The key to happiness.
Isn’t that what we all seem to strive for in life? After all, it is one of USA’s unalienable rights according to our constitution.
A new study published by The Journal of Experimental Psychology evaluated the effect of what ‘pursuing happiness’ had on 4 different cultures: USA, Germany, Russia, and East Asia; the results were quite fascinating!
- America- led to less subjective well being
- Germans- no real effect on well being
- Russia and East Asia- led to greater sense of well being
How could one of the world’s richest, most successful nations be the poorest in its pursuit for happiness? Or, on the contrary, how can a developing nation be the most successful in its endeavor?
It seems it is all a matter of perspective.
While traveling through Sri Lanka, it was apparent the results of the study were valid. Even in the poorest of villages the children were laughing and running up to greet us, women chatted and offered their local fruit for us to try, and everyone seemed to have a smile on their face even though their way of living was considered harsher than many would tolerate.
So why were they so happy even with the American’s version of ‘nothing’?
While exploring the foothills of Knuckles Mountain Range, I was lucky enough to have a village elder as a guide during my stay. Walking with our 67 year old guide (don’t let the number fool you, I could barely keep up) and blissfully listening as he explained various purposes of the various plant parts he harvested, cut or crushed; I couldn’t have been more in awe.
He excitedly pointed out numerous herbaceous species that could heal headaches, be added to ‘spice up’ traditional culinary cuisines, or induce a nasty rash if touched. As we passed modest homes made of crumbling concrete and stone, he cheerfully chatted to each neighbor like they were family.
One could tell he was genuinely happy with life.
Knowing I would not find a better candidate for my question, I decided to ask my dogmatic guide why the people of Sri Lanka seemed so happy. He smiled once again and told me he had everything he could desire. The things he was most proud of boiled down to these 3 things:
- Purpose with Contribution
- Social Support
- Connection with Nature
We rested for a few second as he sat on a rotting log and pulled off a leech from his bare foot, continuing to explain.
Purpose with Contribution
As a younger man, my guide worked in the tea plantation to earn a living like most of the villagers, but he truly enjoyed his side job as a brick layer. While some would see it as just hard labor, he prided himself in making building for others to call a home, schools for children to create a better future in, and temples for his village to find serenity.
Although I have seen many acts of ‘togetherness’ in the US, nothing seemed to measure up to the unity I saw within the villages I visited during my trip. Neighbors helped harvest food for each other. Families united when building a new home or church. Helping others and ‘paying it forward’ was not a past time, it was a way of life.
Have you ever found yourself getting a bit depressed when few people have ‘liked’ you picture on FB or IG? Or maybe the opposite, felt a bit proud when your post gets flooded with smiley faces and thumbs up images?
Although we are networking, it seems we are not genuinely connecting with others in a way that is beneficial. An article published by Huffington post looked into benefits of volunteering and helping others, in particular, happiness. It is quite the interesting read.
Connecting with Nature
I am sure we have all heard the saying, “A little fresh air is good for everyone”, but what about the benefits of a true ‘connection’ with Nature. When I asked the village elder why he felt this relationship was important, he said something I will never forget:
“When I am hungry, I know what plants will fill my belly or which ones make me sick. When I am ill, I know which plants will heal me. When I am cold, I know how to build a shelter to keep me warm. Do you think most people that buy their food in packages could do that ? Be lucky enough to know the land that well?”
He looked me in the eye and shadow of sadness seemed to cloud over.
“Although times are changing, we once used to be the Jungle’s (Nature) protector. It provided Life and, in return, we took only what we needed and and never tried to leave a wound that couldn’t be healed. ”
As this wise man said, times are changing. With so much going on in the world, it may seem a bit naive to think that playing in the woods and community service could be a cure.
That is not what I am trying to convey. I am not trying to share my resolution for world peace, but personal happiness. We only have one life. Let’s not scale our happiness based on the salary we make or the response we get on social media.
Step outside and challenge yourself.
- Challenge yourself to learn something new about the natural world around you.
- Challenge yourself to one random act kindness a day.
- Challenge yourself to volunteer your time without expecting anything in return.
The benefits will far exceed the work. I promise.
What is your favorite way of connecting with nature? Please leave a comment.