Thursday, July 16

Happiness is the warm heart of Africa

Advertising slogans can’t resist the 'happy' word so that jingles begin with Happiness is ………, If you want to be happy just ……., happiness is rewarding yourself with ……. be happy and don’t forget to ………. It seems happiness must be our natural state of mind as we are encouraged to tough out life’s trials and tribulations by grinning and bearing it – smile please! - after all life wasn’t meant to be easy!!

Children’s smiling faces remind us they are happy but inevitably once they realize they can't always have what they want you may have a unhappy child, or even tantrums.
Learning how to deal with our inevitable disappointments is probably one of the best life skills we can acquire.

Health also plays a pivotal role as our first pains will certanly not be our last. Chronic pain can make even the most robust unhappy.

Social researchers have concluded our happiness or otherwise is influenced heavily by by our individual and societal expectations. Continued rapid changes create a pressure cooker environment conducive to many people feeling powerless to achieve their basic needs or accomplish predetermined goals which can lead to widespread unhappiness.Adding to these frustrations are the societal expectations about continued assured growth and expected satisfaction which can be unrealistic. This is not to say goals and aspirations are unhealthy or to blame but rather our expectations need to be tempered by the realization the journey will not always turn out as we intended or hoped. How we handle these disappointments might be more important than anything else.

When I recently visited Malawi it was interesting to observe the happiness of its people in the various communities both in the city and the outlying village areas. According to those who have spent many years in the field this was not surprising since their country is known deservedly as the warm heart of Africa.Considering the country is one of the poorest in the world with an annual average per capita income of only $250 combined with a low life expectancy I think it demonstrates the nexus been material wealth and happiness is erroneous.I didn’t encounter a single rude Malawian and the outpouring of joy over simple events was extraordinary.
It seems too me this is an example of ‘being in the present ‘so that the worries of the future are transcended. Whilst there, I continually listened the stories of the locals. One such inspirational story was of a grandmother who was cement contractor delivering cement to one of the catholic schools.

Her story was typical of many about their community life, grandchildren and so forth but it wasn’t until later on I learnt her husband had died the previous year from HIV AIDS. She was also infected, yet was able to continue in her joyful (whilst acknowledging her past sorrow) life’s existence.It seems to me she has traversed the physical for the spiritual and so doing transcended past sorrow for the present joy. Whilst we may feel some anger at her plight and of the very many,including a large number of orphans, who through no fault of their own have to carry such a heavy burden, it also is true it is testament of how the spirit of some can never be broken.

Happiness is the warm heart of Africa.


Seraphine said...

poverty has many faces. for some, it means bad nutrition, inadequate sanitation, no safe place to sleep.
for others, poverty may be a pox on the spirit.
some have an extended support system- family and friends- where everyone looks out for each other.

susan said...

What Sera said is very true and just the thing I was about to say myself. Without love we are nothing.

Cart said...

Africa has not yet been a personal experience for me - always second or third hand to date. I do admire people like you who do get in and involved.

Gary said...

Here here. My experience is similar Lindsay and I often want to express it more deeply and not as a cliche (poor people are happy). Obviously that grandma would love more life and her husband's life to continue. Obviously all children deserve food, shelter, education, security and opportunity.

But yes, my experience has been that I was indeed happier when living in parts of Africa with people who are more in the moment and taking pleasure from simple and wonderful things (such as a meal, company, tea, conversation, children, a sunset and a joke).

lindsaylobe said...

Hi Sera, Susan, Cart & Gary

Thanks for your insightful comments which I have just read at my local library since my computer crashed and I am obliged to await the order a new box.

I agree with Gary that it is indeed difficult to express adequately your feelings and I also struggled not to present the cliché that poor people are happy.

Conceptually I think maybe the link often supposed between poverty, bad heath and wellbeing my be a tenuous one. Since poverty is usually defined as having little or no possessions or a low level of income by any statistical standard Malawi ranks as one of the most impoverished countries in the world. Yet is there is no denying their happiness and joy for living in the present. The visit helped cement in my mind that any undue concentration of effort and pursuit of material wealth does not lead to any perceptible increase in the longer term in the general level of happiness.

Bad heath also need not be assumed to correlate with impoverished nations not do I think the pursuit of growth strategies predicated on western individualistic (as opposed to community based ) ideals will lead to an overall improvement. In Malawi for instance HIVAIDS Antiviral drugs are free of charge which has helped enormously with improved life expectancy and the quality of life. Generic drug manufactured in India are also very cost-effective as I could buy a box of ant malarial drugs for a dollar – a few dozen tablets in Australia cost $ 20- $30. Overall government policy ensures free drugs, free education and help to farmers which has improved yields.

Malnutrition is a problem and a legacy from the high death rates pertaining previously from HIV AIDS as both parents died with young children whose responsibility became vested in aging grandparents not always able to cope and in growth of orphanages.

However I was heartened to witness the splendid work undertaken at St Kizito by Fr Taylor who has formed 47 communities, aiming for self sufficiency so that he will be the last of the missionaries needed. These communities are charged with the responsibility of looking after all their people as a steady stream of projects come to fruition.

Best wishes

Seraphine said...

it's interesting to read how a few people, like yourself, can make a gigantic difference in so many people's lives. and of course the hope is once people have their most basic needs met, they can be creative and find ways to further enrich their lives and the lives of those around them.

gfid said...

this question of why/how some rise above the limitations of poverty and tremendous disadvantage, and not only manage to be happy, but even manage to accomplish excellence in unexpected places, has fascinated me all of my life. it's one of the reasons i like to read biographies. one thread that seems to run through it all is the power of family and/or community to make us believe in ourselves, and our abilities. if money was the answer, the wealthy countries of the world would be heaven on earth.... but they're not, so that clearly isn't as important as we're led to believe. in fact, it seems to have a corrupting effect more often than not.

there's something very inspiring about people whose spirits are untainted by the extreme circumstances of their lives, whether those circumstances be very good, or very bad.

Seraphine said...

maybe malawi could send some aid to america. we need healthcare and assistance for the poor.
and some of that happiness stuff too.