a week and wages are often not high enough to afford a visa and trip to a country like Australia. I am extremely lucky.

I’d love to hear about your travels. What’s the number on lesson you’ve learnt in another country?

My Newest Habit: Journaling

As I mentioned in this post, January has seen me trying out a new practice in both my morning and evening routines.

Inspired by The Five Minute Journal, the prompts of its pages provide a simple and swift way to enjoy your days more.

Gratitude and looking forward

In the mornings, you’re asked to think of what you’re grateful for and then what three things would make that particular day great.

Some examples I’ve written include lunch with a friend, a yoga class, a productive day at work, a relaxing evening with a movie, etc.

I enjoy this practice because rather than feeling sleepy or grumpy about getting up and starting the day, you are immediately putting a positive spin on the day ahead.

I also usually check in on the journal when I get home from work. I can then see what I’d hoped would make the day great when I was starting my day, and try to make sure it happens before the day is out.

Looking back

I don’t always remember to do the evening questions, but when I do, I’m prompted to think about what went really well that day and what I would improve.

What may have seemed like a standard work day, with a night at home doing the regular chores, now has a much more positive spin when you think about what went well.

You can also start to see patterns of the areas where your days don’t go so well. For example, feeling swamped at work, missing a workout, not connecting in relationships, etc.

As you can tell, my mindset has definitely been shifted in a positive way, and I’m also more conscious of what I want day to day.

Do you journal? Has this inspired you to try it out?

 

December Recap (and a break from intentions in January)

Thanks again for keeping me accountable through December, readers.

While it often seems much easier to stay on the couch on a Sunday afternoon or hit the snooze button at 5.30am on a Wednesday, I instead made my way to the pool and to an outdoor yoga class in beautiful gardens.

I knew they were activities I really wanted to do and they were, of course, worth the effort.

Swim

I see much more of this in my future while visiting family over Christmas, but Melbourne delivered on the hot weather and I made it to the local pool twice.

Yes, it’s packed and you can really only dip in and out of the water but for the chance of a Frosty Fruit and feeling cool water on hot skin, it was totally worth the visits.

Do outdoor yoga

To be honest, this one has been on my wishlist for over a year.

After some searching I found Peachy Yoga, who run super reasonably priced classes in Fitzroy Gardens in East Melbourne (very convenient for me on the way to work). The classes run on Wednesdays and Thursdays but I was afraid I wouldn’t fit one in due to a hectic December.

But you know what you need during a hectic December? Outdoor yoga!

The hatha style class was run by the lovely Claire and within two minutes I was gazing up at the sky, breathing in fresh air and already feeling the tension of the holiday season melt away.

Working through the routine, I couldn’t help but notice the dewy grass, the sound of galahs and the imposing beauty of the trees. Not bad before work right?

I highly recommend trying Peachy Yoga or an outdoor class more local to you.

Enjoy events

Gratitude was a big focus for me this month.

Even though I was busy and felt some stress, I couldn’t help but think how lucky I was to be going to Christmas parties, having wonderful conversation over meals with friends and sitting out on my balcony admiring my new fairy lights with a glass of wine.

Not everyone feels the same way around this time of year, so I am conscious to be thankful and not wish this time away.

In line with the purpose of this blog, I’m feeling pretty tired at the end of 2015 so am giving myself a little break in January regarding intentions.

I’ll still let you know how January goes and will be ready to set intentions again for the month of February.

Happy festive season lovely readers! Thanks so much for all your support, it really does mean a lot to me.

One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas Day. Don't clean it up too quickly.
- Andy Rooney

Gratitude 101

 
gratitude.jpg

Do you feel like you’re always reaching? Like when you buy that thing, or get that job, or finish that goal, you’ll be happy? I’ve heard these aspirations called many things including shiny pennies, carrots, vision boards, bucket lists.

On the flip side, I’ve also read a lot about gratitude and living in the present moment. No longer reaching and living a life of ‘I am happy now’, not ‘I’ll be happy when…’

Back when I started looking into positive psychology, I shared the strategies to a more satisfying life from Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky, researcher and author of The How To Of Happiness. Even though they sounded simple, I wanted to look further into her research.

A good proportion of the tactics she discusses come back to gratitude – being grateful, expressing wonder at the world around you and counting blessings. Research has shown that practising gratitude regularly can have a huge effect on your outlook, disposition and overall happiness.

The truly fascinating part of Sonja’s research is that she has ascertained that:

  • 40% of our happiness is in our control and can be influenced by intentional activity
  • 10% is based on circumstances outside of our control
  • 50% is genetically determined.

Only 40% control makes me want to work harder, so gratitude is a new focus. When I say working hard, the premise is actually to be satisfied with your life as it is, but that can be harder work than I thought...

Below are some of my favourite practices, and some I’m yet to implement:

Five grateful thoughts each morning

This is perfect for the newbie to gratitude or those that feel they don’t have enough time to be grateful (an oxymoron?). Every morning before I get out of bed, I list the first five things that pop into my head that I’m grateful for. It sets a good frame of mind for the day and stops me moaning that it’s too early to get up.

Mantras and affirmations

Taking a mantra through your day is something I learned from Gabrielle Bernstein’s book May Cause Miracles. The book is based around daily practice in meditation, but also gives you an affirmation to use as needed over the course of the day. You can either set a few reminders in your phone or go back to it when you’re feeling overwhelmed or when you have a quiet moment. A few of my favourites are:

  • I’m grateful for this moment
  • I could see peace instead of this
  • I am responsible for what I see

I could go on and on with these ones… And she also has a very cute app that you can use as your alarm.

Journaling

I’m not a regular journal-er but it’s a popular gratitude practice. Writing down at the start or end of each day what you’re thankful for helps ground you and is great to refer back to on a not-so-great day. Plus there’s so many nice journals out there to choose from right?

Photos and quotes around your home

Ok, I’m not a big fan of the ‘dance like nobody’s watching’ sign, but there is strong research into the fact that having an uplifting quote around the home and surrounding yourself with photos of family and friends increases gratefulness. The photos in particular remind us of the amazing people in our lives, the places we’ve travelled, the celebrations that stood out. Even when we’re in the humdrum of everyday life, reminders of these can keep us grounded and increase our satisfaction with life in general.

   Some moments I like to remember.

 

Some moments I like to remember.

Gratitude letter (and visit...)

I’ll be honest and tell you this one terrifies me a little. Martin Seligman, pioneer for positive psychology, developed this exercise. You think of someone who has made a major impact on your life, write them a gratitude letter and visit them to read it in person. I would love to hear if anyone has done this or is interested in doing it. I imagine it would be a hugely powerful experience.

Celebrating moments

I am so guilty of this one and am working on this for 2015. I am a goal setter and luckily most of the time, a goal achiever. But what I forget to do is stop and celebrate each goal, rather than rushing right by on to the next one or brushing it off as not a big deal. Living in the present moment is about celebrating these achievements, for yourself and others. And why not take a photo and put it up in your house to remember it?

I’d love to hear how you practise gratitude? Or if any of these are enticing you to start?