The Pursuit of Happiness

The United States is not a happy country.

In a recent study by the New Economics Foundation, the happiest countries in the world are Vanuatu, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominica and Panama. Out of 178 countries surveyed, the U.S. ranked No. 150.

We here in the “land flowing with milk and honey” think we’re happy because we have nearly every amenity one can imagine—we’re busting at the seams with iPods, cell phones, computers, fancy cars, sauna sleep tents, filters to make our water pure, spa products for our poodles and many other ridiculous, unnecessary items.

We are one of the only countries in the world in which people undergo counseling for psychological and relational problems. And while some countries could indeed use counseling, others have a cultural mindset of "Don’t worry, be happy," where they have simply learned to not worry about almost anything; to just live moment by moment. Everybody hum along to Bob Marley’s song.

Why aren’t we happy? Hollywood movies seem to announce to masses that we Americans have the perfect blend of romance, money and possessions to make our lives inevitably flawless.

When questioned as to why Vanuatu is such a happy place, Marke Lowen of Vanuatu Online, Vanuatu’s online newspaper, responded, "This is not a consumer-driven society. Life here is about community and family and goodwill to other people. It’s a place where you don’t worry too much."

"The only things we fear are cyclones or earthquakes."

Just five months ago, I was living in a country that ranked No. 23 on the survey: The Philippines. Life is so much less complicated there than it here. There, I would wake up to the crows of roosters, the yelps of dogs and cries of playing children, cook a simple breakfast of eggs, put on a simple outfit and enjoy a 3/4 mile walk to work.

Here, before I even get to work, I am awakened by my cell phone alarm, must make sure my favorite songs are playing while I get ready for the day, ensure that my clothes are perfectly ironed and that my makeup is nicely applied, straighten my hair, eat a rushed breakfast and barely remember to set the house alarm before running out the door to fight my way through morning traffic.

Life is at least three times as complicated here as it is on a tropical island like Vanuatu or the Philippines …

So is there a way to live in the complex, consumer-driven society of the U.S. and still be as happy as the people in Vanuatu?

Here are a few suggestions I have from my experiences:

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1. Stop worrying! Truly focus on what you’re doing right now instead of always trying to get ahead.

2. Don’t try to get everyone to like you. Just be who God made you to be.

3. Take every opportunity to laugh and smile. Smile at people as you walk by them for no good reason. Laugh at anything that strikes you as even remotely funny.

4. Do something that you really love doing that is not one of your “requirements” at least once a week. Paint. Go on a treasure hunt. Go thrift store shopping. Go scuba diving. Whatever it is, it is essential that you make the time to do what really makes you happy.

5. Cherish your relationships. Spend quality time—even if you’re not doing anything at all—with your family, friends, or special someone. Don’t set agendas when it comes to your close relationships; just spend time with them and enjoy it.

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