Yesterday evening, I inadvertently saved my neighbour’s life.
It’s a long story but, in summary, involved a gas hob being left on as he fell asleep. Sitting him down with a cup of milky tea, he thanked me for what I’d done and said how grateful he was that I had checked on him. Earlier that day, I had been feeling restless; staring at flight prices and wishing I was anywhere other than my increasingly messy living room, dwarfed by a giant christmas tree that was starting to look a little sad. However, as I closed my front door, having watched my neighbour shuffle his way back to his own house in the dark December night, I felt very different. I felt content knowing that the man on the other side of the wall was safe, and happy that the simple notion of ‘neighbourliness’ still exists in this digital world.
So, what has this story got to do with anything, I hear you ask? Let me explain. Last week, planning our blog posts for the coming month, we mulled over the temptation to write a hasty round-up of our travels in 2015. You know the one: a blog listing the places we’ve visited month by month, complete with a vague evaluation of the trip that accompanied it. Having read a few of these blog posts ourselves, however, we realised that they were probably more exciting for us the authors – basking in our own travel achievements – rather than the person reading it. So, although this year has included some very memorable travel experiences, we thought we’d turn our attention to a more personal review of the year and lessons learned, which we’ll be taking forward into the shiny new year ahead. And this is where the opening story fits in.
In many ways, 2015 was a very big year for us in terms of (using a cliche term here) ‘growth’. In working through these periods, we began to realise that wishing your life away until the next trip, whilst ignoring life happening around you, was not healthy for us or the relationships around us. It was a year when we began to take the time to appreciate the small things and there were two simple concepts that helped us achieve this: kindness and mindfulness.
Let’s begin with mindfulness – the buzzword of 2015. For people who have not heard the term, it’s the simple concept of being ‘present’ in life, even when conducting the smallest, most mundane of tasks. With the advent of our blog and increasing social media audience, it was a concept that had become alien to us. Evenings could trickle by with our only achievement of the night having been constant Instagram checking. Walking the streets of beautiful cities, our plans were dictated by photo opportunities rather than simply enjoying the walk itself. It was disconnecting us from our lives and making us unhappy – if we realised it or not. It was mindfulness that helped us bring ourselves back to these moments, allowing us to start appreciating life for what it was, there and then.
I remember the first time I employed the concept of mindfulness. I was in Florence with my fiance, when on a humid night, we chugged our way up a steep hill to a beautiful restaurant that offered panoramic views over the city. I had purposely left my mobile and camera at home and simply sat taking in the beautiful food, the views and the company. The air was thick with the scent of lilies, a guitarist gently strummed melancholy chords and as the clouds grew bigger, the rumblings of thunder drew nearer. Sat, watching the lightening dance across the city, I realised it was more of these moments that I wanted, even if it wasn’t digitally documented. A photo would not do the memory justice: the smells, the sounds and the taste of the food, couldn’t be captured in a simple ‘click’.
And so, as the year has progressed, we’ve both built mindfulness more and more into our daily lives. Phones are now firmly switched off after 8.30pm and left back at our accommodation when we travel. Simple activities, like lying still in the morning and listening to birds noisily start their day, before our phones are switched on, has become part of our daily routine. It has made life more colourful and satisfying, halting the ‘counting down of days until we travel again’ routine that had become engrained in our lives.
Kindness in life (our second concept of the year) is underrated. You rarely see a dating profile featuring this personality trait. It’s usually swept aside for the more impressive traits such as ‘athletic’ or ‘intelligent, book lover.’ But, for us, it has been concentrating on being kinder in life – be it to a friend or a stranger – that has brought us the greatest pleasure this year. From buying a small present for a friend, to really listening to someone as they tell you their problems, we’ve tried to make 2015 a year where we’ve carried out simple and sometimes random acts of kindness. Of course, we’re not perfect and we’re sure there are times that we’ve annoyed plenty of friends and family, but the contentment of seeing someone smile from our actions, has become a very important part of our lives in 2015. Seeing sites such as GOMI, encouraging negative discussions often amongst women, about women, is something we will not partake in. A kind comment or some positive encouragement, it seems, is harder to give than a cruel one, particularly the blogging world.
The lessons we’ve learned this year have, in many ways, enhanced our travel experiences and we hope to continue to grow these next year. Perhaps it means we’ll come away with less photos from our travels to share on Instagram, or maybe we’ll see less of a place as we have taken the time to simply sit and listen to someone tell a story of their town. However, we’ll be happier and if there’s anything that 2015 has taught us, it’s that happiness is something to hold onto. Embrace the simple things.