Tagged: happiness

Meaning of life revealed: It’s about others

Ok, let’s have a take on this age-old mystery. The answer is in fact quite simple. The meaning of life is to make oneself meaningful to other people. It’s about making a positive contribution in the lives of those people one holds dear. Why? I’ll tell you why.

To start with, we need to focus on the one asking the question. Because most of us never ask such a question in all its seriousness. For most of us the question is a joke, something to make fun of when we want to mock too deep-going thinking. On the other hand, there are those artists who have taken this enigma so seriously that they have been driven to suicide by this haunting question. So, who asks the question?

Only those people who have for some reason distanced themselves from the framework for life given to them by their upbringing. Most people never seriously question the worldview provided by the society around them or their religion – be it Christianity, Buddhism, Islam or the modern alternative: Consumerism. The question opens itself up in all its seriousness to only those of us who for one reason or another have started to question the given, the values and purposes that they were brought up to believe in.

Next, we need to look at the question itself. What do we really ask, when we ask about the meaningfulness of our lives?

Question of meaningfulness is in the end a question about making our lives have meaning in some framework bigger than ourselves. As long as we are asking how to make ourselves happy or how to maximize our own outcomes in life we are not asking about the meaning of our life. These are perfectly legitimate questions and some people are able to live their lives without asking anything else. But only when they ask what bigger meaning their lives might have, do they start to care about making their lives meaningful. Thus we need to find something bigger than ourselves that we can believe in and that we feel we can contribute to in order to feel that our life has a meaning.

Where to then look for something bigger than ourselves? As said, those asking the question are the people who no longer believe to an answer external to them. They have distanced themselves from modern consumerism and ancient religions. There is then only one direction from which they can look for an answer: Inside of them. And what do we find inside of us? We find that we are creatures that are <a href="deeply dependent on others. We are creatures that want to belong. We are creatures that build our sense of value through sensing how others value us. It is extremely hard to uphold a high regard of ourselves if others don’t care about us at all. As creatures who need to feel connected, we want that others care about us.

Given our psychological build-up the most solid base for purpose we can genuinely believe in is found in other people. When we believe that we contribute positively to lives of others, then we feel that our life has value and meaning. That’s how simple it is. What group of others is most important to one is then a matter of preference. Some find meaning through their own kids, others through their work and still others through some voluntary work: Orphans in Africa, homeless in your home town, breast cancer victims, whatever is your cup of tea.

Meaning of life is to make oneself meaningful to others. It is up to you to decide to whom you want to be meaningful.

Ok, let’s have a take on this age-old mystery. The answer is in fact quite simple. The meaning of life is to make oneself meaningful to other people. It’s about making a positive contribution in the lives of those people one holds dear. Why? I’ll tell you why.

To start with, we need to focus on the one asking the question. Because most of us never ask such a question in all its seriousness. For most of us the question is a joke, something to make fun of when we want to mock too deep-going thinking. On the other hand, there are those artists who have taken this enigma so seriously that they have been driven to suicide by this haunting question. So, who asks the question?

Only those people who have for some reason distanced themselves from the framework for life given to them by their upbringing. Most people never seriously question the worldview provided by the society around them or their religion – be it Christianity, Buddhism, Islam or the modern alternative: Consumerism. The question opens itself up in all its seriousness to only those of us who for one reason or another have started to question the given, the values and purposes that they were brought up to believe in.

Next, we need to look at the question itself. What do we really ask, when we ask about the meaningfulness of our lives?

Question of meaningfulness is in the end a question about making our lives have meaning in some framework bigger than ourselves. As long as we are asking how to make ourselves happy or how to maximize our own outcomes in life we are not asking about the meaning of our life. These are perfectly legitimate questions and some people are able to live their lives without asking anything else. But only when they ask what bigger meaning their lives might have, do they start to care about making their lives meaningful. Thus we need to find something bigger than ourselves that we can believe in and that we feel we can contribute to in order to feel that our life has a meaning.

Where to then look for something bigger than ourselves? As said, those asking the question are the people who no longer believe to an answer external to them. They have distanced themselves from modern consumerism and ancient religions. There is then only one direction from which they can look for an answer: Inside of them. And what do we find inside of us? We find that we are creatures that are <a href="deeply dependent on others. We are creatures that want to belong. We are creatures that build our sense of value through sensing how others value us. It is extremely hard to uphold a high regard of ourselves if others don’t care about us at all. As creatures who need to feel connected, we want that others care about us.

Given our psychological build-up the most solid base for purpose we can genuinely believe in is found in other people. When we believe that we contribute positively to lives of others, then we feel that our life has value and meaning. That’s how simple it is. What group of others is most important to one is then a matter of preference. Some find meaning through their own kids, others through their work and still others through some voluntary work: Orphans in Africa, homeless in your home town, breast cancer victims, whatever is your cup of tea.

Meaning of life is to make oneself meaningful to others. It is up to you to decide to whom you want to be meaningful.

Want happiness? Make those around you happy! 5 reasons why this is the best strategy.

Take whatever book or article that reports the results of recent scientific research on happiness. One conclusion they have in common is that social relationships are what make people happy or unhappy. Here’s Daniel Gilbert, professor of psychology at Harvard, for example:

”If I had to summarize all the scientific literature on the causes of human happiness in one word, that word would be ’social’. … If I wanted to predict your happiness, and I could know only one thing about you, I wouldn’t want to know your gender, religion, health, or income. I’d want to know about your social network—about your friends and family and the strength of your bonds with them.” (from Harvard Business Review)

The best way to have good relationships is to be good towards others. That’s because relationship is about mutuality, you can’t have a high-quality relationship with someone if you don’t give something into it. Thus we are more happy when we care more about the relationship than we care about ourselves. For social animals like us, it is through relations that happiness enters our being.

So the importance of relationships is paramount for our happiness. But there are at least four additional reasons why we should care about others happiness more than our own happiness. Reason number two is purely prudential: I do a favor for you and I can expect a favor from you when I need it. I exchange favors more or less formally with those around me; some owe me, to some I do owe. By doing good deeds I build a buffer of supportive network that is there when I need it the most.

This social exchange perspective is made stronger through the mechanism of reputation. When I do good deeds to someone, the word tends to spread around – and the word spreads around even more efficiently when I am an asshole towards someone. Because people value justice, those who have a reputation of being good to others can expect favors even from people whom they have never directly benefited. Similarly, nobody wants to step up for a guy who is known to care only about himself.

The reason number three is about emotional contagion. I am affected directly by the mood of others. Through mirror neurons and other mechanisms I pick up the moods of those around me and they have a direct effect on my own mood. Bring in front of me a person who radiates excitement and I feel more energetic myself. Bring me in the midst of miserable people and my mood drops. A human being is not an a island. Thus there can’t be an island of happiness in the midst of a sea of sadness.

When we see someone smiling, it makes us more happy. Scientist call it emotional contagion.

Fourthly, researchers show that when people do acts of kindness towards others it is many times the giver who gets a bigger boost in happiness than the receiver. As a social species our brain is wired to give us a boost of happiness when we are kind to others. In the same way that it is wired to give us a boost of happiness when we eat sugar. The difference is that the positive effect produced by good deeds lasts much longer.

But most deeply, we identify with other people. The closer they are to me the more their pains and joys are also my pains and joys. In my last post I described how having a child expands our identity from a person who cares only about oneself to a person for whom my own well-being and the well-being of the child are almost inseparable. But actually the same thing applies to some degree to all our relationships. My identity is more or less overlapping with all those people that are close to me. Therefore their joys and miseries affect me directly, as if they would be my own joys and miseries.

So a practical advice: If you visit the same cashiers in a shop every day, do something extra for them. Make them smile a few times and in the future your own happiness will receive a boost everytime you see them. And if you live with somebody, you better make sure that you think more about how to make him or her happy than you think about how he or she makes you happy. As we are more prone to notice our own good deeds this is the only strategy that can make a relationship sustainable, balanced and happy for both.

Being a human is about being with others. Our own well-being and happiness is entangled to our social relations in a number of ways. Even to the degree that our best bet in increasing our own happiness is to invest in the happiness of others.

It is paradoxical but it is true. The less you care about your own happiness and the more you care about the happiness of others, the more happy you are yourself.

Take whatever book or article that reports the results of recent scientific research on happiness. One conclusion they have in common is that social relationships are what make people happy or unhappy. Here’s Daniel Gilbert, professor of psychology at Harvard, for example:

”If I had to summarize all the scientific literature on the causes of human happiness in one word, that word would be ’social’. … If I wanted to predict your happiness, and I could know only one thing about you, I wouldn’t want to know your gender, religion, health, or income. I’d want to know about your social network—about your friends and family and the strength of your bonds with them.” (from Harvard Business Review)

The best way to have good relationships is to be good towards others. That’s because relationship is about mutuality, you can’t have a high-quality relationship with someone if you don’t give something into it. Thus we are more happy when we care more about the relationship than we care about ourselves. For social animals like us, it is through relations that happiness enters our being.

So the importance of relationships is paramount for our happiness. But there are at least four additional reasons why we should care about others happiness more than our own happiness. Reason number two is purely prudential: I do a favor for you and I can expect a favor from you when I need it. I exchange favors more or less formally with those around me; some owe me, to some I do owe. By doing good deeds I build a buffer of supportive network that is there when I need it the most.

This social exchange perspective is made stronger through the mechanism of reputation. When I do good deeds to someone, the word tends to spread around – and the word spreads around even more efficiently when I am an asshole towards someone. Because people value justice, those who have a reputation of being good to others can expect favors even from people whom they have never directly benefited. Similarly, nobody wants to step up for a guy who is known to care only about himself.

The reason number three is about emotional contagion. I am affected directly by the mood of others. Through mirror neurons and other mechanisms I pick up the moods of those around me and they have a direct effect on my own mood. Bring in front of me a person who radiates excitement and I feel more energetic myself. Bring me in the midst of miserable people and my mood drops. A human being is not an a island. Thus there can’t be an island of happiness in the midst of a sea of sadness.

When we see someone smiling, it makes us more happy. Scientist call it emotional contagion.

Fourthly, researchers show that when people do acts of kindness towards others it is many times the giver who gets a bigger boost in happiness than the receiver. As a social species our brain is wired to give us a boost of happiness when we are kind to others. In the same way that it is wired to give us a boost of happiness when we eat sugar. The difference is that the positive effect produced by good deeds lasts much longer.

But most deeply, we identify with other people. The closer they are to me the more their pains and joys are also my pains and joys. In my last post I described how having a child expands our identity from a person who cares only about oneself to a person for whom my own well-being and the well-being of the child are almost inseparable. But actually the same thing applies to some degree to all our relationships. My identity is more or less overlapping with all those people that are close to me. Therefore their joys and miseries affect me directly, as if they would be my own joys and miseries.

So a practical advice: If you visit the same cashiers in a shop every day, do something extra for them. Make them smile a few times and in the future your own happiness will receive a boost everytime you see them. And if you live with somebody, you better make sure that you think more about how to make him or her happy than you think about how he or she makes you happy. As we are more prone to notice our own good deeds this is the only strategy that can make a relationship sustainable, balanced and happy for both.

Being a human is about being with others. Our own well-being and happiness is entangled to our social relations in a number of ways. Even to the degree that our best bet in increasing our own happiness is to invest in the happiness of others.

It is paradoxical but it is true. The less you care about your own happiness and the more you care about the happiness of others, the more happy you are yourself.

What is the most fundamental question in life? Hint: It is not about meaning of life or about what exists fundamentally

Have you ever wondered what is the most fundamental question for you or for any human being? There are a few candidates but in the end only one stands a closer scrutiny. The nominees that come most readily in mind are the classic questions about the origin of the world, about what exists fundamentally and about the meaning of life. Mesmerizing as they are, they nevertheless aren’t the most fundamental for us.

The two first-mentioned questions could be understood as questions about the nature of the universe. Where did it come from and what is it like? Other way to put them would be to ask in what kind of world do we live in? The reason they are bad candidates as the fundamental question for us human beings is that they haven’t given adequate attention to the one asking these questions, the human being itself. If we would be eternal, disengaged and god-like creatures then that kind of noble question might be worthy of our attention. But instead we have a limited time here on earth, we care about our faith and therefore we have to choose carefully how we spend that restricted time. Devoting oneself to answering these questions means that one has made a choice in which one has given priority to this activity instead of – for example – trying to find a cure for cancer or be a good father to one’s children.

We are thrown into a world in which we need to act. As sociologist Hans Joas has put it: ”Action is the way in which human beings exist in the world.” Every moment we make a choice about what we do. Whether we want it or not, we have every second the possibility to act in a multitude of ways. Therefore the most fundamental question for any human being is about what to do. What to do right now and more generally within one’s life. All the other ’fundamental’ questions are only derivatives of this more general question. For example, finding the meaning of life, true nature of happiness, reason for the existence of the universe, whether god exists, what is morally right and wrong and so forth would give us good reasons to act in certain rather than other ways. But all of them can only answer subquestions such as what to do, given religion, or what to do, given our interest in our own happiness. What we need to answer, however, is what to do, given all.

Other way to phrase the same question is to ask ’How to live a good life?’ This is so for the simple reason that we have an interest in living in better rather than worse ways. Already Socrates recognized this to be the most fundamental of all questions. For the great philosophers of ancient Greece, the question about good living formed the most fundamental question of all philosophy. The aim of philosophy was not theoretical but about aiding people in their quest to live a good life.

Curious fact about the question of good life is that every single human being answers it but only a small amount of people ask it seriously. This is because we answer it through the way we actually live. Your life is at every moment your best answer to the question of good life. You can’t escape your life and therefore you can’t escape answering this question through your way of living. The problem is that if you haven’t answered the question yourself then somebody has answered it for you. You are either guided by values and needs chosen by you or then you are guided by values, desires, wishes and so forth that the surrounding culture and media has given you.

The most important step towards a good life is to start taking responsibility for it. This means that you start to seriously consider whether the model of good life that you are living today is really what you would have wanted to choose. It means that you start to seriously think what is the best way to live given your unique personality and situation. Carving your own values and path of good living doesn’t happen in a day. It requires long-term engagement in serious reflection and dialogue with other people. But then again, the reward is the best there can be: A good life designed just for you!

Children playingHave you ever wondered what is the most fundamental question for you or for any human being? There are a few candidates but in the end only one stands a closer scrutiny. The nominees that come most readily in mind are the classic questions about the origin of the world, about what exists fundamentally and about the meaning of life. Mesmerizing as they are, they nevertheless aren’t the most fundamental for us.

The two first-mentioned questions could be understood as questions about the nature of the universe. Where did it come from and what is it like? Other way to put them would be to ask in what kind of world do we live in? The reason they are bad candidates as the fundamental question for us human beings is that they haven’t given adequate attention to the one asking these questions, the human being itself. If we would be eternal, disengaged and god-like creatures then that kind of noble question might be worthy of our attention. But instead we have a limited time here on earth, we care about our faith and therefore we have to choose carefully how we spend that restricted time. Devoting oneself to answering these questions means that one has made a choice in which one has given priority to this activity instead of – for example – trying to find a cure for cancer or be a good father to one’s children.

We are thrown into a world in which we need to act. As sociologist Hans Joas has put it: ”Action is the way in which human beings exist in the world.” Every moment we make a choice about what we do. Whether we want it or not, we have every second the possibility to act in a multitude of ways. Therefore the most fundamental question for any human being is about what to do. What to do right now and more generally within one’s life. All the other ’fundamental’ questions are only derivatives of this more general question. For example, finding the meaning of life, true nature of happiness, reason for the existence of the universe, whether god exists, what is morally right and wrong and so forth would give us good reasons to act in certain rather than other ways. But all of them can only answer subquestions such as what to do, given religion, or what to do, given our interest in our own happiness. What we need to answer, however, is what to do, given all.

Other way to phrase the same question is to ask ’How to live a good life?’ This is so for the simple reason that we have an interest in living in better rather than worse ways. Already Socrates recognized this to be the most fundamental of all questions. For the great philosophers of ancient Greece, the question about good living formed the most fundamental question of all philosophy. The aim of philosophy was not theoretical but about aiding people in their quest to live a good life.

Curious fact about the question of good life is that every single human being answers it but only a small amount of people ask it seriously. This is because we answer it through the way we actually live. Your life is at every moment your best answer to the question of good life. You can’t escape your life and therefore you can’t escape answering this question through your way of living. The problem is that if you haven’t answered the question yourself then somebody has answered it for you. You are either guided by values and needs chosen by you or then you are guided by values, desires, wishes and so forth that the surrounding culture and media has given you.

The most important step towards a good life is to start taking responsibility for it. This means that you start to seriously consider whether the model of good life that you are living today is really what you would have wanted to choose. It means that you start to seriously think what is the best way to live given your unique personality and situation. Carving your own values and path of good living doesn’t happen in a day. It requires long-term engagement in serious reflection and dialogue with other people. But then again, the reward is the best there can be: A good life designed just for you!

Children playing

Why are you sweating your ass off in work when you could be fishing right now?

Have you heard the famous story about a Harvard business graduate and a poor fisherman? If not, start by reading it. Because already twice this trip I have felt that I’ve met a living example from that story. Yesterday, finding myself in the home of a twenty-something fisherman on the small coral island of Caye Caulker and learning that he goes fishing three or four times a week I asked what does he do on the other days. ”Hang out with friends, eat good food, drink some rum, go partying, hook up with girls, have sex” was his answer.

I would imagine that many young guys would dream about that kind of simple life filled with earthly pleasures and taking place on the stunningly beautiful Caribbean coast of Belize. But if you find that kind of lifestyle attractive ask yourself why are you not living it?

The 'Budgetman' selling lobster on the main road of Caye Caulker

For most of the young western guys living that dream would be possible: There seemed to be plenty of fish in the ocean and the skill needed to get it up from there is not exactly any rocket science. Besides, living in Belize is cheap compared to western countries so one can make ends meet with going out fishing only a few times a week. Many western travelers staying on the island were saying that living here is awesome and that they would like to stay for a longer time – yet everyone of them were going back home to get back into the corporate treadmill. What is holding us back? I’ll tell you in a minute.

The second encounter with happy fishermen was perhaps even more ’authentic’ and happened in the tiny, remote and rural village of Orinoco on the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua where I was the only tourist. Observing their daily living I couldn’t help but being impressed by their life. Here they are, living in extreme poverty by all Western standards. Yet they don’t seem to be lacking much: their food is good by any standard – fresh seafood, organic fruits and vegetables -, they live close to their extended families and friends with a strong sense of community, and the weather is pleasant. And above all, to achieve this lifestyle they work much less hours per day than we ’wealthy’ westerners.

The reason me and other travelers impressed by the coastal lifestyle of Nicaragua and Belize are not relocating is that the western standards of proper living have an internal hold of us. I couldn’t enjoy being a fisherman in the long run, despite the beauty of that way of living. Why? Because certain sense of progress, achievement and career advancement is lacking from that life. With that way of living I would ’already be there’ and we in the west are told that what we want in life is always ’behind the next achievement’. Ours is a world of go-getters, hunger is what keeps the wheels greased. Be a tiger, not a happy sloth! It is this attitude we carry in our souls even on our vacations. We are able to chill out only because we know that it is only a temporary break-off from the ’real life’. And real life is a life where you should have a clear sense of progress.

Living the simple life in Orinoco

There was not a trace of this strive for achievement in the village of Orinoco – they were happy to work only to the extent that they have some food on the table. Some days a few hours, on others more, some days not at all. And on Caye Caulker the fellow tourists I met were all telling how the slow pace and chilled out atmosphere grows on you from the moment you step your foot on the island. They learned not to look at the watch and many of them realized at some point that they had spent much more days on the island than they had planned for. Yet when their time was up they returned to their home countries with the more achievement-oriented lifestyle again grabbing a hold of them.

So what is the takeaway? Am I suggesting that every western person should break the chains our culture has captured us with and escape into a more easy, less stressed and happier lifestyle? If I would, I would be practicing hypocrisy because I myself am still possessed with a strong urge to achieve something in my life. But awakening to the knowledge that there are alternatives available is relieving in itself. With alternatives in view one can take a more relaxed attitude towards one’s choice of living. If at some point I realize that I am not achieving what I want to achieve that is not the end of the world. Winning the rat race is not the only way towards fulfillment. By changing the way I want to live my life I can be as happy or even happier in that new situation.

And most importantly, when you truly realize the existence of other ways of living you loose your innocence. From that moment onwards you are making a conscious choice about which of the alternatives you are committing yourself to. I know that with enough time spent on this island I could internalize its way of living and from that moment onwards the western striving would seem alien to me. So change is possible even thought it requires time and effort. The fact that I am not trying to change is already a choice, a commitment to my current way of living. So ask yourself, is life of ease your cup of tea or are you willing to consciously commit yourself to a more stressing lifestyle of pursuit?Have you heard the famous story about a Harvard business graduate and a poor fisherman? If not, start by reading it. Because already twice this trip I have felt that I’ve met a living example from that story. Yesterday, finding myself in the home of a twenty-something fisherman on the small coral island of Caye Caulker and learning that he goes fishing three or four times a week I asked what does he do on the other days. ”Hang out with friends, eat good food, drink some rum, go partying, hook up with girls, have sex” was his answer.

I would imagine that many young guys would dream about that kind of simple life filled with earthly pleasures and taking place on the stunningly beautiful Caribbean coast of Belize. But if you find that kind of lifestyle attractive ask yourself why are you not living it?

The 'Budgetman' selling lobster on the main road of Caye Caulker

For most of the young western guys living that dream would be possible: There seemed to be plenty of fish in the ocean and the skill needed to get it up from there is not exactly any rocket science. Besides, living in Belize is cheap compared to western countries so one can make ends meet with going out fishing only a few times a week. Many western travelers staying on the island were saying that living here is awesome and that they would like to stay for a longer time – yet everyone of them were going back home to get back into the corporate treadmill. What is holding us back? I’ll tell you in a minute.

The second encounter with happy fishermen was perhaps even more ’authentic’ and happened in the tiny, remote and rural village of Orinoco on the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua where I was the only tourist. Observing their daily living I couldn’t help but being impressed by their life. Here they are, living in extreme poverty by all Western standards. Yet they don’t seem to be lacking much: their food is good by any standard – fresh seafood, organic fruits and vegetables -, they live close to their extended families and friends with a strong sense of community, and the weather is pleasant. And above all, to achieve this lifestyle they work much less hours per day than we ’wealthy’ westerners.

The reason me and other travelers impressed by the coastal lifestyle of Nicaragua and Belize are not relocating is that the western standards of proper living have an internal hold of us. I couldn’t enjoy being a fisherman in the long run, despite the beauty of that way of living. Why? Because certain sense of progress, achievement and career advancement is lacking from that life. With that way of living I would ’already be there’ and we in the west are told that what we want in life is always ’behind the next achievement’. Ours is a world of go-getters, hunger is what keeps the wheels greased. Be a tiger, not a happy sloth! It is this attitude we carry in our souls even on our vacations. We are able to chill out only because we know that it is only a temporary break-off from the ’real life’. And real life is a life where you should have a clear sense of progress.

Living the simple life in Orinoco

There was not a trace of this strive for achievement in the village of Orinoco – they were happy to work only to the extent that they have some food on the table. Some days a few hours, on others more, some days not at all. And on Caye Caulker the fellow tourists I met were all telling how the slow pace and chilled out atmosphere grows on you from the moment you step your foot on the island. They learned not to look at the watch and many of them realized at some point that they had spent much more days on the island than they had planned for. Yet when their time was up they returned to their home countries with the more achievement-oriented lifestyle again grabbing a hold of them.

So what is the takeaway? Am I suggesting that every western person should break the chains our culture has captured us with and escape into a more easy, less stressed and happier lifestyle? If I would, I would be practicing hypocrisy because I myself am still possessed with a strong urge to achieve something in my life. But awakening to the knowledge that there are alternatives available is relieving in itself. With alternatives in view one can take a more relaxed attitude towards one’s choice of living. If at some point I realize that I am not achieving what I want to achieve that is not the end of the world. Winning the rat race is not the only way towards fulfillment. By changing the way I want to live my life I can be as happy or even happier in that new situation.

And most importantly, when you truly realize the existence of other ways of living you loose your innocence. From that moment onwards you are making a conscious choice about which of the alternatives you are committing yourself to. I know that with enough time spent on this island I could internalize its way of living and from that moment onwards the western striving would seem alien to me. So change is possible even thought it requires time and effort. The fact that I am not trying to change is already a choice, a commitment to my current way of living. So ask yourself, is life of ease your cup of tea or are you willing to consciously commit yourself to a more stressing lifestyle of pursuit?

The mystery of the Costa Rican happiness

Dios te ama – God loves you! With these words I was greeted into Costa Rica after my long flight. The mystery about Costa Rica that I travelled across the Atlantic to solve is about happiness. According to different polls, namely, Costa Ricans are a happy bunch of people. In Gallup’s much quoted Global Well-being survey, Costa Rica ranks sixth, far above what would be expected in terms of its economic situation – and far above such countries as United States, Britain or Germany. The other countries in the top five – Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Netherlands and Finland – are among the richest and most economically equal societies in the world so their success is easy to understand but Costa Rica seems to have produced almost the same amount of happiness with far smaller Gross Domestic Production. In addition, if we combine life satisfaction with measures of the ecological footprint like Happy Planet Index has done, Costa Rica comes out as number one in the world.

Another cultural anomaly coming through in statistics is the fact that in Hofstede’s cultural dimension of ’masculinity versus femininity’ Costa Ricans rank – unlike other Latin American countries with their machismo image – among the countries with the most feminine values (interestingly, the top six countries in both the well-being survey and Hofstede’s femininity dimension are exactly the same. Could this be a mere coincidence?). The shortcomings of these self-reporting surveys are of course well-known and it might be disputed whether they tap into happiness at all. But at least it can be stated that there is something interesting and unique going on in Costa Rica in terms of cultural valuations and happiness.

But back to the park Morazán in the centre of San José in which I sat relaxing after the long flight drinking an ice tea. The park alone offered me three different insights into Costa Rican happiness. Firstly, the greeters with a message from God were young Salvation Army members who invited me to their church. Naturally, I accepted the invitation despite the almost total language barrier between us. More of that later. But their mere presence in the park reminded me of the strong influence religion has in this country and in these people’s lives. Religion has been found on average to increase people’s happiness within the nations so perhaps religiousness was one building block in Costa Rican happiness.

I found the second key to explain Costa Rican happiness whilst observing the other people in the park. Certain easiness of being characterized the faces of these people who hanged there with no hurry whatsoever. In contrast to us northerners who always are a bit tense and on our way to the next achievement, these people seemed to be completely at home in wasting away a proper working day in the park. More about this theme in the next post but I believe that in this attitude of not taking one’s achievements too seriously one can find much potential for better well-being.

Park Morazán in the evening

Later in the evening when the sun had already started to lighten other continents, I passed by the same park on my way back to the hotel. Gone were the happy youthful people with their skateboards and juggling balls. Instead, an ominous group consisting of prostitutes, pimps and drug-dealers seemed to have taken over the place. In fact, it looked exactly like a place where a western tourist like me finds himself facing a knife or a gun and quickly surrenders all his valuables. I turned around looking as confident as possible and took the next available taxi and got safely to my bed. My hotel was only a few blocks away from the center but the locals as well as my travel senses advised me to take a taxi always in the evening.

The possibility of being robbed was all too much present in many areas of San José. For a guy like me, who is used to live in Finland where armed robberies are relatively unheard of, such constant sense of fear would have a strong negative effect on one’s well-being. Safety is among the most basic needs of humans so disturbances in one’s sense of safety ought to have a remarkable negative impact on one’s happiness. How could they be happy if they always have to be careful and vigilant in the streets to avoid robbery?

Ease of living and religion on the one hand, criminality and unsafeness on the other, the mystery behind Costa Rican happiness had found its first dimensions. I felt sure that I would crack the mystery of Costa Rican happiness in no time…

Dios te ama – God loves you! With these words I was greeted into Costa Rica after my long flight. The mystery about Costa Rica that I travelled across the Atlantic to solve is about happiness. According to different polls, namely, Costa Ricans are a happy bunch of people. In Gallup’s much quoted Global Well-being survey, Costa Rica ranks sixth, far above what would be expected in terms of its economic situation – and far above such countries as United States, Britain or Germany. The other countries in the top five – Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Netherlands and Finland – are among the richest and most economically equal societies in the world so their success is easy to understand but Costa Rica seems to have produced almost the same amount of happiness with far smaller Gross Domestic Production. In addition, if we combine life satisfaction with measures of the ecological footprint like Happy Planet Index has done, Costa Rica comes out as number one in the world.

Another cultural anomaly coming through in statistics is the fact that in Hofstede’s cultural dimension of ’masculinity versus femininity’ Costa Ricans rank – unlike other Latin American countries with their machismo image – among the countries with the most feminine values (interestingly, the top six countries in both the well-being survey and Hofstede’s femininity dimension are exactly the same. Could this be a mere coincidence?). The shortcomings of these self-reporting surveys are of course well-known and it might be disputed whether they tap into happiness at all. But at least it can be stated that there is something interesting and unique going on in Costa Rica in terms of cultural valuations and happiness.

But back to the park Morazán in the centre of San José in which I sat relaxing after the long flight drinking an ice tea. The park alone offered me three different insights into Costa Rican happiness. Firstly, the greeters with a message from God were young Salvation Army members who invited me to their church. Naturally, I accepted the invitation despite the almost total language barrier between us. More of that later. But their mere presence in the park reminded me of the strong influence religion has in this country and in these people’s lives. Religion has been found on average to increase people’s happiness within the nations so perhaps religiousness was one building block in Costa Rican happiness.

I found the second key to explain Costa Rican happiness whilst observing the other people in the park. Certain easiness of being characterized the faces of these people who hanged there with no hurry whatsoever. In contrast to us northerners who always are a bit tense and on our way to the next achievement, these people seemed to be completely at home in wasting away a proper working day in the park. More about this theme in the next post but I believe that in this attitude of not taking one’s achievements too seriously one can find much potential for better well-being.

Park Morazán in the evening

Later in the evening when the sun had already started to lighten other continents, I passed by the same park on my way back to the hotel. Gone were the happy youthful people with their skateboards and juggling balls. Instead, an ominous group consisting of prostitutes, pimps and drug-dealers seemed to have taken over the place. In fact, it looked exactly like a place where a western tourist like me finds himself facing a knife or a gun and quickly surrenders all his valuables. I turned around looking as confident as possible and took the next available taxi and got safely to my bed. My hotel was only a few blocks away from the center but the locals as well as my travel senses advised me to take a taxi always in the evening.

The possibility of being robbed was all too much present in many areas of San José. For a guy like me, who is used to live in Finland where armed robberies are relatively unheard of, such constant sense of fear would have a strong negative effect on one’s well-being. Safety is among the most basic needs of humans so disturbances in one’s sense of safety ought to have a remarkable negative impact on one’s happiness. How could they be happy if they always have to be careful and vigilant in the streets to avoid robbery?

Ease of living and religion on the one hand, criminality and unsafeness on the other, the mystery behind Costa Rican happiness had found its first dimensions. I felt sure that I would crack the mystery of Costa Rican happiness in no time…

Leaving home and learning to appreciate what we have

The hardest part of a journey is usually the start. This is true in two senses of the word: Firstly, there are always so many excuses not to travel – the lack of money, risks ahead, study, work or family commitments and so forth – that many people never leave their home. These are obstacles that can always be arranged, if one just has a strong enough vision. Don’t take my word for it, ask Dervla Murphy who in addition to bicycling alone from Ireland to India in 1963 also travelled 1500 miles by foot in Peru with her nine-year old daughter. It must though be noted that her daughter Rachel rode the first six hundred miles with a pony before becoming a pedestrian.

Secondly, leaving is hard because one has to say farewell to so many dear people whom one doesn’t see for months. The last weeks before the trip are always filled with sad partings in which both realize how long it will be before we meet again. Should one say some kind words – or just shake hands in silence with a manly firmness? These are moments I have never learned to handle with elegance, I am always a bit unsure of how to get through them and how to really show the other how much I care about him or her.

One of the main reasons to travel, however, are precisely these good-byes. The human psychology is built in such a way that we often are unable to appreciate that which we have. We grow so used to having the good people around us and getting their attention and love that we start to take it for granted. We no longer see how much their presence really gives to us and in how many ways they enrich our lives. You do not learn to appreciate something before you don’t have it – and traveling is a way of departing from that which you have for a while and thus learn to appreciate it anew.

This is connected to one of the things that modern well-being psychologists have emphasized, namely the fact that in terms of happiness, ”the human mind is extraordinarily sensitive to changes in conditions, but not so sensitive to absolute levels” as Jonathan Haidt puts it. In other words, most of the things we have – especially our material wealth – don’t affect our happiness in the long term because we grow used to them. To change our happiness permanently we should not change the amount of things we have but our relation to the things we have. One can learn oneself to take a more appreciative attitude towards one’s life – for example through the simple exercise of once a week writing down five things one is gratetuf for. Simple as it may sound, this kind of exercises have been found to increase people’s satisfaction with life, their optimism and even their physical health.

Traveling – I argue – is one of the best ways to learn to appreciate more what one already has. As the travel writer Paoul Theroux notes: ”One of the greatest rewards of travel is the return home to the reassurance of family and old friends, familiar sights and homely comforts and your own bed.” But to get there, you first have to travel.The hardest part of a journey is usually the start. This is true in two senses of the word: Firstly, there are always so many excuses not to travel – the lack of money, risks ahead, study, work or family commitments and so forth – that many people never leave their home. These are obstacles that can always be arranged, if one just has a strong enough vision. Don’t take my word for it, ask Dervla Murphy who in addition to bicycling alone from Ireland to India in 1963 also travelled 1500 miles by foot in Peru with her nine-year old daughter. It must though be noted that her daughter Rachel rode the first six hundred miles with a pony before becoming a pedestrian.

Secondly, leaving is hard because one has to say farewell to so many dear people whom one doesn’t see for months. The last weeks before the trip are always filled with sad partings in which both realize how long it will be before we meet again. Should one say some kind words – or just shake hands in silence with a manly firmness? These are moments I have never learned to handle with elegance, I am always a bit unsure of how to get through them and how to really show the other how much I care about him or her.

One of the main reasons to travel, however, are precisely these good-byes. The human psychology is built in such a way that we often are unable to appreciate that which we have. We grow so used to having the good people around us and getting their attention and love that we start to take it for granted. We no longer see how much their presence really gives to us and in how many ways they enrich our lives. You do not learn to appreciate something before you don’t have it – and traveling is a way of departing from that which you have for a while and thus learn to appreciate it anew.

This is connected to one of the things that modern well-being psychologists have emphasized, namely the fact that in terms of happiness, ”the human mind is extraordinarily sensitive to changes in conditions, but not so sensitive to absolute levels” as Jonathan Haidt puts it. In other words, most of the things we have – especially our material wealth – don’t affect our happiness in the long term because we grow used to them. To change our happiness permanently we should not change the amount of things we have but our relation to the things we have. One can learn oneself to take a more appreciative attitude towards one’s life – for example through the simple exercise of once a week writing down five things one is gratetuf for. Simple as it may sound, this kind of exercises have been found to increase people’s satisfaction with life, their optimism and even their physical health.

Traveling – I argue – is one of the best ways to learn to appreciate more what one already has. As the travel writer Paoul Theroux notes: ”One of the greatest rewards of travel is the return home to the reassurance of family and old friends, familiar sights and homely comforts and your own bed.” But to get there, you first have to travel.

The beginning of a journey

Sometimes a man has to go. Sometimes a man needs a purpose to go. I am going to Central America, to Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The purpose of my journey is to learn more about the local culture, the way they live their lives and the way they think about vital issues such as happiness, morality and good life.

What makes Costa Ricans happy, what is their measure of success? What kind of attitudes do Nicaraguans have towards life’s big issues: family, work, friendship and death? What kind of things do they value, what is sacred for them? And of course: What can we learn about our own lives and our own deeply-held values and attitudes by comparing them with the Central-American culture? In other words, what can we learn from them in terms of how to live a good life ourselves? These are the questions I will be examining.

My mission in life is to explore novel ways of thinking that enable people to better understand how to live their life in a good way. I aim to find fruitful ways to answer the ancient question about what is good life and how to live one’s life. The journey I will now be taking is a part of this mission. Through absorbing myself to the Central American culture for a couple of months I hope to widen my perspective and thus be able to think about these basic questions in a more open and wide-reaching way.

This blog will be a report of this journey. I hope to give the reader two things: (1) To broaden her or his perspective about what good life could be about. (2) To give practical insights into how to live a better life within one’s own life-situation, whatever that situation is.

How then to live your life? Truth to be told, there is no such thing as one correct way of living. Everyone must carve their own path. As Zarathustra said:

”This is just my way, where is yours?” Thus did I answer to those who asked me ”the way.” For the way – it does not not exist!

Sometimes a man has to go. Sometimes a man needs a purpose to go. I am going to Central America, to Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The purpose of my journey is to learn more about the local culture, the way they live their lives and the way they think about vital issues such as happiness, morality and good life.

What makes Costa Ricans happy, what is their measure of success? What kind of attitudes do Nicaraguans have towards life’s big issues: family, work, friendship and death? What kind of things do they value, what is sacred for them? And of course: What can we learn about our own lives and our own deeply-held values and attitudes by comparing them with the Central-American culture? In other words, what can we learn from them in terms of how to live a good life ourselves? These are the questions I will be exploring.

My mission in life is to explore novel ways of thinking that enable people to better understand how to live their life in a good way. I aim to find fruitful ways to answer the ancient question about what is good life and how to live one’s life. The journey I will now be taking is a part of this mission. Through absorbing myself to the Central American culture for a couple of months I hope to widen my perspective and thus be able to think about these basic questions in a more open and wide-reaching way.

This blog will be a report of this journey. I hope to give the reader two things: (1) To broaden her or his perspective about what good life could be about. (2) To give practical insights into how to live a better life within one’s own life-situation, whatever that situation is.

How then to live your life? Truth to be told, there is no such thing as one correct way of living. Everyone must carve their own path. As Zarathustra said:

”This is just my way, where is yours?” Thus did I answer to those who asked me for ”the way.” For the way – it does not not exist!