I crossed over into Laos this morning. The difference in affluence is apparent just across the river. The infrastructure of the town is more shoddy. The streets rougher. But the insides of the buildings are cleaner, and I have to take off my shoes just to enter this internet shop. And the people are friendlier. Maybe they see fewer farangs (westerners), and are not so fed up with the lot of us. People smile and say Sai-wa-dee, and two 12-year old boys, walking with arms around each other stopped me in the failing light as I walked past and asked where I was from. They were eager to practice their English, so I slowed down and talked with them a little. It was probably the best interaction I’ve had with a local yet. I think that the rural areas might be more like that in Thailand as well, but the cities are busy and cold.
I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness lately, because that’s the sort of thing I do when I have time on my hands and few outlets for my mental energy. The people here seem generally happy, at least when you move out of the cities. I saw this in the extreme when I visited a hill tribe in the forests outside of Chiang Mai. This was a guided tour, but the town was real. Many of these hill folks do not have a nationality, and they live a subsistence life. There are hundreds of these villages, and the people live in bamboo huts, grow rice, and hunt whatever moves (I could go on about environmental consequences, but I’m stuck on this happiness thing, so bear with me).
They have nothing, really, in the way of possessions, yet they seemed very happy, very friendly, very gracious. As we moved down the mountain and got back into the more money-based villages, the atmosphere seemed to change, as well as the feedback I got from people. Fewer smiles, less laughter. Everywhere I go, this seems to be the case. There is more affluence in the cities, but more stress and less openness. As you get more rural, the people get more relaxed, friendlier, happier. I don’t think it directly has to do with possessions, but it goes to show that possessions have little to do with happiness. As Tyler Durden says, “the things you own end up owning you.”
Happy people have a way about them. I don’t know that I can describe it, but I know one when I see one. It has nothing to do with how much they laugh or joke. It has more to do with how much they’re getting out of the moment. They have more room for kindness, friendliness, and trust. They give more without expectation.
So, good people, here’s Paul’s amazing insight from a place with little stress and relative affluence. Your purpose in life is not to amass fame and fortune and get ahead at all costs. Your purpose is to be kind, be good, be happy. That is your great quest.
When I get there, I’ll let you know.
That’s the news from Lake Wobegon.
Posted from Lao People’s Democratic Republic:
posted Wednesday January 2008