Thoughts on making things and finding happiness

I am driving West on Ocean Park Boulevard, and right around 6th Street this breathtaking view of the ocean presents itself. I feel how the expression on my face visibly changes to a smile. I instantly like the music on the radio, and my field of view resembles more a frame out of a beautiful motion picture than real life. We see so much every day but don’t really pay attention to it — this is different. I’m happy. It’s a feeling of accomplishment, a feeling of being in charge while still enjoying the randomness that comes with this great adventure between birth and death. Happiness might be different for you, but this is what makes me happy.

Life has a tendency to advance on its own, not much input needed. Take the train in the morning, get off at the same stop, get to work, go back home. Things get interesting once you take charge and move closer to the outside of your comfort zone. Some people like comfort, and that’s okay. But those who do often misinterpret the absence of comfort as a state of unhappiness. For me that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Here’s the thing: I enjoy the feeling of not being satisfied, the urge to improve something, to seek out adventure. I deliberately search for the imperfections in life. Yes is better than no, because it means you’re about to experience something new. It means tomorrow you’ll have another story to tell. Some people take the freeway through life. It’s comfortable, and you won’t get any surprises along the way. I prefer the backroads, where you see places you didn’t know existed, meet people, and experience something new. And while the freeway has the advantage of getting you there faster, that benefit is irrelevant in your own life. We’re all just on the road for a certain amount of time, and that’s it. So I really don’t see a point in cruising along as comfortably as possible.

A few years ago I had the pleasure to talk to one of my late grandfather’s friends. I was a boy and he was an old man. Until then I was used to old folks telling long tales about how their supermarket has increased prices and how back in the day milk was much cheaper and now they have a promotion but it’s still more expensive and who knows where the milk comes from these days. Anyway, my grandpa’s friend had all these fascinating stories about being on a ship, going to foreign places, meeting people, moving to new cities, and making uncertain but wonderful choices. I remember being awestruck, and ever since that moment I wanted my life to be full of such great stories.

The philosophy of saying yes also extents to another important aspect in my life: creativity. Art and creativity — making something that only exists because of you — is what makes us human. In the last year I’ve written fiction, created short films, produced multiple podcasts, made hundreds of photographs that make me proud, recorded music for fun, developed designs for print and the internet, and so forth. I never want to stop making things.

That moment I see the Pacific Ocean in front of me I’m overcome with happiness. I live in California because I chose to be here. I wasn’t born on this continent, I didn’t grow up speaking this language, but I absolutely wanted to take this road, no matter how uncertain it may seem. I’m here because I don’t want to know in advance what the journey will be.

The traffic in LA is always bad and the weather is always beautiful. So if you live here you know that those two things alone don’t make for a good story. Experience something. Get off the freeway. Live a little.


Text by Mike Zwahlen, photo by Jim Hanft.
Mike Zwahlen works for Google and moonlights as a writer and photographer. He is the co-founder and Creative Director of Elusive Magazine and lives in Los Angeles, California.


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