The more I think about it, the clearer it gets for me: happiness has a lot to do with the people I am connected to in my community.
Lifestyle inflation, a bigger home, a fancier car and the latest tech gadget have absolutely nothing to do with my happiness level. In fact, shit I buy for entertainment in a tech shop, online shops or the llike are mostly just distractions from one of the biggest goals in life: happiness.
Of course it’s nice to have a good meal in a restaurant once in a while even if it’s expensive. It’s exciting to buy the latest smartwatch and play around with it, but how long do these things make me happy? Not very long.
Visiting family in Transylvania
A couple of weeks ago, the W family made a short visit to one of the deepest corners of Transylvania, to the tiny village hidden between beautiful hills, vinyards and forests where my mother was born and raised. My godmother still lives there. It’s a place I don’t visit very often, not because I don’t like it but because it takes a lot of time and planning to get there, even if you have a car (which we don’t).
Little Miss W had never been there before, and although she’s quite shy and not very open to strangers, she felt at home about five minutes after we arrived. (Edit Mrs W: This may or may not be down to vast quantities of sweets and popcorn lavished on her by said godmother.)
One of my goals while I was there was to seek out my more distant realtives, visit them and get to know them. It wasn’t a difficult task. Only about 2000 people live in the village and almost everybody knew or had at least heard of my family. In fact almost everybody is related to everybody somehow. It’s very strange. In a nice way. (Edit Mrs W: It’s true, they weren’t deformed in a wierd inbreedy kind of way. They were totally normal.)
Just after we arrived we went to buy stuff from one of the two shops in the village. I ran into one of my second cousins who I knew. She immediately invited us to her house. A few minutes later I walked into another cousin (whom I had never met) in the same shop. (Edit Mrs W: Mr W’s godparents had to point his relatives out to him.)
The next morning me and my godfather went to buy bread. I told him I wanted to buy some wine from a local producer. You know, why the hell should I buy bottled wine, when every second family in the village has a small vinyard and makes their own wine?
We left the house at 9:30am, before breakfast. The first guy we asked for wine immediately drove us about five minutes up the hill to his wine cellar. It was the most beautiful place. Naturally we had a small wine tasting before buying some wine. I still hadn’t had breakfast.
Next, we stopped at the house of a guy who went to school with my mum. He was so happy to see me, he invited us to his wine cellar (yet another wine cellar…) in his yard and, after another glass of nice red wine, he filled a bottle for me and wouldn’t let me pay. Breakfaaaaast! My stomach was yelling for something slightly more solid and less alcoholic! Still…no breakfast in sight. Instead…more refined alcohol.
Finally we stopped at another house where my godfather had some business. Of course they gave us a shot of their homemade pálinka (grappa) before we even sat down (see picture below…the Transylvanian whisky). It was now 11:30am. I’d had so much wine and pálinka that I already felt a bit tipsy, but I still hadn’t had breakfast. Luckily they also offered us some ridiculously unhealthy but astonishingly delicious deep fried bread-like stuff with jam in it. A punch in the face for anyone who’s even slightly on a diet. Great stuff.
Try doing that in Germany
After all that, I started thinking about whether I would be able to do someting like that in Germany.
Even people we know would at least look at us strangely if we turned up in front of their door without any warning or appointment. I miss the casual spontaneity of life in Romania.
When I was a kid, if I didn’t like the lunch my mum had cooked, I went from neighbour to neighbour, sat down at their lunch table, checked whether I liked what they had cooked, and if it was OK, I told them I hadn’t eaten yet so that they would let me eat there. Sometimes I did that with two or three neighbours within an hour or so. They knew what was going on of course – they had great fun too and nowadays they still like to talk about those times.
What happened to our society?
Of course I partially know the answers, but still, why are we not that connected to our neighbours any more? I think it should be natural to be more open towards our community: to help one another, be more active, help build it up or help organise events. I could get better at those things as well.
The Tempelhof community
Visiting the Tempelhof community in southern Germany last year was also an eye opening thing for me. About 130 people are trying a community experiment there that is truly amazing. They produce most of their own food, raise most of their animals (although they eat mostly vegetarian food), discuss and decide together about the most important issues and much more. They even built an Earthship, a self-sufficient house, built from used car tires and lots of rubbish. The house produces its own heat, electricity and water. Great stuff. We need more of these experiments in the world.
My idea of the perfect community
Whether a lost village in Transylvania or Tempelhof is the ideal place for me I don’t know. I’m not sure, but it does make me think about what kind of community I want to live in and what I don’t like about our community (or lack of it) in Germany.
Here are some thoughts about a community scenario that might work and be great fun. Just playing with my thoughts…
Location: Let’ts move to a small town, somewhere in hilly Transylvania, about 40-50 km away from a bigger city. That way we can profit from the silence, be close to nature but also enjoy all the benefits a bigger city provides: good hospitals, concert halls, an airport. I think 30-40 minutes by car or train is a good distance.
Apart from the hills, my hometown in Romania fits the bill well. Plus it also has a good hospital for emergencies and super fast internet. These are the two most important things in life! Agree?
Accomodation: We buy a small house with a big garden for about €15-30K. Fortunately for us, there are plenty of houses in the neighbourhood for sale because everybody here is moving to bigger cities or to different countries because of the low wages here. It’s wishful thinking, but let’s imagine there were 8-10 houses for sale (or rent) very close to one another.
Community members: I am thinking of semiretirees, or retirees, digital nomads from all around the world. People who are not happy with their community and can’t have a meaningful conversation with their nine-to-five working neigbours.
Rules: Since I am not thinking about a closed community, but rather living somewhat together with locals, there can’t and shouldn’t really be rules. However, hopefully (and probably) only people who have the same sort of values and priorities would move there. These values include trying not to be an arsehole, not being consumerist, not being afraid of learning new skills, wanting to live closer to nature, respecting it, being mindful about the environment, being helpful and openminded…you know, things like that.
What’s the point of all this? Imagine living in a neighbourhood with a bunch of cool people/families like that. How would it be if conversations at a barbecue evening didn’t revolve around showing off the latest designer clothes, posh cars, expensive and useless gadgets we bought for ourselves or our kids. Instead, we could exchange ideas about making our lives more meaningful, learn from each other and teach one other.
Even if we could just eliminate “envy” from the equation and replace it with the concepts of “help” and “support” instead, I think everybody would have a lot happier life.
Another thing I think is really important is to see our kids playing with and making friends with kids whose parents share the same main values.
I know that people are different and have different goals and life situations, but what’s important is to share some of the basic values I mentioned. It would make such a difference.
I could continue for another three pages or so about this topic, but I should really stop now. Instead I’d like to ask you to share your thougths in the comments below. I really hope to see a lot of long, well-considered comments here.
If you’re a blogger, here’s a call for a blogging carneval (or Blogparade in German). Please write a post about this topic and put a link in the comments section so we can write a summary of all the posts. I’d be very happy to see some posts here from all over Europe (or indeed the world, since this is a universal topic).