I have been to some shockingly poor countries and what never ceases to amaze me is the ever present positive and welcoming nature of the people. I’ve spent time with people whose monthly incomes are worth less than my socks (and they’re not nice socks) and while these people often have so little they’re still willing to share what little they have with you. After coming home again, I’ve been repeatedly dismayed at the greed, wastage and the general narcissism that seems to be rampant in most 1st world societies. Don’t get me wrong I love my country but it seems to me that we may have wandered off the path a little and many people are focussing on the wrong things in life.
Last night, while at the gym I made the rookie mistake of switching on the TV. Right away I was viciously attacked by 500 stations of reality television, talk shows and bad police dramas. I panicked and a scream caught in my throat as I launching the remote through the air in an attempt to desperately avert my eyes before I was sucked into the black soul destroying hole that is modern TV. Watching an hour of TV has the same negative effects on life expectancy as smoking 2 cigarettes and given the average American watches 4.5 hours of TV a day.. well you do the maths. It’s really not pretty, and I think much of the reason the West has such a low level of GDH (Gross Domestic Happiness) stems from a commerce driven disposable society fueled by the confusion of needs and wants.
Stroll through the self help section of a bookstore and you’d be forgiven for thinking that the average person had every possible psychological issue, eating disorder, relationship problem and phobia known to man. The shelves are stacked with volumes of dodgy self help books that appear to me to be nothing more than a few pieces of common sense wrapped up in clever marketing primarily designed to make money for their authors more than genuinely helping people (The Secret anyone?). You could read every self help book in the world and not gain as much as you would through just a short trip to provincial South East Asia.
If you want to learn about yourself, travel the world and experience life in another country, ride a bike through Cambodia or drop Ayahuasca with a shaman in Peru. You will meet new people, explore new places, face fears, and see and experience things that will change you for the better in a way that no book could ever dream of. You will return home with new eyes to see things you never noticed before even though you may have been looking right at them. I have met many travellers in my time and they all seem to share some common traits, each seeing the world with fresh eyes, a love of life and generally taking nothing for granted. I have found that travellers are as a general rule far happier than your average person.
5 Lessons in happiness I learned from travel
The nearest place to get food to me right now is 30 meters away, I have access to clean water, i’m educated, I have a car, somewhere to live, a shower, healthcare and all my limbs. Be grateful for what you have, there are millions of people around the world who would give almost anything to be where you are now. Its nothing more than a lucky roll of the cosmic dice that you ended up where you are, so stop taking things for granted and be grateful for everything you have.
If you buy $400 jeans are you a bad person? Yes, yes you are. You don’t need $400 jeans. Don’t ever confuse needs with wants. Look up at the stars and always remember you are an infinitely small speck of dust, flickering into existence for a fraction of an instant on a pale blue dot and then treat everyone around you with respect and never act like a dickhead, we’re all in this together and no one’s getting out alive!
Community and Relationships
The most important things in your life are the relationships you share, friends, family, partners and the wider community. These relationships are what really make you happy and enrich your life more than anything else. Some of the poorest people on the plant have a better sense of community than most of us in the 1st world, they share, integrate and look after each other in a way that some people in The West would never understand. Travel has taught me to treasure these relationships and always be open to new friends and connections with new people.
An open mind
New ideas are the lifeblood of innovation and change, travel will broaden your mind in a way that nothing else can, new ideas keep you fresh and an open mind will make you more accepting of change, different opinions and generally a better more well rounded person. Change is inevitable, those who can’t change will be left behind, accept it and move on, travel will help you do that.
The problem with the pursuit of happiness is that you are always pursuing it. Like Wylie Coyote after the Roadrunner or a donkey following a carrot into infinity, we’re always going to be chasing it but never actually catching anything. We don’t need a Tony Robbins seminar or some other dodgy self help ‘guru’ to show us the way, we already have all the answers. Embrace your relationships, look at the stars and be grateful for your lucky roll of the cosmic dice and just be happy, most people never have the chances we do and travel is the best way I know to remember that.