6 keys to living a long and happy life: Lessons from my 98 year old grandma

Baka & Deka on their travels

Today is the 10 year anniversary of my grandma’s passing. Baka was born in 1911 in Yugoslavia. She was married young, spent summers travelling to the mediterranean, had her first and only child (my mother) at age 40, moved to Sweden in the 60s to avoid political conflicts and then moved to Canada in the early 90s to live with us as a full-time grandparent.

She didn’t speak English, she couldn’t drive a car, she never had a job, but she was the Aussie definition of a “Legend” and she inspired everyone she met.

These are the lessons I learned from her about how to live a long, healthy and joyous life. And how to be a well and truly beloved human being.

1. Stay curious

I firmly believe that the reason Baka lived so long, with so much youthful abundance was because she needed to know. She read the Serbian and Canadian newspapers, she read books, she watched the news, she listened to the radio, she sat in her tufted leather chair by the front window and made sure to watch the daily school bus pick ups and drop offs (well past our own school days). She loved meeting our friends, boyfriends, neighbours…and calling up her friends in Serbia to tell them all the gossip. If we were eating something different that she’d never seen (nachos, Chinese food, etc.) she’d always want “just a little bit” to try. She didn’t go to university, I’m not sure if she even finished high school, but she was always learning and always willing to explore something new. She would have LOVED snapchat filters. Curiosity was the spark that kept her flame burning bright.

2. Stay playful

Despite not speaking English and not really leaving the house beyond the garden (I don’t know if she ever actually went out on her own without someone with her), she was beloved by all the neighbourhood kids and our school friends. Everyone who met Baka was instantly charmed. She always had this smile like we were all going to get up to some mischief and a twinkle in her eye that made you feel like you were in on an amazing secret. She was funny, somehow, without needing to speak the same language. She didn’t take life too seriously, she loved to tease and she was always ready to laugh. She basically became the neighbourhood’s grandma. Everyone loved Baka.

3. Never stop moving

I don’t think she ever owned a pair of running shoes, let alone workout gear (hah!), but she was someone who never stopped moving. When I read about Blue Zones (the people who have lived the longest), one of the key indicators is constant natural movement every 20 minutes. Subconscious habitual movement. She would spend the day cleaning the house, cooking, sweeping leaves, trying to clear snowy pathways or move the garbage bins out (to the point where my parents worried people would think they were forcing her to perform heavy labour haha), but she needed to be up, moving around and busy. I think this constant movement is what led her to be so mobile right up until the day she passed away. It kept her quality of life so high for so long.

4. Be physically affectionate

I will never forget what it feels like to hug and be hugged by Baka. The feeling of holding her hand. Or sitting on her lap…even when I was a grown woman and she had become shorter than me she would say “I’m tough, just sit!”. What we couldn’t always communicate to each other through her broken English and my 20 words of Serbian didn’t matter when she was such a solid, physical presence in my life. No matter what was going on, the power of a hug from her could fill me with all the calm and grounding I needed. It made me understand and realise the importance of touch.

5. Have faith, have rituals

Baka was religious…but not. She was the kind of religious you would also be if you were born in 1911. She would go to church on special occasions and she would cross herself when something was important. She had various rituals for various events: lighting candles, baking amazing sweet bread with a lucky coin inside (whoever got the piece with the coin would have good fortune), and fasting every Friday (no meat or dairy). She loved to tell fortunes with playing cards, and flipping over Turkish coffee cups to see your fortune. She had her things; we didn’t always know why or what was going on (although we wish we’d paid more attention now), but they brought some structure and grounding, a greater sense of purpose outside of our day-to-day lives.

6. Don’t worry, be happy

And finally, she was calm. She was steady. She was there for us always, holding space. Her room was a haven from whatever was going on in our worlds. If we were really upset she would give us a hug, entertain it for a few moments, but then smile and find a way to make things light. Sometimes that would be a trigger…“Baka!”, when all you wanted to do was wallow in your misery, but her lightness was contagious and you couldn’t help but feel like…well, maybe it wasn’t such a big deal after all. If you were in her orbit, things were always going to be ok.

And some other Baka wisdom I will never forget…

  • Always pull down the back of your shirt/cover your lower back or you’ll get sick!
  • Always have a switch/stick/something from the backyard to threaten a smack with (and be ready to say “I’m going to hit you with this!” but never carry through)
  • Always keep sweets in your drawer to give to your loved ones, be it a tin of mints or a few days old timbit in tupperware.
  • The best show on television is Murder She Wrote….oh Jessica! Honourable mentions to her other favourite As Time Goes By (she loved Dame Judi).

Volim te Baka, moje sunce 🌞

– Alex xx


Tnfld Podcast | Ep04: Josh, from ambitious dropout to dream maker

Hometown / Auckland, New Zealand
Currently resides / Bronte Beach, Sydney, Australia 
Job / Full Stack Web Developer

A little bit about…

Josh is truly living a 2019 life. He’s found a way to have both work and play in the best way that suits him and his needs. A lot of that came with knowing himself and what would and wouldn’t work for him. A lot of people think “Oh, I want to be a digital nomad” without actually thinking about what that could mean (financial instability, bad wifi, the temptations of being in paradise, but not being able to enjoy it). As a full-stack developer he could have easily gone that route, but he knew being a full-time digital nomad wasn’t right for him. He wanted there to be a separation between work and travel so that he could fully enjoy his travel time and BE THERE 100%. But short trips weren’t going to cut it. So when he got back from Bali after a month he had a proposition for his boss…

Josh’s advice for living life Tnfld
  • Ask for what you want, especially at work, whether that’s more vacation time, flexible hours, a work from home option, etc. “It’s 2019 I feel like we should be able to ask for what we want and not always feel like we work for our jobs, but that our jobs can work for us too. And we can kind of create this life – why do negotiation always have to be about money?”
  • Do different things to break out of your comfort zone: “Every time I’ve made these drastic life changes it’s been kind of scary, but when I look back later I always think – wow that’s the best thing I ever did.”

  • March to the beat of your own drum. If you can’t hear that beat, do the things you need to do to grow your inner voice and your confidence in that voice. Over time you can teach yourself to be more confident with your decisions, with change, and ultimately with yourself.

Our favourite quotes

“For me the dream life would be a 50/50 mix of both travel and work. Take three months off for travel then come back and have a [9-5 work] lifestyle and nourish that other side of my brain [for the next six months]. The dream is to do both. So I asked for it. No one’s ever asked and no one thinks to, because negotiation is such an ancient thing. No one really asks for what they want and I thought…what do I really want?”

“For the first time in my life I came back to work from the holidays and I didn’t have the post-holiday blues. I was ready to work. [I thought] “Man my life is sick, I’m ready to work”…it was my choice to be there. That was the difference.”

“People say to you “Oh, I wish I could do that” and I think, “Why can’t you?” I’m not special. I’ve had nothing given to me, not a cent from anyone ever….but I’ve always just gone for it and slowly over time I’ve taught myself to be more and more confident with those decisions and making those changes.”

Josh’s Motto

In 20 years’ time you’ll always regret the things you didn’t do more than the things you did.

Inspired by Josh? Check out his travels on Insta…

thekiwinomad_ (he’s also an amazing photographer)

Josh’s Favourites

Some of the books that influenced him the most when he was first starting out…


Tnfld Podcast | Ep02: Ben, from corporate to creative

Hometown / Northern Beaches, Sydney, Australia
Currently resides / Berlin, Germany
Job / Freelance strategy and design consultant, co-founder of The Cultive

A little bit about…

Ben is the kind of guy you can throw into any challenge and he will not only adapt, but find a way to thrive. He’s a natural leader and has an inherent ability to infuse a sense of calm and ease into even the most stressful of situations.

Earlier this year he and his partner Caitlin left their corporate lives in Sydney and embarked on a three month adventure through the European summer. They’re now settled in Berlin and thriving.

Ben’s Motto

“Your energy is contagious. The energy that you give off, whether that’s happy, sad, irritated – whatever you’re projecting really affects everyone around you and that’s what you end up getting back.”

Ben’s advice for living life Tnfld
  • Take advantage of your environment. Instead of bracing against an upcoming cold winter, reframe it in your mind – build your winter nest, find a way to relish the time indoors and use the space you’ve carved out to get creative.
  • Do things straight away – even chores. Just do it when it should be done. Do it as soon as you can and then you’re on your way to the next thing.
  • If there’s something you want to achieve, focus all your upcoming decisions towards making that goal, even if they’re tiny little actions. Every bit will help you realise the big picture.
Our favourite quote

“I always think that happiness is a hard concept to talk about…I think about it in terms of satisfaction or fulfilment.

Being here [Berlin] is a totally different experience. It gives us not necessarily more happiness, but more opportunity for satisfaction in terms of fulfilment, because of the flexibility that we’ve managed to build in. So yeah, there’s more choice everyday…where we can wake up and say ‘are we going to work on this…are we going to work on that? Or maybe today we won’t work at all….have a new experience…go out to the national park.”

Inspired by Ben? Give him a follow on Insta…

@thebentweedie  |  @thecultive

Ben’s Favourites
Books
Podcasts
People

What are your conditionings?

A family friend told me a story years ago that I’ve never forgotten:

One year she went to both her company’s Christmas parties, one was in Toronto and one was in Vancouver. In both places she was asked “What do you do?” and both times she responded the same way “I’m in marketing”.

In Toronto this started conversations about projects, teams, roles, etc., but in Vancouver when she started talking more about her job they would interrupt her with, “No, what do you ‘do’ do…like snowboard/ski/etc.?”. 

Same party, different cultural perspective. This story stuck with me, but it wasn’t until I went to Costa Rica for the first time that I experienced it for myself.

There was no way I was spending Christmas at home. View from my bedroom (December 2012, Toronto)

I was 28 when my life turned upside down. I needed an escape from the turmoil, and Tory being the good sister that she is, said there was no way we could spend Christmas at home. We looked for cheap, last-minute flights to anywhere hot and Costa Rica was the winner.

We left the freezing, dark, wet, concrete metropolitan that was Toronto and arrived in Jaco: a touristy beach town that’s also a sunshine on crack, lush,  tropical, living, breathing surf and reggae heaven.

Calle Bohio, aka Sunshine on crack

If that wasn’t enough to jolt us out of our former pale, city-dwelling selves, there was so much more to come (but I’ll save that for another time and post…).

One of the things I noticed right away was that when I talked to someone new no one would ask me:  “What do you do?”, which is what I was so used to back home. Instead, the questions were along the lines of:

Questions
  • Where are you from?
  • How long are you here for?
  • Where else are you going/have you been?
  • Do you surf?
My answers
  • Toronto
  • One week
  • Home/nowhere
  • Not yet

This shook me up. I was so used to relying on my job as the main way to identify myself (even if I didn’t really believe it) that when it was taken away as an option I felt like my current situation did not and could not describe who I was. I wanted to say, “But really…I’m interesting! I’m exciting! I’m so much more than this! And…I LOVE TO SURF!”.

But I couldn’t. I wasn’t. And I didn’t know how to surf, even though I’d desperately wanted to learn my whole life.

Why was I so triggered by this? It’s easy to see why in hindsight. I was confronted with the fact that I was not living my life the way that I wanted and that most of my choices up to that point had been based on what was expected of me and the society in which I grew up. I was 28 and on paper I found myself boring.

I realised that the things that were important where I grew up were not universally important.

The deprogramming begins (Jaco beach, December 2012)

My inner life was and had always been rich (in anxiety hah, amongst other things), but my outer life was not a reflection of the true me. This realisation shocked me to my core and set about a series of big changes (hello Saturn Return).

I realised that the things that were important where I grew up were not universally important. That if I went somewhere different, a different set of values and rules applied. And that in all of these instances, none of them had to apply to me. In the end, what mattered was what I held true for myself.

I was deep, deep down in a well of conditioning and I had just seen my first hint of light. What’s followed since has been a series of lightbulb moments where I’ve realised that there are a lot more of these assumptions living in my mind.

Here is a base list of assumptions I’d been conditioned with:

1.

Doing well in your school/job is the key to success. Success = fulfillment

I was taught that being the best at everything was the only way forward (tiger parents, before the term existed). Growing up, I was never allowed to step back and examine if the thing I was about to work tirelessly towards was what I actually wanted, needed and if it was even worth it. This caused many periods of depression in my life, where I blindly followed paths of “success” (new school programs, job offers, etc.) with the faith that once I achieved these things happiness would follow. It didn’t (surprise!) and once accomplished I would feel so much loss, disillusion and despair, often asking “What’s the point?”. I never thought about the journey, only about the final outcome and that outcome never lived up to the hype.

2.

Being with someone is the key to happiness

I dealt with frequent bouts of depression and existential crises from a very young age. Anytime I was in one of these periods my dad would always counter it with “You just need to meet someone and then you’ll be happy”. Then I did meet someone and was in a relationship for my entire 20s. And I WAS happy…for a time. It was a balm to my achy soul, but eventually the same ‘demons’, came back. Love is happiness – so much happiness, but unless you’re solid in yourself it can also be used as a distraction of sorts. We seem to often use our relationships, not to mention our responsibilities (mortgage, kids, etc.) as an excuse to not take those scary steps forward that let us grow. Relationships (even friendships) are one of the big excuses we use to stay stagnant.

3.

That’s just life / There are some things you just have to do

This kind of acceptance has its place, but it’s often used to brush over things that make you unhappy and that should be addressed. Once upon a time I was told that pretty much everyone has to work 9 to 5 (I grew up in Toronto) and that you have to be born rich or win the lottery to experience a different fate. Already, in the last five years especially, we’ve seen how not true that is (as I sit from a cafe in Canggu, Bali, with money in the bank writing this post). This statement is almost the basis of this whole site hah, so I can’t really cover it all in one bullet point!

4.

You can’t have everything

Said to many who dared to dream big! But really, what is “everything”? It can mean very different things depending on who you ask. And if it’s different for each person, then maybe you, YES YOU, can have your version of “everything”. My mother’s version of everything is dependent on winning the lottery, which has always made her “everything” very difficult to achieve. My version of everything (the truncated version) involves living by the beach and having a good work/life balance…something I’ve already cultivated and work at everyday to improve.

These conditions are pretty prevalent where I come from. I’m still trawling through them, one by one and actually get so excited now when I uncover a new one. Each time this happens the world gets a little lighter and I feel a piece of my freedom, a piece of myself, come back to me.

Do any of these resonate with you? What are your conditionings?

***Update: I just went to see a talk with Sarah Wilson the other day and had a chat with her after. We were mid convo when she asked “What do you do?”. For a moment I blanked…I couldn’t actually remember! I’ve been doing so much creatively the past year that I feel represents me, but none of it is in my main paid work. When the words came to me I realised that there was a huge disconnect between what I’ve been doing with the majority of my time and who I am now. What I do for the most part at the moment does not represent who I am. I had a lightening bolt realisation that  I need to bring the two closer together. So onwards and upwards! Very excited to start figuring this out.

Tory and the sunset (Jaco Beach, December 2012)

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Written by Alex

Tnfld

How to live a life Tnfld. A life that is true, real and bountiful… expansive as the sky above.

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