Happiness on a shoestring

Blog entry created by: Teresa

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Travel has taught me so many things, and some of them are big lessons that can’t be squished into little posts very easily.  So I’ll be rambling on in a series of posts about them.

The first is about being happy.

Traveling makes me think about different people’s lifestyles…especially people Round the World with Us donors have helped with the projects we’ve selected.  It’s a cliché that many poor people are happy and yet most of us dismiss it.  Many of us (myself included even though I didn’t think so) in America work very hard and spend an awful lot of time and effort adding to and maintaining our collection of material goods.  Sure, they are things we “need” for comfort, security, and to be “productive” members of society.  A home, cars, the right clothes for work, the right furnishing to be able to invite people to our homes, etc.  But then a lot of us are spiritually poor.  We’re working so hard to achieve important goals that we don’t have time to for many things that would nurture our spirit or to seek some of the goals that we say are the most important to us.

Waiting to be happy…

No one would say that they are waiting to be happy until they acquire the next thing, or achieve the next goal, but many of us actually are.  We’ll be happy when we are financially secure, happy when we can buy our own home, happy when the kids do well in school, happy when we get a better job…then a good portion of our lives have gone by and we’re still not really happy, in fact, we may be unhappy and wonder why since we have done so well in life.

A huge clue about happiness that we often dismiss

I know I don’t speak for everyone, and of course, most people are happy much of the time, but the incidence of anxiety and depression is on the rise in America.  There is a real problem.  I bet most of us can’t imagine that we could be happy if we had a tiny little one room home, or could afford nothing more than rice and beans to eat, if we didn’t have enough money to send our kids to school.  In fact, being happy under those circumstances seems crazy to me…of course I wouldn’t be happy!  I’d be so unhappy, I wouldn’t stop working at it until I solved those problems.  But in traveling the world, people living under those conditions often ARE happy.  This is fairly earth shattering to me…and I think I can learn from it.  I would like to learn from it.  Why not?  We all say we want to be happy, and here is a huge clue about how happiness works that goes against my usual thinking.

A nation of problem solvers

So I have thought about it, and talked to many people about it.  I think it comes down to acceptance.  Most of us are raised in the US to fix problems, to change things we don’t like.  I think this is great.  We are a nation of forward thinkers, who persevere, solve problems, invent things…if we just accepted them, where would we be?  Maybe we’d be living in poverty.

Too much acceptance?

In many developing countries, I think people are taught the opposite.  They are taught to accept everything and struggle against almost nothing.  Of course, these are generalizations, but I think they are true for many.  I’ll give you and example.  Through Children International’s Into Employment program, we met two girls in India who went through a training program to become medical assistants.  It was a great success because they both got jobs in a local health care facility where they did the simpler tasks in caring for patients and keeping things in order.  It’s wonderful that they have jobs, but because they are the lowest on the totem pole, they have to work 3 days shifts and 3 shifts through the night each week – terrible for your health – and inconvenient as well.

Why do more?

I asked them if they planned to get more education so they could work in the lab of the hospital or become nurses and do more patient care.  They seemed surprised by the question.  Right away, they both said, “no.”   “We were selected for the training program to be assistants, and we got jobs, why would we want to do more?”  I told them how my mom was a single mom and worked the night shift many times, yet she went to school in the evening part time and got her degree, so she ended up running the chemistry lab at a hospital and helped all of her kids pay for their college educations.  They were silent.  At the end of the visit, the girls told our translator how much they enjoyed the visit.  They said they had both decided to get more education because they were inspired by what my mom had done.

So there you have it.

I think many people in developing countries are happy because they accept things as they are.  They don’t seem to think about how things could be different of what they can do to make the changes.  Although they feel happy, they are less likely to escape the cycle of poverty.  But we, on the other hand, or at least I, feel I need to change things all the time.  Change jobs, earn more money, solve everything at work, motivate my kids more, whenever and wherever I see a problem, I feel that I should solve it.  Then I feel I should have done a better job at it.

My way was/is just as crazy!

I realize that am the other extreme from those girls in India!  And it isn’t good.  I wonder how those girls could possibly have overlooked the chance to change their lives for the better by getting more education.  But they would look at my life and say, “isn’t it enough,” isn’t it time to be happy with things the way they are? Why keep struggling,? Why get depressed that you are not accomplishing even more, and even more quickly.  It’s crazy!”  It’s true.  I became a successful CEO of a non-profit, I saved for this trip and my family and I are having great experiences, Round the World with Us projects have helped many, many people, and yet I often feel like a failure for not having done more.  It’s really just as crazy as not considering more education.

Searching for another way

– a way for me to adopt some of the ability to accept things as they are without losing the ability to make positive change in life.  So that is why I have been reading about other philosophies including Buddhism.  Although Buddhism represents extreme acceptance (in my limited understanding of it), I think I could benefit from learning how to accept things and then find some middle ground.

Next post…some things I like about Buddhism and why we decided to try a Buddhist meditation retreat in Thailand

Followed by…Buddhist meditation retreat – a kind of hell, or a path to health and happiness – or both?

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Posted on: April 23, 2011 | Categories: Thailand, What travel has taught us


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