Last week on Wednesday as I was on my way from teaching at point A to teaching at point B I bumped into an ex-student of mine who has become one of my best friends. Peter Masaryk. 19 years old. Maybe I have a thing for 19 year olds, because my life started at 19.

We met at the tram stop at the main train station in Bratislava. We both hadn’t planned to be there, at all. At the very last moment I had changed my plans and had taken a tram I normally never take. Because it was so cold outside I thought it was better to go to my next assignment by a longer route than to wait outside in the cold. His plans had been changed at the last moment as well.

To add to the cooincidence: we were both going to the same place. A store that sells boardgames near Obchodna street. I wanted to buy Splendor and he wanted to get some faulty dice replaced. They didn’t have Splendor, he got his dice and we went to my small classroom at Vazovova. We played the game Boonanza until my students arrived. Then my students agreed that he could stay although he doesn’t speak Dutch. We played Boonanza and Saboteur. To surpise Peter managed to communicate in Dutch while we were playing. It was the most fun evening of the week.

It also made me realize that I am a poor judge of what makes me happy. Being around nice, intelligent people makes me happy, having my brain occupied in some interesting way makes me happy, not money, not status, not likes or retweets on social media.

Yet as soon as I am alone again the same thoughts creep up again: I have to make more money, I have to be more succesful, I have to sleep with more women, I have fucked up my career, I could have been an ambassador or something like that.

More happiness out of unexpected corners:

  • When a lady tells me I am the best English teacher she has ever had
  • When somebody goes through the trouble to stay in touch with me even when there is little benefit to be gained from staying in touch with me
  • A genuinely friendly look from someone I don’t even know, like from one of the receptionists at J & T bank this morning.
  • Someone telling me his or her version of the truth about me in a well-meaning way.
  • When I see my students enjoy themselves and learning new words without any conscious effort
  • Sometimes when I look at Zuzana, like last night she looked like some kind of fitness model (I know am a superficial guy, I know)
  • When I figure out how to do something against the odds. That’s because I felt like I grew up in a family that was definitely playing against the odds. So when after 16 times of playing the second world war against myself Japan and Germany finally win I feel lots of nice dopamine. Of course soon afterwards I can’t believe I spent an entire weekend playing a boardgame that is ideally suited to be played by 5 players against myself. Why isn’t there something more useful, something that leads to money, that can occupy my brain this much?
  • It’s trendy to speak of ‘guilty pleasures’, and I have the feeling all my pleasure is guilty. Like right now I am asking myself if my boardgame obsession can possibly lead to anything good. I do play a lot of games with my students and teaching gets me money and seems to add something to the happiness levels of my students
  • Maybe it’s true and we should just follow our bliss, but that would mean that I hardly work today and try to conquer the world with Germany and Japan, against the odds, with plastic figures on a cardboard map, while listening to some documentary investigating if Hitler and Eva Braun had sex or not…

I haven’t hit upon the secret to happiness yet, but I have 11,5 more months to go.

In the picture you see how Japan and Germany finally crushed England, Russia and the US after about 16 hours of playing… In my defence: I watched a hell of a lot of documentaries during those 16 hours.