Recently, Facebook reminded me of a status I posted a few years back. “Meihoukaiandra Baackes is having non stop fun all the time and absolutely loving life.” At the time, I was dripping with sarcasm. Today, I could write that status in pretty non-ironic way.
Today, on my twenty-third birthday, life is good. I might not make much money, but I love my job. I might not see them often enough, but my heart bursts with love for my family and friends. I might not be able to run a marathon, but I’m getting pretty close to a 5K. Life isn’t perfect, but it sure is great.
There is so much right now that brings me joy and makes me smile, and I want to remember this happy high in my life. So for the past few weeks I’ve been taking notes, and from them I’ve compiled twenty-three things that make me happy at twenty-three, in no particular order.
Happy Birthday to me!
1. Being a “Yes Girl.” From skydiving to snowmobiling, I’ll try almost anything once and friends know I’m the person to call when they’re looking for a partner in crime.
2. A Great Movie or TV Show. Documentaries, rom-coms, dramas — I love to go to the movies, especially at indie theatres like The Spectrum in my hometown or The Flicks in Phnom Penh. And there is nothing like being enraptured in a good TV series. Currently Dexter, Parks and Recreation, Law and Order: SVU and my annual rewatch of Arrested Development are all putting a smile on my face. I’ve now made it seem like I do nothing but stare at a screen, but in reality I tend to use them like radio shows and listen to them in the background while I edit and upload photos and do busy work.
3. Travel – Well, Duh. I think this blog is a testament to the fact that almost nothing in this life gives me a high like getting on a bus, plane or train and taking off on a new adventure. From weekend road trips visiting family to epic backpacking journeys across a continent, I never want to stop traveling. Bonus points if the destination is sunny and warm.
Planning a trip to Laos
4. Friendship. My brain kind of starts to implode sometimes when I start thinking about all the fantastic people I’ve met and befriended around the world. Being a good friend sits high on top of my list of priorities.
5. Diet Coke. Please, soda gods, don’t give me cancer.
6. A Sense of Humor. Mine or someone else’s. There is no better feeling on earth than laughing until tears squeeze out of my eyes, and I can’t think of a greater compliment than someone telling them that something I did, said or wrote inspired a similar reaction in them.
7. Being Fit. I’m living healthier than ever, and the rewards are so much greater than I could have imagined. It’s been a lot of work, both physically to lose weight and get strong, and mentally to make peace with myself. Once upon a time I would have muttered something self-loathing if someone tried to compliment my appearance, but today I smile and say thank you. I never thought I’d name Muay Thai training, hiking, swimming, and yoga among my favorite things, but here I am.
Getting a paddleboarding workout in Hawaii
8. Having a cause. I’ve turned into a major whale-hugger, and I kind of like it. I hiss at the mention of plastic bags, I donate to Sea Shepard and I try to do my part to spread the word about protecting our oceans. It feels good to feel passionately about an important issue, and to act on it.
9. My Family. I have three sisters, but my extended family is quite small — just a few relatives on each side. I’ve loved seeing how my relationships with my family members change as I get older. What is it about family that makes you capable of crazy loving people with whom you have so little in common? I’m so grateful for these relationships, especially those with my parents. They are my biggest fans.
10. Baking. For someone who can’t stand to cook and has set off fire alarms trying to make Kraft Mac n’ Cheese, there is one instance where I love being in the kitchen. I love creating sugary concoctions and making them bright and beautiful.
11. A Day at the Spa. Unfortunately for my wallet, I have discovered that I am a big of a spa junkie. From the budget treats (Massage Mondays in Thailand and the cheapest pedicures in the world in Brooklyn) to the major splurges (Turkish bathhouses in Istanbul and massages at the Blue Lagoon in Iceland) I’m one happy girl when I’m being pampered.
12. Scuba Diving. I love trying out my favorite hobby in new places around the world, and connecting with people over a passion for diving. Diving that is preferably done with a camera in hand!
Diving in the Caribbean
13. An Indulgent Meal of Mexican Food. It’s my favorite cuisine, though I admit Italian is a very close second. I’m normally very thrifty but every once in a while I get a huge thrill out of dressing up and going to eat at a trendy, buzzed-about restaurant.
14. Buying Gifts. I think I have a bit of elf blood in me — I love nothing more than finding the perfect present for someone, wrapping it beautifully and watching them open it. I’m the one on Christmas morning assaulting people with gift boxes and insisting “Mine first!”
15. Snuggling With a Loving Pup. Most preferably a particular Cocker Spaniel named Tucker.
16. Working for Myself. So, I make about the same as a minimum wage McDonald’s employee but without all the benefits. But at this moment I couldn’t be happier being my own boss. This year has brought exciting new partnerships and freelancing opportunities and despite my nontraditional path, I’m starting to answer with pride when the previously dreaded “So what do you do?” question is dragged out.
Blogging by the Parthenon and by the pool
17. Fancy cocktails. Again, I’m pretty frugal with both calories and coins, but I love to occasionally splurge on mulberry mojitos or pear martinis or other frilly fruity drinks. Also, I would be totally remiss not to mention my newest truest love: Cake Vodka. Did I mention my insane sweet tooth?
18. Being in Like. I don’t really want to be in love with anyone right now. I’m having too much fun being independent and doing my own thing, and I’m not ready to commit to being a good partner to someone again just yet. But from flirtatious conversations to full-blown holiday romances, I love the feeling of being in like.
19. Playing Martha Stewart. For someone without a permanent address, I really have a love of all things related to the holidays, dressing up, and entertaining. I love my annual holiday traditions and try to recreate them wherever I am in the world, from my annual Valentine’s Day and Christmas Parties to being the most over the top costumed person on Halloween. I admit it would be much easier if my baking and craft supplies fit in my backpack.
Dressing up for Halloween
20. Dancing all night. I admit I’m going through a little party girl phase right now (well, my parents will tell you its been going on since High School) but I’m embracing it. Give me a playlist of pop songs, a crowded dance floor and a drink in hand I couldn’t be happier. There’s plenty of time in life for sunrise yoga… here’s to sunrise cab rides. No one remembers the nights they stayed in and got plenty of sleep.
21. Living With Less. You’ll notice most things on this list aren’t actually things. It’s a heavy struggle for me, but I am trying every day to live a more minimalistic lifestyle. These days it gives me as much joy to sell or get rid of something old as it does to buy something new.
22. Not knowing what’s next…. I have nothing tying me down right now. No mortgage, no location-dependent paycheck, no car, no boyfriend, no rent. My world and my future can be as wide as I want them to be.
23. But having a direction. I may not have responsibilities (outside the ones I make for myself of course) but I do have priorities. Every day I’m creating the life I want to live, and I’m trying to do it with integrity. If I may be so bold as to quote Shakespeare — “Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.”
When I came up with the idea for this post, I actually thought it might be hard to reach twenty-three things. And yet I didn’t even mention Southeast Asia, my favorite place on Earth, or driving with the windows down and my favorite music blasting, or reading your comments, or so many other things that make me happy at this moment in my life. I have so much to be grateful for. Twenty two was pretty amazing… and I have a feeling twenty-three will be even better.
Thank you so much for being a part of it, readers!