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Traveling for Mindfulness: How the Grass is Always Green

Traveling for Mindfulness: How the Grass is Always Green

I worried that the pace of our recent trip to Japan might leave us needing a second trip--to some Caribbean resort for a week of recuperation. Although the jet-lag was a doozy—we were waking up hungry at 2 am for the first few days back—I returned from Japan refreshed and more mindful than I have been in months.

For those who knew our itinerary, it would seem likely that the mindfulness manifested during our two days at the onsen, orJapanese hot spring. Certainly, the traditional style bathhouse, nestled in the foothills of Japan’s northern mountains, was relaxing, without much more to do than sip green tea, soak in thermal baths, and lounge on tatami mats. But this wasn’t where my mindful experience took root. 

Of all places, it occurred on one of the Tokyo subways, notorious for salarymen, otaku, and young professionals packed into the cars tighter than sushi in a bento box. 

Mike and I were on our way to Akihabara, once known as “electric town” but now renowned as Tokyo's anime hub. Sitting across from me was a young woman, bouncing a baby on her knee. Although I say “young," age is really difficult to gauge among the Japanese; she could have been between 25 and 35 for all I could tell. Beyond us both being female, there wasn’t much for me to relate to in this woman. She was a different ethnicity, spoke a different language, and ate different food. On top of the cultural differences, she had a baby. 

In fact, I think it was precisely these differences that caused me to take such an interest in her. Since arriving in Tokyo, my head had been on a swivel, soaking in every street style, mannerism, and accent I could. Like a typical tourist, it all appeared so idyllic, and I found myself more than once imaging how perfect everyone’s lives were in Japan.

Sitting on the subway, I was doing the exact same thing with this woman: imagining the quaint little apartment she lived in, the kawaii nursery she had designed for the baby, the healthy meals she prepared with the precision of Jiro every night before her husband returned home. 

And then I caught myself. I realized how this was, not only somewhat objectifying, but also a classic “Grass-is-Greener” scenario. Here I was, envious of this woman for her life in Tokyo, when, in actuality, she probably dealt with many of the same stressors I did back in San Francisco: cooking dinner in a cramped city apartment, making sure rent was paid on time, maybe even cleaning up pet fur.

The destruction of this fantasy wasn’t as depressing as I make it sound. Rather, it was enlightening. It made me invert the situation, imagining what a Japanese tourist in California might think about the lives of Americans--of me. Would she imagine, as she watched me trudge onto the train each morning, that I worked for Google or Facebook, eating Lucky Charms to my heart’s content and taking a giant water slide to my cubicle each morning?

I work for neither Facebook nor Google, but this thought exercise made me almost—I say, almost—excited to return from vacation and rediscover the everyday joys inherent in my California life.

The grass in San Francisco, little of it that there is, is also green. I just have to learn to look for it. 

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