The Best Day I Can Remember (and how to have more)

After many years of dreaming of it, I’m finally on vacation in France. I’ve been wanting to come here since first reading Julia Child and after appreciating her love of food and life, ensemble. Yesterday I spent the day around Chinon, a village in the Loire valley, exploring the countryside and chateaus by by bicycle. At the end of the day I realized I just had one of the best days of my life. One I will cherish when I’m in my proverbial rocking chair (perhaps on a floating orbital platform, but rocking nonetheless). Then I wondered – what made THIS day, one of the best of my life?

There were many memorable, interesting or pleasant moments. I whispered French to an animal in the dark when I was biking home, hoping that if it was a skunk, it would ignore me. In haltering, but understandable, French, I had a conversation with my waiter about the legality and morality of foie gras – why do we outlaw it in California yet mistreat ducks and pigs? I listened to locals sing a solemn hymn during sunset on the lawn of Azay-de-Rideau, a chateau surrounded by a glossy green moat.

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In a sea of rolling clouds, I saw miles of sunflowers all facing the same way, in anticipation of the next morning. My jaw actually dropped open and I screeched to a stop to take this picture:

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But just as stirring together cake ingredients doesn’t make a great (or even good) cake, these little things don’t simply add up to an absolutely incredible day. I realized there were other forces at work.

I think it started when I booked my tickets here. The fact that I made happen something I’ve wanted for a long time builds beliefs that I can, and do, make my dreams happen. It continued to gain momentum when I listened to hours of an audio book called The Language Hacking Guide. It’s polyglot author says that the most important way to learn a language is through changing your attitude, and just speaking, instead of hours of study. He says you start now, no matter your skill level, and that the people that make the fastest progress embrace speaking it at all opportunities, and rarely “relax” into their native language.

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I’ve been wanting to speak French for a long time, and after years of middle and high school study, I still felt mute around natives. I have even read this book before, but I think that hearing it while I was so happy and excited burned it’s message into my brain.

Suddenly, I wasn’t nervous when trying to bumble out a few sentences to a local. I made mistakes of course – like when I pointed at a tilted stair for an old lady and said “Need!” instead of “Be careful!” – but now I felt able to recover and start again. As I got more relaxed, my conversation partners got more relaxed, and instead of making a mad dash, I stayed engaged for longer and was able to have conversations of more than 10 seconds. By the end of the day, I had the foie-gras conversation with my waiter and I was absolutely beaming. I believe I was primed by all the beauty around me, but this change in myself magnified my happiness.

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That’s when I had my realization: my best days are ones that I both a) feel the most gratitude for things and b) improve myself the most, or take a fork in the road of my life. The days that I’m happy with the world and “on fire” for life, are those that contain a seemingly contradictory mix of “magic moments”, which fill me with gratitude for things just the way they are, but also when I make changes to transform into more of who I want to become. The days that contain both, convince me that life can be more than I ever had ever previously dreamed possible.