Today we’re sharing a guest post, which is an expert from happy by our friends at Lonely Planet. This is our last Hunt for Happiness Week post that got delayed due to a technicality. After all when we hunt for happiness sometimes we find it when we get outside the box we’re comfortable living in.
And of course, if you make a comment you’ll be entered in drawing for two copies of happy. Deadline to comment is February 4.
“Happiness. One word, nine letters, roughly seven billion definitions, one for each person on the planet.
Researchers are learning a lot these days about the intersection between emotions and neuroscience. Everyone’s level of happiness is about 50% genetically determined (what the experts call your ‘happiness set point’), a further mere 10% comes from external factors, and the rest comes from how we perceive our circumstances. Yes, money buys us some happiness, they say, but only to the point where we have security – a roof over our heads, a doctor when we’re sick, a bit of entertainment now and then. Travellers take note: almost a dozen recent studies agree that experiences bring more long-term happiness than do possessions.
So, if we’re so smart about happiness, why isn’t everyone on the planet who has reached this level of security perfectly happy? Across the developed world, people have better medical care, fewer preventable diseases and longer life spans than ever before. In the United States, the pursuit of happiness is a constitutional right. But while many Western countries top the lists of overall happiest countries, many also rank highest in individual rates of depression and other mental health disorders.
The same researchers who study happiness will tell us it’s not the flashy car or the new shoes that will make us happy in the long run. In fact, these expectations do us a disservice. Instead, they’ve found that it’s some of the most basic aspects of life found in every culture that bring us the most joy – connection, mindfulness, gratitude, play.
While this book offers a few specific examples, these experiences happen all over the world in billions of ways: devoting time to honour family ties (p99: Tsagaan Sar in Mongolia), being still with the present moment (p43: zazen meditation in Japan), giving thanks (p33: Thanksgiving in the USA), or just shaking our collective booties (p109; Crop Over festival, Barbados).
One of the unspoken gifts of travel is it allows us the chance to open our mind, eyes and soul to how different cultures invite happiness into their live, whether those countries are some of the wealthiest in history (p111: hygge in Denmark), or are struggling to put food on the table (p000: dressing up in Mali).
Whether you’ve travelled halfway around the world, to the nearest national park or a heritage street festival in your own city, you’ve probably felt it, that feeling of….was it happiness? Belonging? Joy, perhaps. Athletes might call it ‘flow’ and spiritual masters might tell you you’ve glimpsed the faintest echo of enlightenment. You might have recognised it in the simple pleasure of the Italian passeggiata, when you joined the entire village in the main piazza for a social evening stroll (p69) or when you became part of a group t’ai chi lesson at dawn along the river in Shanghai (p57).
So, does Lonely Planet aim to be the authority on world happiness? Heck no. We’re still working on it ourselves. We know there are around seven billion ways to define happiness, but here are 55 pleasures we just happen to like. They range from physical pleasures like dancing in the Carnaval parades in Brazil (p91) to giving back to your community during the Chilean ritual of ‘la minga’ work days (p113), or accepting the impermanence of life while building a sand mandala in Tibet (p23).
Experiencing other cultures can remind us just how much we appreciate taking the time to breathe deeply or laugh with family and friends. Many of us have heard of the Japanese tea ceremony, but did you know about its world-away counterpart, the Ethiopian coffee ceremony (p59)? Like its Japanese cousin, the Ethiopian custom reminds us to stop and smell the coffee beans and enjoy time spent together.
Like zakat in Islamic countries or jimba in Buddhist lands, the tiny island nation of Tokelau in the South Pacific has a ritual of inati (p113), sharing their daily fish catch with those who need it most. And all cultures might want to take a lesson from Bhutan, where the nation defines success not solely by earnings, but by the population’s gross national happiness level (p15).
When you arrive back at home, perhaps your life has changed ever so slightly. Maybe after a visit to Italy you take a 15-minute stroll before dinner every now and again. Perhaps you invite a friend over for coffee and just talk and laugh for hours, productivity be damned. Or, who knows, you might now start your mornings dancing naked in front of your cat to that calypso music you picked up in the Caribbean. But your eyes are now open and there’s no going back, only passing on what you’ve learned.” (Alex Leviton, p08-09)