It seems that there really is more than a little truth in the old adage 'laughter is the best medicine'. Scientific studies around the world are continuing to prove that, apart from making us feel good, laughing actually does us good as well – and can actually significantly increase our life span. Pre-school children laugh or smile between 300 and 400 times a day. By the age of 35, this drops to about 18 times. Why have we lost our sense of humour, and what can we do to put more laughter into our lives?
One of the cities I visited during my 9-month working holiday in the United States was Washington DC. And of course, when you’re in Washington, you have to visit The White House. Naturally, it is a huge tourist attraction and when I got there, there were queues and queues of people waiting to go in. Big, muscular security guards were admitting people in groups of about 25 at a time. I had limited time in the city and didn’t want to spend what I estimated would be at least 2 hours in a queue. I decided that as I was on my own, it might not be too difficult to slot into a group much further up the line. I approached one of the guards, explained my situation and asked him if I could join the group that was going in next. And he said yes! He could easily have turned me away and told me to wait my turn, but instead he showed understanding and simple human kindness. It is a gesture I still remember today, 22 years later.
The life lesson learnt here is that sometimes, a seemingly small and insignificant act or gesture can make a huge difference in someone’s life. We should all practice random acts of kindness every day.
As a student, I spent a ski season working in Keystone Ski Resort in the Rocky Mountain Range of Colorado. To help stop me missing my family and friends, and feeling too homesick on Christmas Day, I decided to do something interesting, enjoyable and special.
I was very interested in joining a group for Christmas dinner in a restaurant at the top of the mountain, followed by a midnight run down the ski slopes - lit only by torch light. It sounded so exciting, but I was worried that I wasn’t a good enough skier, and almost abandoned the idea there and then. My sense of adventure won the day, however, so – after some reassurance from the organisers - I signed up.
The entire experience was absolutely amazing and I was thrilled I had had the courage to do it. It is one of the adventures I will never forget!
The life lesson here is not to let fear stop you. As Dr. Robert Anthony so wisely says: “Courage is simply the willingness to be afraid, and act anyway.”
During my three-year stint working on luxury yachts around the world, I found myself in Bodrum in Turkey, as part of the crew overseeing the re-fitting of a beautiful 1930’s yacht. The work was exhausting and I didn’t have a lot of time for sightseeing, but one thing I will always remember about Bodrum is the magnificent roses that seemed to grow just about everywhere! They were absolutely breathtaking – some had blooms as big as two hands cupped together. They were growing without any attention – no one fertilising or pruning them – and yet they were probably the most breathtaking roses I have ever seen.
The life lesson here is that, when conditions are right, things will flourish - even if they’re not given an overt amount of attention. Don’t wait for someone to nurture and look after you before you grow – create the right conditions for yourself and attain your own magnificence.
While travelling back to South Africa after working on a yacht in Turkey, I took the opportunity go to the United Arab Emirates, to visit an old friend who was living in Dubai. Dubai is situated in the middle of the Arabian Desert, and so is probably the last place in the world where you’d expect to find a ski slope! But this is exactly what I discovered one day while walking round one of the city’s many huge shopping malls! I was fascinated to be able to watch the skiers through a glass wall - while being very grateful for the cool air-conditioning blasting away on my side of the glass! A similar experience was watching beach volleyball take place in the middle of London – very far from the nearest beach – during the recent Summer Olympics!
The life lesson here is that just about anything is possible if you don’t let yourself be dictated to by your situation or circumstances. If you can dream it, you can do it!
During my six-month holiday in America, I visited the gambling mecca of the Western USA – Las Vegas. While the city does have a seedy underbelly – with rows of pawn shops, run-down buildings and homeless people – the Las Vegas we always see in the movies and on TV is every bit as glitzy and glamourous as you imagine it to be.
The Las Vegas Strip (which is actually located outside of the city limits) is a 4km-long, neon-lit stretch of hotels, casinos and resorts. Of course, as tourist in Las Vegas, you simply have to go gambling on The Strip.
I was on a limited budget but was having great fun playing the 25-cent (quarter) slot machines. I had literally put my last quarter into the last slot machine, and my bus was leaving any minute. Suddenly bells started flashing, whistles began whistling and worth of quarters began pouring out of the slot machine. I grabbed a paper cup and began stuffing the money into it, before racing off to catch my bus. It may only have been but I felt like a millionaire! I had won money on the slot machines in Vegas! The amount is irrelevant – it was the experience that was priceless.
The life lesson learned here is that while money grows your bank balance, experience grows your soul. If we learn to place the same value on experiences as we do on money, we will be truly rich.
While working on a luxury private yacht in the Mediterranean, I took advantage of a rare afternoon off to explore the popular Italian island - Isle of Capri. We were moored on the island at the main port – Marina Grande – and I wanted to see the town of Capri, which is located on the top of the mountain.
The most popular way to get up to the town is by funicular railway. The trip only takes about 5 minutes, and offers breathtaking views of the island’s valleys, sheer cliffs, blue bays with hidden beaches, and the distant Gulf of Naples on the horizon.
The railway is hugely popular with tourists, and on the day I was there, the line of people waiting to board was very long. I knew I didn’t have much time, and I didn’t want to wait in the queue, so I decided to climb the many, many steps up to the top. Naturally, my trip took far longer than the five-minute funicular ride, and in the end, I was actually running in order to get to the top in time to look around before I had to return to work.
Had I known beforehand just how steep and long the climb was going to be, I would more than likely not have even started. But the joy was that I didn’t know, so I just did it, and was rewarded with a huge sense of achievement - not to mention a much more leisurely appreciation of the magnificent scenery and views than if I had taken the train!
The life lesson here is that no matter how daunting a task or challenge may seem, you’re not going to get anywhere if you give up before you’ve started. The simple act of starting something is your first step up that hill. And even if you do know how tiring the journey is going to be, start anyway – and keep going. The view from the top will be worth it.
During my stay in Tanzania, I was fortunate enough to visit the Ngorongoro Crater, located inside the Nogorongoro Conservation Area. To get there, we had to drive up a steep pass, which cut through really beautiful vegetation and indigenous bush. As we wound our way upwards, I was struck by the enormity of my surroundings. It felt as though my guide and I could be the last two people left on Earth. We really were in the middle of nowhere!
At the top of the pass, we stopped to read a plaque, which had been attached to a small stone wall. The wording on the plaque read: "A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle." This famous quote by Father James Keller was the last thing I expected to read on top of an African pass in the middle of a UNESCO World Heritage Site! I was amazed – not only at the profundity of the words, but that someone had taken the time to have them engraved on a plaque and placed in one of the most remote areas I had ever visited. The person who had done this would never know who stopped to read the plaque, or whether the words touched the people who read them. But he did it anyway.
The life lesson here is that if something is meaningful to us, we should just do it, without the intent of personal gain or worrying about whether or not other people will understand our reasons, or take pleasure in our actions. We should do it for no other reason than it is worthwhile.
One of my favourite places to visit in France is the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat on the French Riviera. Built in the early 1900's by Baroness Beatrice de Rothschild, the villa is today the only great house on the Riviera open to the public. It is an extremely impressive example of the magnificent summer residences built by the very wealthy of the day, but it is the nine themed gardens in which it is set which are the true masterpieces. Strolling visitors will be surprised and enchanted by the exact symmetry of the formal French garden, the lush vegetation of the Spanish and Florentine gardens, the fragrant profusion of the rose garden, the rare trees in the exotic garden, and the archaeological remains in the Stone garden. I was really struck by how the Baroness's dream villa and its magnificent gardens are still bringing joy to thousands of people from all over the world over a hundred years later.
Something worth doing is worth doing well. The Baroness built something beautiful, which took many years to complete, but she made sure it was exactly as she wanted. Her determination to get it right has left us with a lasting legacy which will continue to bring pleasure to people for generations to come.
While on a wilderness trail in Umfolozi Game Reserve, South Africa, I took a bath in a pool of water surrounded by reeds and indigenous grasses, while watching the sunset. The water was cold, but so refreshing after the hot, dusty day. My music was the symphony of the animals and insects. The fragrance, the intoxicating blend of the many scents of the wild, blown gently towards me by the breeze. It was glorious and I enjoyed it far more than any bubble bath with champagne in a 5-star hotel.
Superb, inspiring experiences don’t have to be sophisticated or cost money. Pleasure can be found in the most humble situations and places.