I wake up every morning and I am happy. I’ve been very fortunate to have a good life filled with a lot of happy things but even so, this is different. I don’t think I have ever been this happy on a daily basis for this long a time. What makes a person happy? Why do I feel like this? Is it possible for everyone to feel happy? Why is it that often people who have so little are so happy, where others who have so much find happiness elusive? What is up with this business of happiness?
For one thing, for me here, Panama has happy people. There are various polls ranking happiness and Latin American in general, and Panama in particular always rank very high, sometimes at the top. (See this article titled “Money Isn’t Everything”, and these poll results from Healthways). I think it is easier to be happy when you are surrounded by happy people. It rubs off on you.
Recently, I happened across this TED talk on happiness by Shawn Achor, a Harvard psychologist. He says “We’re finding it’s not necessarily the reality that shapes us, but the lens through which your brain views the world that shapes your reality.” and later “90 percent of your long-term happiness is predicted not by the external world, but by the way your brain processes the world. And if we change it, if we change our formula for happiness and success,we can change the way that we can then affect reality.” Listen to the TED talk to hear the rest. It’s very interesting.
Mr Achor ends with some recommendations – 1. Write down three things you are grateful for. 2. Journal about a positive experience you have had in the last 24 hours. 3. Meditate, which helps your brain focus. 4. When you first bring up your email every day, write someone thanking them or praising them. If you take just a couple minutes every day to do one of these things, you can train your brain to be more positive which in turn makes you happier, more successful, and a more positive influence in the world around you.
This works for me. As a Buddhist, we are taught these very things. Buddhism is all about being happy, and we are taught that happiness doesn’t come from the external things we are told to strive for, but from our internal world, from our own mind.
An attitude of gratitude is a big part of happiness. I think this NY Time article by David Brooks explains this very well. He also talks about expectation, which may factor in to why some expats are not happy in their new country. If you expect things to be a certain way, if you hold things to very high standards you will probably be disappointed fairly often. But, if you take your world as it is and be thankful for everything it provides you, you are much more likely to be happy.
If you have trouble feeling gratitude, watch The Human Planet, a wonderful BBC production about people coping with the climates and challenges of nature where they live. I am so grateful that I don’t have to walk through the desert with my camels hoping to find that well, because if I don’t I will die of thirst. I don’t have to carry kilos of sulfur on my back while breathing toxic gases, or risk my life to find the fish in the rushing river to feed my family. It is amazing what many people have to do just to survive.
OK, enough deep thinking for one day. I just think it is shame that most of us aren’t given a proper understanding of happiness so we can have more of it in our lives. Not only is it good for us, it is good for those around us, and as expats it’s good for our adopted country and new neighbors.