Choosing Joy and Lessons from the Universe

The universe has been trying to teach me a life lesson lately: Being happy is my choice when things aren’t going my way.

This isn’t a new lesson, I’ve been learning it for at least 30 odd years, but lately it just seems to be smacking me in the face.

Sitting by a fireplace with a friend, a story and a steaming Americano this morning I was feeling good as I shared how the universe and I were finally making peace with this lesson.

You see, last month when I was wandering my way around Asia I was carrying a lot of baggage. Usually most of my baggage is in my head, but this trip I was carrying it in the form of suitcases- overstuffed and overweight.

If you watched the Become a Travel Hacker course on CreativeLIVE you know that checking baggage is against my publicly preached principles of “travel hacking packing” (even if it means fighting a gate-check battle and carrying my stuff  in a trash bag). But here’s a big confession: sometimes I just don’t feel like schlepping stuff and against my best judgment I leave my bag to the fate of the airlines.

On a recent quick trip from Singapore to Bangkok I was flying on a business class award ticket and was transiting between two of the most efficient airports on the globe (the odds were in my favor). My bag had slowly been growing full of winter clothes I’d been acquiring in Asian markets along my journey in preparation for wintering in my new American home (details coming soon) and was weighing in at nearly 18kg. (Yes, a little too heavy to lift with ease into an overhead bin). Against all of my best judgment and frequent flyer know-better I checked my bag.

This all felt good, until the moment about one hour after my flight when I was standing empty handed at Baggage Claim Number 4 in BKK airport staring at an empty baggage carousel spinning under a sign flashing LAST BAG.

My bag was lost. I wasn’t as angry with the airlines as I was with myself. I know better. I waited a few minutes with some expectation that it would materialize, but finally reconciled myself to the fact that I would be baggage-less in Bangkok. I went to the lost baggage area, filed a claim and tried to ‘mai pen rai’ smile in the very Thai way while my ugly-entitled-American self simmered centimeters below the surface. I wanted my stuff. Not now, but 30 minutes ago.

I left the luggage office feeling defeated. I had planned for 48 hours of fun in my favorite Asian city of angels and I was destined to spend it on the phone with Thai Airways organizing baggage location and delivery (not fun).

Walking back through baggage claim, I noticed an art installation on the wall and paused beneath a beautiful blue Buddha painting. It caught my attention like the painting was saying, “Stephanie, stop and take a breath. “

I stopped. I took a picture of it. I Instagrammed the picture (because BKK airport is the most Instagrammed location in the world and I want to feel like I’ve contributed to that). And in that moment I had this very thought:

You can let not having a bag ruin the two days you have to reconnect and eat sticky rice and mango, or you can choose to walk out of this airport and be glad you’re here and alive.

I chose joy.

Instantly my step was lighter. As I passed by baggage claim number four on my way to the exit the craziest thing happened. The universe delivered my suitcase to the empty carousel with perfect synchronicity. It was as if the world was secretly cheering for me “Yeah Stephanie! You passed the test. You chose happiness. You get your bag back.”

As I recounted this exact story by the fireside this morning, I got trapped in my ego again for a moment, “Way to go, Stephanie, good thing you mastered that lesson. You’re pretty awesome. The world can’t get you down. You’ve got this!”

And then my friend left and I opened my opened my email to this message: Your American Airlines Flight tomorrow has been canceled due to bad weather. You will not be going home for the holidays tomorrow (or probably ever because air travel in America is cursed).

The Universe whispered, “Test time again. You can spend the next 43 minutes sending hate tweets about airline incompetence or you can practice your joy while you wait on hold.”

I managed to eek out some happiness while humming to the reservation line hold music and I think I passed with at least a B+. Tomorrow I’ll be transiting tropical Chicago in lieu of icy Dallas. If my next test comes in the form of a mid-western blizzard that traps me in the windy city, you’re invited to join me in practicing happiness from the O’Hare United Club. There will be snack mix.

And for you- whether you’re delayed or dismayed – or just tackling the every day -I hope you’re passing your own test today with joy and flying colors.

<- PS. Proof of my miracle moment