Operation: Happiness

Sometimes, when everything around you is falling apart, you just need to get the hell out of town.

And that is exactly what I did. I found myself overweight, unhappy, and stuck in a city I hated. To top it off, I had just separated from my fiancé. Every time I heard Bob Dylan’s “Not Dark Yet,” I shuddered at the possibility of these ominous words: “I was born here and I’ll die here, against my will.” Often, I wished to be somewhere else just so that, in case I died, it wouldn’t be in my hometown.

This rut I was stuck in was thicker than any mud and heavier than Atlas’s boulders. Left with my future plans changed virtually over night, I wasn’t sure what to do or where to go. Up to that point, I had been writing very minimally about travel- let alone anything else. While my mind constantly wandered to the now-forbidden destinations I frothed at the mouth for, I had no hope for real travel. I had committed to live in a place that brought me no joy, doomed to marry a penniless and possessive man-boy who ultimately made me miserable. As a former wanderer of the world, each day was the equivalent of spiritual suicide.

Time seamlessly and uneventfully droned on until one day, I was violently awoken to reality. My eyes suddenly widened, as if pried open with toothpicks, aware of the haze I had been living in. It dawned on me- true love doesn’t necessarily mean a futile devotion to another human being. Especially if that person makes you fall out of love with life itself. Perhaps true love is being committed to those things, people, ambitions, and goals that make you feel alive.

If you let your passions die, so will you. You may still breathe, walk and speak- but as a dull, sullen, ghostly fraction of your real self. And this is precisely what I had done- what I had allowed to happen.

We all live, but are we alive? Many of us have been understandably jaded by the harsh indifference of life’s tragedies. Unless you’ve lived in a bubble your whole life, are 16 years old, or are insanely delusional, chances are you know what I’m talking about. The moments of pure, crystalline, ecstatic vitality are rare. We must ask ourselves what it is- what passions, actions, thoughts- that makes us truly alive. For me, these moments come when reading beautifully raw words, ripping heartstrings I didn’t even know I had. Or, more intensely, when I am on the move, on the road.

My memory sets on an overnight train ride I took with two friends in 2006. We spent 23 hours from Shanghai to Guangzhou, China in a three-tiered pocket bunk bed set-up. We were in undoubtedly close quarters with Mandarin-speaking strangers, shaky Eastern squat toilets, and impending claustrophobia. I sat drinking “REEB” (a brand cleverly named “backwards for beer”), chewing on chicken feet, laughing with the Chinese men aboard, though I understood nothing they said. Watching through the window, vast green mountain ranges, rice paddies filled with countless miniscule straw hats, and neglected, crumbling buildings passed by me at furious speed. I realized- more than ever before- I am happiest in motion. I am truly alive when in transit. When life becomes a verb, my mind clears, I breathe easier, and I am a better version of myself .

And so, my direction occurred to me about two months ago. I was sitting in a dim, near-empty suburban bar called “Tequila”, drinking vodka tonics served by Silver Dragon the Bartender. An old-time friend visiting from LA sat in the bar stool next to me, chatting. Mid conversation, I looked at her and just knew. I was tired of shitty bars, tired of suburbia’s complacency, tired of the person I had become.

It was time to pursue happiness, and there was no other choice. I had to get the hell out of town.

And I am FREE!

And I am FREE!


21 thoughts on “Operation: Happiness

  1. Lmd says:

    You need to LIVE, in whatever way you define it. Love shouldn’t hinder who you are, it should help you be YOUR best. I applaud your efforts, now go “do you”. 😉


    • Cristina Luisa says:

      I don’t know yet where I’ll go. In the short run, I plan on traveling north to Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver. But where it is that I shall remain- that has yet to be decided! 😉


  2. morgan9 says:

    Go, Girl! I love the essay itself and as to the experience: been there, done just exactly that, so I recognize another GirlPlanet outcast . . . never forget though: there is a “poetic tradition that suggests: “All you have to do is enunciate the exact nature of your exile—that will open the door.”—(sorry, anonymous)
    Cristina, please ma’am, may I have some more?


    • Cristina Luisa says:

      Thank you so much. It took a lot of courage to write this piece, but it was well worth the strife. It is great to know that I am not the only one who has gone through these… err… stumbling blocks, so thank you for your support. What was your particular experience???
      And YES, most definitely you will see more of these reflections! I appreciate your support, and will shortly write more on this subject. 😉


  3. I Will Travel says:

    Thank you for sharing. It’s amazing how many people are out there that go through this. Perhaps not in the exact same way but each story has its own similarities. Ultimately it’s about letting go of all of our excess baggage, and giving a deaf ear to everyone who rebukes us for becoming who we were meant to be. I applaud you Cristina!


    • Cristina Luisa says:

      Hi Will! Thanks for reading about my journey. It really can be difficult to pursue your dreams when everyone you know and love keeps reminding you how crazy you are! Ha ha. You’re right, we do need to give a deaf ear to many people, because they simply DON’T GET IT. And it’s wonderful to connect with those who do.
      I came to a point where I was tired of the cycle of extreme highs (travel and all it entails) and utter lows (the return from travel, being bored with the hometown, looking for yet another place to crash and another pointless job). So, I decided I had to have more patience and discover a way to live life doing what I love, but in a sustainable manner.
      I applaud you as well! I’ve noticed you write often on Colombia- are you Colombian, or simply enamored with the country as I am?


      • I Will Travel says:

        I completely understand about the highs and lows. I gave experienced that for way too long. Like you said, traveling, coming back to a pointless job, and really bored with my hometown. It’s not to put down Toronto, it’s a great city but it’s just not for me any longer. I do write a lot about Colombia because I too are enamored with it. I was born in Nicaragua and came to Toronto with my family at the age of 11. However, my wife is Colombian and we’ve been traveling to it quite a bit during the last 6 years. How about you? Have you been there frequently? I’d love to chat more on this subject and share what I’ve actually decided to do about my situation. Will you be at TBEX this coming weekend?


  4. Irene @ Away from Tenerife says:

    Wow, that’s such a beautiful and empowering post and I can totally relate to your experience! During my late teens/early twenties I was in a relationship which made me very unhappy with a possessive boyfriend. I knew that things would never change for the better and that I was somehow dying, if only spiritually as you said. One day I finally found the courage to leave and slowly I started to enjoy life again. I didn’t do anything as drastic as leaving the world behind to go traveling, as I was still bounded to my study duties but eventually I went for abroad for years tidy exchange and I found myself traveling around Europe and making friends whose mother tongue didn’t match mine. It was an eye-opening experience and I raised that I was at my happiest traveling and discovering new places and cultures. Some years later I met my current boyfriend and started my life as an expat which can be hard from time to time but it’s very enriching most of the time. And it was only a question of time that I started blogging about my small adventures abroad while I wait for worldwide journeys to come.

    I jus found your blog but I enjoyed reading your stories. Following you on twitter!


    • Cristina Luisa says:

      Thank you, Irene! I’m glad that the words I’ve written have resonated within your personal life. It is very difficult to leave someone you love, even if you know they are bringing you down and consuming your happiness with their angriness and/or lack of self-worth. It’s a very tough situation to be in. It makes me happy to know that other people like me out there have prevailed and sought out a “real life”, which undoubtedly means pursuing your unconventional dreams and believing in YOUR version of happiness.

      What is your handle on Twitter? I’d like to connect with you as well. Have a great night and thanks for reading!


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