This I Believe

Benjamin - 21218, Maryland
Entered on August 15, 2007
Age Group: 18 - 30
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Contrary to the opinion of most home decorators, when refurbishing your home or office plastic chairs are the best choice. I believe that these uncomfortable chairs are the key to happiness.

I recently returned from serving two years in northern Nicaragua as a Peace Corps volunteer. The first month of service was difficult as I transitioned between worlds. As I struggled with a new language, culture, and set of beliefs I often felt misunderstood and alone. At the end of each work day during my first few weeks I sought refuge away from Nicaraguan people and culture in my stuffy adobe room by listening to Argent’s “Hold Your Head Up” and reading the next chapter of Portnoy’s Complaint. Unfortunately, all I had in my room to sit in was an uncomfortable white plastic chair.

After a few days of retreating to my room I decided I could no longer endure another hour in the horrible chair. Since the market for lazy-boys was somewhat limited in my town, I would spend the next afternoon walking up and down the two main streets watching kids play soccer and making small talk with owners of the small shops along the way. Although on the first day it felt as though I did more walking than talking, each day that passed I met more people. What started as brief conversations about the weather or baseball eventually turned into in-depth discussions about race, religion, and politics. After a week of my daily walks, I was invited to have dinner with one of the shop owner’s families.

I realized that the more time I spent outside of my room, the less I struggled with the difficulties I initially faced as a volunteer living abroad; I was no longer stumbling through conversations in Spanish, but rather rolling my “r’s” like a true Nicaraguan; I no longer feared trying local food, but instead prepared feasts of titeles with my friends; I no longer felt alone. It all made perfect sense. It took an uncomfortable plastic chair to push me out of my comfort zone and force me to start working on what would eventually lead to my happiness in Nicaragua… the relationships with my soon to be family, friends, and community.

Having returned from Peace Corps a few months ago, it is ever more apparent to me how we often rush from work to home to bed without ever leaving what is familiar. We must find ways to challenge ourselves and what feels comfortable in order to develop and strengthen important relationships which contribute to our own happiness. While for some of us this might mean joining the Peace Corps, for others it might be taking part in a youth outreach program or simply turning off the television and speaking with our kids.

Disregard the advice of interior designers. Although a plush leather love seat might be wonderful to relax on while watching a football game, the uncomfortable plastic chair forces us to discover a different world while finding happiness along the way.