I have always been an avid reader, and If I were asked to name my all-time favorite books, the ones that have really changed me or some meaningful aspect of my life, Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love would definitely make it to my top three.
One of the reasons why I love this skilfully written book is its main character, Liz. Partly because of my thoughtful and independent nature, partly because I read the book in a time when I was experiencing a sort of life crisis, I have been, since page one, both fascinated and astonished by the similarities between my own thoughts and Liz’ mindset and personality. More often than not, Liz describes herself – with respects to the most different topics, like love, relationships, meditation and traveling – exactly the way I would describe myself. And in her rambling thoughts I can often recognize my own considerations, dreams and fears.
However, the most important reason why I love Eat Pray Love is because it has taught me so much about life and about myself, in a time when I really needed it. Here are the three major life-changing lessons I learnt when I read the book for the first time:
#1 It is ok to fuck up
“When I get lonely these days, I think: So BE lonely, Liz. Learn your way around loneliness. Make a map of it. Sit with it, for once in your life. Welcome to the human experience.”
There is, at the beginning of the book, a powerful image of Liz crying on the bathroom floor at three o’ clock in the morning because she is stuck in a life that, despite looking perfect from the outside, is not making her happy anymore.
This passage, together with plenty of others in the book, powerfully describes the experience of failure and exposes the limitations and weaknesses of the protagonist. And the first lesson I learned from this book is indeed about failure and it is that it is ok to fail. It is ok to be imperfect, to make mistakes, to feel lonely or sad. It is ok to make bad decisions, to be wrong, to feel down. Everything is ok, as long as you accept and face the situation you are in, and as long as you act to change it.
#2 There is magic in traveling
“Still, despite all this, traveling is the great true love of my life. I have always felt, ever since I was sixteen years old and first went to Russia with my saved-up babysitting money, that to travel is worth any cost or sacrifice. I am loyal and constant in my love for travel, as I have not always been loyal and constant in my other loves. I feel about travel the way a happy new mother feels about her impossible, colicky, restless, newborn baby–I just don’t care what it puts me through. Because I adore it. Because it’s mine. Because it looks exactly like me. It can barf all over me if it wants to–I just don’t care.”
Traveling is indeed a big topic in the book. The main character and first person narrator Liz declares her love for traveling and travels through Italy, India and Indonesia in order to find the answers to her most burning questions, or, as the subtitle reads, “in search for everything”. Actually, thanks to her travels, Liz is able to come to terms with her past and to find what she was looking for.
Indeed, the second lesson I have learnt from Eat Pray Love is that there is some magic in travelling. Travelling really impacts your mind and soul, and by exposing you to new experiences, new people and new situations, it helps you putting your problems and fears into perspective.
However, it is not necessary to travel all the way to Indonesia in order to experience the magic of traveling. As Liz puts it, the journey can also be inside your self.
“I’ve come to believe that there exists in the universe something I call “The Physics of The Quest” — a force of nature governed by laws as real as the laws of gravity or momentum. And the rule of Quest Physics maybe goes like this: “If you are brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting (which can be anything from your house to your bitter old resentments) and set out on a truth-seeking journey (either externally or internally), and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue, and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher, and if you are prepared – most of all – to face (and forgive) some very difficult realities about yourself… then truth will not be withheld from you.” Or so I’ve come to believe.”
#3 Happiness has to be chosen
“I keep remembering one of my Guru’s teachings about happiness. She says that people universally tend to think that happiness is a stroke of luck, something that will maybe descend upon you like fine weather if you’re fortunate enough. But that’s not how happiness works. Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it, you must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.”
Last but not least, Eat Pray Love contains an essential lesson about happiness: Happiness is not something that will just happen to you when all you problems are solved and all your fears are conquered; on the contrary, happiness is the consequence of personal effort. In other words, happiness is a choice. Happy people are not people with perfect lives. Instead, they people are people who choose to be happy every day – by working on themselves and on the things they have the power to change.
“There is so much about my fate that I cannot control, but other things do fall under the jurisdiction. I can decide how I spend my time, whom I interact with, whom I share my body and life and money and energy with. I can select what I can read and eat and study. I can choose how I’m going to regard unfortunate circumstances in my life-whether I will see them as curses or opportunities. I can choose my words and the tone of voice in which I speak to others. And most of all, I can choose my thoughts.”