Guatemala: Poor…and Happy. Why?
They Count Their Blessings
By Shlomo Maital
I am very troubled by the paradox of increasing wealth and income and stagnant or even decreasing (self-measured) happiness. If we THINK we are unhappy, or less happy, then of course we are.
An unlikely source, Al Jazeera, sent to me by a friend, Einar Tangen, tells about Guatemala, a poor country riddled with problems – with happy RESILIENT people. Here is an excerpt:
Why is Guatemala one of the world’s happiest countries? Despite high rates of violence and poverty, Guatemala is consistently in the top 10 of happiest countries globally. For millions of people around the world, physical and social isolation are causing chronic loneliness. As a result, many researchers today fear solitude could be the next big public health issue, cutting years off people’s lives . Perhaps people like Silvia Pablo have something to share with the world – and teach it.
The 21-year-old Guatemalan in no stranger to loneliness. She was born with spina bifida and was shut inside her mother’s house for 10 years after her father left them. But Pablo says her faith kept her going and helped her overcome her daily struggles. Today she has own wheelchair and works at a factory.
“I think my happiness comes from God,” she says. “Yes, there are difficult times. But with God’s help, we can overcome any obstacle or sad situation. We need to live the lives we’re born into … and try to be happy through our faith.”
And Pablo is not alone. Despite high rates of violent crime, poverty and corruption, Guatemala is consistently in the top 10 of happiest countries in the world. “Guatemala is often found near the top of the global list for inequality and violence; more than 50 per cent of the population lives in poverty and around 13 people are murdered every day,” Al Jazeera’s David Mercer said from Antigua.
“Yet some international polls report that people here are some of the happiest in the world.” Psychologist Andres Pinto says that in addition to faith and family, resilience is key to helping people in the country fight off loneliness, anxiety and depression. “Many Guatemalans have suffered a lot, and don’t have much to lose,” he says. “When they encounter problems they know they have to work hard to overcome them. Of course we’re not all like this, but resilient people can teach us a lot.”
But Pablo likes to put it a different way. Happy people are not those who have the most, she says, but those who are most grateful for what they have.
Remember that popular song? “When I’m worried and I can’t sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep..and then I fall asleep, counting my blessings.” Living in wealthy countries, most of us have a lot. Do we appreciate it? Or do we just want more and more and more…. When is “enough”? And can we learn from Guatemala, and emulate Silvia Pablo?