Bubbling Joy in Barcelona

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The plane's oblong windows framed a lyrical picture. Beyond them, white-tipped mountains blended with cotton clouds in a guileless symphony. Where the mountains ended and the clouds began, I couldn't be sure and didn't care.

This harmony of stiff, unyielding rocks with drifting nebulous clouds preceded an adventure, an experience, an insight. I was ready to learn and, along the streets of Barcelona, I learned. I saw a sight that brought me joy, a sight that inspired contemplation.

In one breathless moment, I realised how simple and easy it was to be happy. 

There're so many stories about people realising the beauty of life in abrupt, quiet - yet somehow violent - moments. Like many friends, I know that happiness can be easy but merely knowing doesn't suggest a sincere appreciation. We all know that 'there is more to life than work' and 'money can't buy us happiness' but do we sincerely adopt these paradigms and view the world through them? Knowing that being happy is a daily choice didn't help me to live by it.

It was a middle-aged man who showed how effortless being joyful could be. There is no need for money, cars or degrees. There is no need for power or prestige. There are no prerequisites. All we need is to live life in the moment, enjoying and sharing its beauty.

This middle-aged street busker lived in the moment. He shaped giant bubbles and shared their beauty. For all that I knew, this street busker could be a Cambridge-educated multi-millionaire. But, even if he is, it didn't matter. His identity, his past didn't matter. They collapsed into meaningless trivia as he blew big bubbles, one after another, a smile stretching across his face.

At times, he would puff out a tiny bubble before encapsulating it within another. These bubbles wobbled as zephyrs drifted past them, one nested within another, both bobbing to the winds' music.

One little girl was enchanted by these rainbow bubbles. She swung her teddy bear by its arms, bursting the bubbles even as they formed. When the bubbles floated beyond her reach, she would throw her teddy at them in wild, energetic shots.

They seemed so happy, this busker and this little girl. A circle of onlookers crowded about them, infected by their carefree joy.

Happiness is simple. It is the feeling of a brush resting on paint-soaked fingers. It is the taste of dark chocolate layered on a crumbling cookie. It is the bubbles that shimmer rainbow fires, the ability to share and receive smiles.

It's a bit strange to feel myself becoming different with each novel experience. I used to be like the proverbial frog in the well. Life was simpler, perhaps less colorful but safe. There's a beauty in this security. Now that I've seen people making giant bubbles along the streets and painting watercolors along the shores, I realise that there're so many different routes to happiness. While I'm glad that I've grown, I'm not very sure if I'm happy with this growth. I fear - perhaps too early and too irrationally - that I'd return to Singapore and be swept away by its rapid pace and pragmatic outlook.

I worry that I've stretched and could no longer fit into the same box. I fear that I could no longer conform to the roles expected of and scripted for me.

Many of us probably have similar fears - fears of attempting something different. These fears are never simple. They are always complicated with other fears - the fear of failing, the fear of succeeding, the fear of becoming different, the fear of remaining the same. 

But being fearful isn't the best way to live our lives.

Prof Shirley Lim reminded me, "yes, you were quite young just a few months ago; and travel and being away from your comfort zone psychologically can bring both joy (as in 'enjoy yourself') and trouble. The journey from the secure and known zones to strange new dimensions is never safe. Many of the traditional stories are about having to undertake that journey - that quest - which is fearful, but without which completion the hero/heroine cannot emerge into adulthood and destiny. So, your anxieties are universal, but have faith in yourself and in the good will of the universe."

There is no need to keep forecasting unhappiness and fearing fears. Emotions can't be predicted like the weather because we all have a say in how happy we want to be. Perhaps, as what my professor has advised, we ought to have more faith in the universe and believe that being happy can be easy.

Or at least easier than we think.


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