HOW WE FIND HAPPINESS …

Gates 2

Gates 1

They say that experiences bring us more happiness than material possessions.   Indeed, when I reflect on the things that have brought me the most joy in life it is my experiences which come to mind, not a car, camera, or even my very best jewellery.    It is barbecues at sundown on a beach; it is hang-gliding off a mountain on skis; it is flying with the wind on a boat following the Round the World Yacht race out to sea; it is coming across David Martello the travelling musician playing piano on a frosty winter’s night in a fairy-tale square at the Dresden Christmas markets. It is, naturally, the birth of my children. My wedding day.

Research over several decades by Gilovich, Kumar & Jampol of Cornell University (1) revealed that experiences bring us more happiness than material goods because they become a “more meaningful part of one’s identity”. They are also less prone to comparison and “adaptation” – meaning we get used to a possession which once excited us. We also enjoy talking about our holidays, hikes, performances and family events more than our IPhones or flat-screen televisions.

I find that my happiest experiences can also be endlessly relived. I can close my eyes and be back there, and the emotions I felt at the time are reawakened, the brain unable to differentiate between a past and present moment.

I had such an experience in Viana do Castello in Portugal when I stayed on a history-heavy wine estate called La Quinta (meaning farm) do Paço D’Anha.   Here I was given a little cottage at the end of a row, surrounded by fields incarcerating ferocious long-horned cows, braved by the housemaids Maria and Augusta who navigated through them with their baskets to collect the abundant walnuts from the nut trees – and then left a bowl on my doorstep. Every morning these two ladies would knock at my front door with their hampers bearing my delicious breakfast, which they would serve up on my dining table with hot coffee. A convivial and perfect start to my days.

My cottage on the left

 My cottage on the left

Paço D’Anha is an old manorial farm estate which has belonged to the same family for 500 years. On my arrival I was stunned by the beauty of the baroque entrance, the chapel on the driveway, the architecture of the manor house and buildings in the courtyard which retain their 16th century façades.

Main entrance & first impression of Paço d'Anha

Main entrance & first impression of Paço d’Anha

Entrance 2

Inner courtyard

  The inner courtyard

Arches 1

Facade detail 1

Responding to my interest in the estate Christina, the friendly and attentive manager, dug out a family document about the property’s history. I learned that in 1401 the lands were gifted by King Joao the First of Portugal to his son on the occasion of his marriage. The arms I could see carved into the stone on fountains and portals belong to this son, the 4th Duke of Bragança.   Just as I found in a Spanish vineyard I visited, there was also another story of a king taking refuge in the house. In 1580 the Anha Farm became the asylum of the Portuguese King Antonio, who was fleeing from Spanish invaders, thus earning itself the title Paço or Palace – the tribute paid to sanctuaries where the king slept.

The coat of arms displayed everywhere.

 The coat of arms displayed everywhere.

The family chapel

 The family chapel built in 1625.

Belfry

The estate seemed a living echo of its former glory, like a grand dame become dishevelled with age, but I found it so attractive that I spent a day exploring it rather than going sightseeing. It turned out to be one of the happiest memories I have ever made.

The farm overlooks the Atlantic, 3kms from Viana do Castello.

The farm overlooks the Atlantic, 3kms from Viana do Castello.

In the extensive grounds beside the vineyards I came across hidden treasure after treasure – classical fountains; stone tables and stools where I could imagine festive family gatherings; a rose garden; a pine wood; a dilapidated and neglected tennis court, ghosted by times past; a stone path magically littered with glittering pyrite rock – fools’ gold – some of which I pocketed and brought home as a memento; a large grinding stone, probably a press; an ancient irrigation system and water trough where the clear water hosted a collection of rainbow-coloured autumn leaves as beautiful as any painting; and naturally an attractive horreo grain store, ever-present in the region.  Back in my cosy cottage I wrote in my journal that I was “in paradise”.

Fountain one

The old irrigation system & rainbow-leaved trough

The old irrigation system & rainbow-leaved trough

I go back to Paço D’Anha often in my mind, and feel the same sense of unadulterated pleasure as I again mentally wander the estate.   And, no surprise I suppose, unbeknown to me when I made my reservation the domaine is directly on the Chemin de St Jacques and Portuguese pilgrims pass its noble gates on their way up the coast to Santiago de Compostela.
Chemin signs

Gilovich, Kumar & Jampol conclude that their research on happiness can be extended from the individual to society, with greater emphasis and investment in social policies offering opportunities for doing rather than having “thus advancing societal well-being”.    Hurrah to that.

~

(1)  Gilovich, T., Kumar, A. & Jampol, L. (2015). A wonderful life: Experiential consumption and the pursuit of happiness. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 25(1).

More photographs of my exploration of Paço D’Anha:

Wandering the estate.

 Wandering the mirrored estate.

Stone table 1

Round stone table 1

The traditional horreo grain store

 The traditional horreo grain store

An autumnal haunted tennis court

          The autumnal haunted tennis court

Another ghost of times past

 Another hidden ghost of times past

Mirrored perfection.

 The final mirrored perfection.

–  +  –

Note: I have now completed this first Journey around Europe alone, and am back home in France, where my French home borders Geneva, Switzerland. I still want to catch up on the stories of my travels so I will continue to write about them here.  MK

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