Looking for Happiness? Move to Africa
The iPhone comes out. I jump on the bandwagon and buy it. Youíre next door. Youíve watched the same ads, but you canít afford it. Wouldnít that make you feel Ö..
(A) miserable (B) excluded (C) dejected (D) unsatisfied (E) all of the above?
On separate trips I visited Ghana, in West Africa, and then Harlem, an area of NYC largely populated by African Americans. These worlds are different in almost every way you can imagine. People wouldnít be able to understand each other even if they both spoke English. Ghana struggles in poverty while Harlem enjoys relative prosperity. But who enjoys life more? Is it the people from Harlem living in the underbelly of a glamorous American city, or the Ghanaians of Western Africa?
The obvious answer is Harlem. They have access to healthcare, education, a reasonable climate, and, very importantly, media. With media comes the desire for a high life, and, for many in Harlem, itís one they canít have. After working two jobs after school, they cram for a test, babysit their five-year-old sister, and watch Gossip Girls shopping in Paris. Those in Ghana, on the other hand, have no access to the lives of celebrities. They havenít heard of Coach (besides the bus), and they are unfamiliar with pizza. Their neighbours are the ones they compare themselves to. That comparison is on a much smaller scale: who sold more mangoes at the market today?
What Iím getting to is that happiness can be thought of as the gap between what you have and what you want. When this gap is abnormally large, like in Harlem and Orange County, unhappiness festers because the temptations of a fabulous life are dangled in oneís face. The average lower class American makes $1000s more than the typical Ghanaian, but who has a more satisfying life?
We learn about the suffering of the African people and their struggle to survive, but our struggle is different. What we deal with isnít just physical. Itís mental suffering, knowing youíre worse off than that man on 5th Avenue. Poorer Americans have more opportunities, more material goods, and better healthcare than Ghanaians. But, overall, Ghanaians may be more pleased with their day-to-day lives.
This may sound ignorant or insensitive of what Ghanaians face daily, such as barely being able to provide enough rice for their families. But you can see the happiness in the culture and on their faces. Ghanaian children yell and wave vigorously at the side of the road, exultant to see you. Everyone wants to meet you, shake your hand, and be your friend. All across Ghana, signs read ďGodís shoe shopĒ and ďIn God we trustĒ. Even if their crops fail, their trust in God never does. Thereís also respect for anotherís work and family that you donít see over here. Why steal from your neighbour when you rely on each other to get by?
Essentially, once you have the necessities (food, water, shelter), youíre looking for happiness. Whether that means making piles of money or traveling the world, everybody looks for it. Some people just have different expectations of what happiness is. Ghanaians appreciate what little they do have, and the media canít throw in their face what they donít have.
Life is like a movie review. Youíre told itís outstanding, five stars. You expect a good show, and you end up disappointed. When youíre told itís going to be dreadful, you look out for things you can enjoy. So if youíre looking for happiness, donít look to your neighbourís house, look to the mud huts.