The Secret to Happiness


Today I had a very interesting conversation with a young man from the nation of Bangladesh, which reminded me of a post I wrote recently (there’s an episode filmed in Dakka), which reminded me of another post I wrote a long time ago, which reminded me of several conversations I had recently with some veteran global travelers (some of whom make Magellan look like a piker), which reminded me of the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan (referenced briefly in my post here), all of which tied together with my own experiences, including what I saw out my window this very day, and led me to an interesting thesis.

I can’t say I’m the world’s biggest fan of scientific rationalism (which would require a separate and lengthy post to explain hehe) but it’ll be useful enough in the context we need for today. Let us suppose that such a thing called happiness exists and let us further suppose that it could be measured somehow and then let’s us further suppose that we went around the planet and measured everyone’s happiness. Where do we think we shall find an abundance of the stuff?

In other words, what is the secret (common denominator) for happiness?

It darn sure isn’t money, or riches or wealth, or the possession of material things, despite the Big Lie that lives on 70 years after Goebbels in every single advertisement and commercial message via every known form of media in existence that barges into our consciousness at all levels on a daily fucking basis. It darn sure isn’t religion, as is obvious once you’ve known enough Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, etc up to and including militant atheists. It darn sure isn’t race, or gender, or ethnic origin, or sexual orientation or even sexual activity (or non-activity). And strangely enough it also isn’t about age, for while we wish young children to lead happy, carefree lives, that isn’t always the way it works out as many adults can readily attest. Nor does it seem to have much to do with the politics of the country you live in, the relative liberty or restrictions of that system or even how democratic/non-democratic it is.

Why exactly then are so many Gypsies generally a happy, merry bunch while Romanians are not? There’s a good compare and contrast right there for we’re talking about people who live in the same country with the same weather and the same economy and all the rest. Why are Romanians much more sour and bitter and reserved and demonstrably unhappier than Gypsies, in general?

Why are so many wealthy American or German or British kids who go to “good” schools and have lots of toys and high speed internet often seem miserable while every time you go to Bangladesh or Indonesia or another country teeming with slums and outrageous poverty, why do the little ragamuffin kids there all seem so cheerful and happy and optimistic?

In the British documentary series I linked to, why are all the British workers, who are well paid and respected and have the identical job as their non-British counterparts, why are the British workers generally so dour and reserved (particularly before they leave home in the beginning of the documentary) and then find their foreign counterpart is not only more cheerful and happy and easygoing but actually get inspired by them which lasts even after they return home? And why was the “bin man” (USA: garbage man) the happiest of the British group, who was laughing and having a good time and enjoying his life even before he set off to Jakarta?

Now of course there is no way to prove my thesis, any more than thousands of other “scientific” thesis can be proven, but I still think I’m on to something. I truly do believe that a major factor (of course other factors are involved) of happiness is exactly this: the number of hours you have sun on your face.

Could it be that simple? Well it’s indisputable that all of us (homo sapiens) originally came from Africa. And it’s not just any part of Africa but the savannas of eastern Africa, one of the sunniest places on Earth. Much of our biology is distinctly attributable to this, including the fact that we are relatively so hairless.

Every other ape in the world is extremely hairy, as I’m sure you know. Even other monkeys and more distantly related primates are extremely hairy. Not only that but every other land mammal is ALSO quite hairy. So why in the world are humans relatively so naked? Again, there’s lots of theories but the prevailing one is because we sweat. If you’ve ever taken a dog out for a good run you know that afterward it’ll sit there with its tongue hanging out but it will never sweat.

Humans not only sweat profusely but we are creatures of the daytime, which is a result of doing our hunting and other activities during the daytime. It’s why shadows and the dark scare little children and why even our modern work day at the office is done during the day. It’s only when you look at other mammals that you realize they do most of their activity during the nighttime. My little kitty cats become far more active at dawn/dusk and so do lions and hyenas in the savanna and many, many other creatures.

Tying this all together, the theory (not mine, but the prevailing wisdom of scientists today) is that relatively puny and weak humans, if they hunted during the day when most animals were lethargic, could kill a lot more game. And the reason that most animals are so lethargic during the day is precisely because they cannot sweat and so when it is hot (and it gets plenty hot in East Africa) they rest and relax and then hunt and do other things at night. So we can be out in the full brunt of the day, sweat and thus not overheat, and so dropped our insulating body hair so that we can hunt these animals.

Assuming all of the above is true, it means that we’re all descended from a long line of people who were out and about in the savannah, or a huge area with little shelter or shade, of East Africa. And while obviously we adapted and evolved and live in every climate today, maybe that large dose of sunshine on our heads is fundamental to human happiness.

Am I right? I don’t know. But I do know that children who play outside are far happier than children who are cooped up indoors, even if indoors they have wonderful computer games and other technological marvels. I do know that Gypsies, who spend a tremendous amount of time outdoors, seem to be far more cheerful than any other native group of people in Romania. I do know that all these poor countries teeming with people in horrific slums tend to always be grinning and smiling while rich westerners driving luxury cars and working in offices tend to be badly depressed and existentially anxious.

I even did a little tally of just the Romanians I know here, ranking them in my head from the ones who seemed kind of glum or reserved to the ones who were the most cheerful and positive. Turns out all the least happy ones were the ones who spend 99% of the day indoors while all of the happiest ones spent at least an hour outside every day for whatever reason, whether it is because of their job or sports or taking walks in the park or something else.

Could it really be that simple? Again, I don’t know. But I do know that the merriest Romanians I ever met in my life, taken as a group, were all villagers, people who were outdoors most of the day. Sure there are a few sour old villagers in Romania (especially the elderly who become housebound) but almost every villager I’ve ever met or encountered were always goofing around, telling jokes, being friendly, having a laugh and in general quite positive people (even the shepherd in my ProTV segment last year was extremely gregarious).

So… maybe John Denver was right :)

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7 Responses »

  1. Asta e o teorie veche care a fost dusă mai departe şi care spune că cei mai optimişti dintre oameni sunt născuţi primăvara sau vara, explicaţia fiind numărul mai mare de ore petrecute în soare şi în aer liber în prima perioadă a vieţii.

  2. Sam-R…thank you for this insight. I’m a sunshine person myself. Nothing lifts my spirit more than a sunny day and letting the sun shine on my shoulders. I wonder though if one’s outlook isn’t also impacted by their life’s philosophy? For instance, I have more of a “live and let live” outlook on life. This coming from , “Love your neighbors as yourself.”

    What little I know of Romania, these people seemed to have shouldered more than their fair share of wars, occupation and despot dictators. Again, my experience is limited to a few Romanian friends and a book by Herta Muller, “The Land of Green Plums.” I’m struck with the impression that happiness is a luxury ill afforded. Just surviving seemed to dominate their lives. Though the Gypsies seemed to have adapted readily to the current economic/political climate, was this evident before the revolution?

    How does one adapt to a changing environment? Through my own experience and travels one becomes a chameleon. Blending into the local community through observation and hopefully a few people to help guide one past the unobservable. However, how does one change if they know nothing else? If there is no alternative to observe how can one move in another direction? Is sunshine enough?

    • There is scientific proof to what Sam is saying. Sunlight stimulates the body to produce serotonin which is the substance which produces the sensation of happiness. For instance, in Sweeden the number of suicides increases 4 times during the polar winter.
      But is sunlight enough? I don’t think so; nevertheless, it helps.

  3. There is something to this. I feel less happy when too many cloudy days pile up.

  4. Sam,
    happiness WAS studied extensively at many universities in USA and abroad. They said that if they can study and diagnose depression, which is the opposite of happiness, they could and should study happiness.

    Your conclusion had something to do with the results of the study, but it is not sunshine, although it does help. Hey, if that were true I would see people jumping up and down of happiness here in the always sunny Los Angeles CA.

    It’s the community and the social interaction that counts, the more the better. To be content with what you have also helps. The people you see outside look happy, because that is where they socialize, interact, play, chat, have meaningful conversations, etc.

    But hey, don’t take my word for it, watch http://www.thehappymovie.com/ they list a bunch of books and studies on the subject

    I’m about to scrap my “american dream” and move to a farm in rural Maramures, where I hail from.
    I have nobody around here to do all that is required to be happy. Believe me it’s not the sunshine! Not that I am not somewhat happy. But it’s not to the max. I miss to have around me people that are off a schedule, when I can just stop and chat the day away anytime.

    See you around!

Trackbacks

  1. The people that you meet each day | Eye on Romania | Ochiul pe România
  2. 10 Benefits of Having Homeless Friends | Eye on Romania | Ochiul pe România

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