Draw a map, find a path, take a breath and run

Few feelings top the sensation of flying through the clouds.  Despite mild turbulence and occasional PA announcements, the fluffy white sky outside the airplane’s windows morphs human limitations into endless possibilities.

Blocking out nausea and some serious psychological doubts, I boarded a plane from Newark, New Jersey to Belfast, Northern Ireland last week.  The couple to my right was polite but quiet.  An attendant announced six hours between departure and landing.  The plane sped down the lighted path and lifted into the air.  And then, I flew.

I haven’t been on a plane since I was seven years old.  The flight in itself proved a magical experience.  And then we landed.

The only country I have been to outside of the United States is Canada.  As such, the drastic change from the U.S. to Northern Ireland is difficult to capture in words.  Right outside the airport, rolling green fields with grazing cows, sheep and woodland animals greeted the bus.  As I rolled through tiny towns, small business and shops in quaint brick buildings met my eyes.

The bus traveled on to a train station, where a group of American students boarded with me.  Our train conductor, one of the first Irish people I met, greeted us.  For the next 40 minutes, he passed through our car telling us stories of visiting the states, discussing foods and making jokes.  His name is Ennis, and he works at approximately five o’clock each morning.

I thought perhaps Ennis extended generosity our way because of our being foreign to the country.  I then met Hazel of my favorite cab company, who works the night shift until six in the morning.  She took a group of friends and me on a tour through a town called Portrush.  Not only did she neglect to charge us extra for the tour; she actually charged less for the ride than other cabbies in the area.

The stories of the kindness I’ve received in Northern Ireland go on and on.  The other girls in my building introduce themselves in the hallways.  They hold doors open for one another and wish you well.  Clerks in shops and grocery stores say “cheers” and wear perpetual smiles.  Everyone appears extremely pleasant and helpful here.

I am on a quest to uncover the ‘why.’  How do the people in Northern Ireland live compared with the people in the United States?

So far, I’ve uncovered one simple key: the entire country is relaxed.  Sometimes, plans need to be canceled; times must be changed; lifestyles must be adjusted.  The simple pleasure of relaxing with a drink and connecting with friends, family or strangers equates to instant joy here.

Even my most relaxed state in America cannot compare to the repose I experience in Northern Ireland.  I think this is one of several keys to unlocking a door I’ve been searching for, one that allows me to be pleased with life no matter my surroundings.

Each article I write will explore more keys I happen to find during my time here.  At the end, I hope to have unlocked the secret behind achieving personal contentment.

In the meantime, I’ll continue enjoying cheap cab fare, an overabundance of bread, jovial strangers, discounted wine, fields of sheep and the knowledge that I spread my wings and flew towards happiness.

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