Learning to be happy

Karolina Iwa
5 min readJul 6, 2021


Or how to choose the right pleasure this holiday*

With this summer at our doorstep, the hardship of confinement behind us and the many needs we juggle, creating a time that will be truly regenerating has a different importance that during other vacation times. Here I want to share one trick I found to manage my energy and find out exactly what I need.

The back story

Let me be honest: I find myself a challenge. And whereas my friends and family spend a couple of hours per week with me, I have myself 24/7 to deal with. Do not get me wrong. I am grateful to be a person, who is constantly driven to reach further. And needs to play.

However, in busy times I get confronted with the following, a couple of times a week: I have had a good day’s work behind me and I both need & deserve some rest. BUT:

  • I do want to have a short nap
  • AND watch a show
  • AND snack some nuts
  • AND play Sudoku

As a result, instead of a 15 min nap, then snacking while watching one episode of a show, I spend 1h in bed doing everything at once. When I get up, I am seldom rested, and more often grumpy and tired. Please meet: Doing It All at Once and Finding The Wrong Pleasure. To get myself our of this conundrum, I created a little model.

The model

I call them Impromptu Imperfect Mental Models. They are intended as a conversation opener and a guide in self-inquiry, rather than being a complete tool. And as imperfect, as they are, I had many a lovely exchanges prompted by them.

As you can see, this model is composed of two concentric circles. The outer one focuses on who you want to share this special time with.

  • Do you need a moment by yourself to reconnect to just you?
  • Maybe you need to spend time with a group connected by a special interest or circle to join you?
  • Do you simply want time with some of your friends?
  • Are you missing a big diverse crowd you belong to, a community?
  • Is this year’s holiday all about the family?
  • Do you want a date with the world (however that might look)?
  • Or do you want to take that special person you share you life with on that journey?
  • Or maybe, just maybe do you want to set off, without planning too much and invite whoever happens to cross your path to join you?

The inner circle is an attempt to capture various dynamics we might plan our holiday around:

  • You might seek a time that is Balancing, soothing, like a spa holiday?
  • or something simply Nice, like a weekend in Budapest?
  • It could also be an event, that helps you connect to the Essence, like ecstatic dancing or ritual space?
  • Or something New, a place you have never been before, a sport you wanted to take up for a while?
  • One that I really fancy is something Unknowable, that the more you get to know, the more still lies ahead to explore?
  • Then there are those adventures where we play with risk, for me that might be climbing 4000-meeter glacier peaks?
  • Or something Big, like tracing the steps of your favourite anthropologist in Micronesia?
  • The one I left last is a Sentimental journey, visiting your places of delight and your places of power, where you know the food, the streets and the waiter at your favourite café.

Some classical mistakes

Let me scare you a bit. If you do not do make the right choice, you might land horror-holidaying. You can find yourself doing the wrong thing, with the wrong people at the wrong place, coming back home beat and sad, actually needing a holiday to recover from that holiday. Ever been there? I tend to revisit.

Scenario one: I want an adventure, something exciting and new. Something unforgettable, that I had not known before. At the same time there is this region/country/place I want to share with my travel companion. We end up going there, often re-tracing my previous visits. It is sweet and nice, but this choice does little to the wild beast inside of me that — if I am honest — actually was happy to land in some uncomfortable situations, and later add them to my favourite travel conquests. This means I took Nice & Sentimental, instead of New and Dangerous and maybe Unknowable.

Scenario two: I need to rest. But I am scared, that if I send myself with my friends to a lovely place with a view and two yummy home-made meals per day, I will implode. So I decide to do a solo-multi-day hike. Classically, when hiking I bite off as much as I can chew plus some more, so after some days in the mountains I am happy, but also exhausted and really ready for that chill holiday I was so afraid of in the beginning. Here instead of Friends & Balancing I go for Danger and Self.

There is a lot to be said about being content with the choices we make and truly owning them, but this is a completely different read, and maybe also a different person should write it.


What would you say, if I asked you: What is it that you need most right now? What people and what energies? What would such a holiday look like?

If this feels difficult, try going through different options and discovering what you might NOT feel like. Then see what is left and how that makes you feel.

In next step you might try sharing what you have found with others, to understand if your holiday planning fits or if there might be instances, where it will be better to spend some time enjoying separate paths.

I have been sharing this little idea with people around me, who might struggle with connecting to what they desire or find it difficult to share with their loved ones or family what they really need to be happy, and be able to come back after this summer, feeling like they had a moment to breath and to make their inner animal purr.

As this model is by design imperfect, I am curious to read what other categories you might want to add to make it reflect your reality and favourite pleasures?

*I realise, that now even more than ever many of us might be missing resources to go on holiday, or the right partner or a permission to enter the place you want to visit. I share this idea more from an intention of collectively learning to figure out how to best work with the resources at hand, rather that making anybody confronted with scarcity we might be experiencing in our lives.



Karolina Iwa

Senior Facilitator. Co-Founder of Leadership Festival. Exploring Leadership & Organisational Culture. Making companies thrive.