As our small plane circled the dirt landing strip in the Amazon jungle my friends and I peered out the window at the eagerly-waving crowd of natives. Our plane touched down, spraying mud everywhere and hurtled towards the end of the tiny clearing in the trees, stopping just at the edge of the tangled jungle bushes and vines. Before the prop stopped spinning the small crowd was running towards our plane with giant smiles and tons of energy. I had never felt so out of place, but so welcomed by a group of strangers. They were just as curious about us as we were about them, and they certainly were not shy about showing us a grand welcome! Somehow in all the commotion we grabbed our packs from the rear cargo hold of the plane and walked to the edge of the river, which was right next to the “runway.” We turned around to watch our ride leap off the ground and realized that we were here, in the middle of nowhere, Amazon–no turning back now!
Over the next few days I quickly learned that these people were the happiest I had ever met. This caught me completely off guard. How could it possibly be that the happiest people in the world were those who lived between powerful rain storms and floods, endless amount of bug bites, cold nights without electricity, the danger of everything wanting to kill you (giant anacondas, piranhas, warring tribes, hairy spiders, tiny fish that stick in your urethra, gangs of wild boar, and the list goes on and on)? Well it turns out they didn’t have any of the stressors we think of as normal: no lines at the DMV, no taxes to file, no job to get fired from, no rent to pay, no car to break down, no delayed flights, etc.
They were also acutely aware of what they did and did not control in their lives. Sure, tragedy struck them in the form of ravaging floods, natural deaths, murders by warring tribes, and their pet monkeys getting bitten by poisonous snakes, but they understood that these events were outside their control. They felt emotions during these events, but didn’t let their life be defined by these times. Instead, they chose each day to wake up with a smile, display a radiant positive energy, find natural food (like they had a choice!) to power their minds and bodies, and live for the happy moments in their lives.
They were especially good at the latter; they could make any experience a happy one. The joys of a 5 year old girl catching piranha were overshadowed by the whoops of the band of adults that chased wild boar with machetes through the mud pits of the jungle, and even those were eclipsed by the happiness experienced by all as they found a palm tree infested with hundreds of giant, pulsing grubs–also known as the “ice cream buffet of the jungle.” They chose to live their lives for the positive experiences it offered them, and because of that they were the happiest people in the world that I’ve ever seen.
Who do you think are the happiest people in the world? Is it your grandparents rocking in their chairs on their porch overlooking their scenic backyard? Is it that super-loaded guy living in the penthouse suite in downtown? Is it the receptionist at the local towing company? Is it the first-grade teacher at the local school?
Many people correlate happiness to financial security, family, fulfilling careers, or religious faith. Truth is, there isn’t one set standard for measuring one’s happiness. Only you can decide how happy you are, and that decision is based more on your attitude than on your “status” in life. You will always see someone smarter, richer, hotter, more put-together, and more angelic than you (mostly on TV–get rid of it!).
It’s OK to observe these images; it’s what you do with that knowledge that’ll determine whether or not you are happy. You can use those images as an inspiration, a vision to live up to, and constantly chase something that simply may not be in your deck of cards. You can use those images as a comparison and feel dejected that you don’t measure up. Or, you can simply notice those people exist and then continue going about your life knowing that you are who you are because of the choices you’ve made and you’re happy with your life’s journey.
The latter doesn’t mean that you don’t have dreams, desires, or goals; it simply means that your attitude going through life is the primary means of your happiness. It’s an understanding that your happiness isn’t derived from sporting 6-pack abs, or driving a Lamborghini to work, or buying a castle overlooking the beach; rather that you’re thankful for a core strong enough to propel you up a mountain hiking trail, and you’re happier taking in the fresh rain smell as you bike to work than polluting the world with that oh-so-fast sports car you can only drive 45mph without getting a ticket anyways, or your modest home can in fact provide more fodder for satisfaction than some millionaire’s castle.
Bottom line: Happiness is defined by you. You choose your attitude in life, and that choice will determine how happy you are.
Did you find this post interesting? If so, check out our website at www.minmylife.org. If the subject material of this blog post caught your attention, I recommend reading our post on Everybody Has the Same Goal.