Driving along back roads in Mexico, it is a typical sight to see a small thatched roof home with dirt floors and children playing in the front in the dirt. I have traveled to several third world countries and when I see things like this it makes my mind stop and really think about this world we live in. I think about these people’s existence and how here they are alive just like the rest of us, but without all the ‘stuff’.
When I first traveled to Panama at 18 years old to visit my dad who was living there, was the first time I saw poverty at that level. I remember tears welling up in my eyes seeing a little girl with a dirty face and no shoes standing in the doorway of what looked like a deserted building, but it wasn’t deserted it was where she and her family lived.
Over the years my attitude has changed as I witness third world poverty. In Mexico I saw children smiling and playing in the dirt, joyfully laughing. That sound of happiness is something that can exist no matter what your situation is in life. Why would we think their existence is any less meaningful than ours? Why would we think their happiness isn’t as measurable as ours?
As we go about our stress filled, first world problem lives I feel like people living in what we think of as impoverished conditions may in fact live more meaningful lives. Without the need for instant gratification, without Facebook to tell the world how happy we are, without a smart phone to text and stay disconnected from people, without pressure to buy the most trendy styles or newest devices, without the $1000 a month to lease a new Range Rover, these people fill their lives focused on family, work, community, and religion. They are not bogged down with stuff or the need to keep up with the Joneses. Their problems are real hunger and clean water. They do not fret about how they must buy the new BMW since the body styled changed or argue with flight attendants over getting upgraded to first class or feel the need to eat at the newest restaurant infusing third world Mexican with third world Vietnamese. Their lives are about survival and survival is meaningful. Their lives tend to be filled with love and giving from their family and community – a support system they know they can count on, not a social system based on a ‘what can you do for me?’ mentality. Their lives are religiously enriched and religion is meaningful.
Americans tend to look at wealth as a provider of immediate happiness, i.e: because I am wealthy I can buy the things I want. But immediate happiness and ‘wants’ are not long term happiness. Have you ever noticed how once you fulfill an immediate happiness, then another want arises? These wants are never ending and they never provide long term happiness. They can be fun, but at the end of the day there is a difference between fun and meaningful. Fun brings an immediate happiness that can be enjoyed in the short term but it doesn’t bring long term meaningfulness.
I remember when I was younger, oh the problems I thought I had. I have a friend who from the outside looking in seems to have it all – wealth, beauty, youth, friends, but was one of the most unhappy people I have ever been around. The problems she thought she had were not real problems, just like the problems so many of us think we have are not real problems. A break up, a friend being mean, a store not having your size in a shoe, a coffee made wrong, a package not arriving on time – these are not real problems they are ‘Real Housewives Problems’ and to think how much lip service we give to things like this.
You’ve never heard of cavemen suffering from depression or OCD or ADD? Why? Perhaps because their sole purpose each and every day was survival. There’s not much time to contemplate, “Am I really happy?”, when you have to kill a Saber Tooth Tiger to feed your family. Fortunately we do not have to go out and kill deadly animals to protect and feed our family, but there is something to be learned – when you simplify your life and make your focus your family, your spirituality, and stop obsessing over what you want next you may find a thankfulness and meaningfulness that was missing before.