live in Vanuatu (van-wat-too), reported the author of an article Thomas read when we were living in Western Australia. I had never heard of the country nor could I have placed it on a map, but I remember saying “I want to go there.”
Comprised of 83 small islands, the nation of Vanuatu is a lush tropical paradise in the South Pacific; its closest neighbor the Solomon Islands to the North and New Caledonia to the South.
I have spent the past four weeks in Vanuatu, exploring the islands and getting to know these “happiest people”. Their brilliant smiles fill my memories as well as my 8 Gig memory card. This remote country has preserved its unique traditions and identity, with the exception of the capital city, Port Villa, that has fallen victim to western influence (ie. Billabong, Roxy clothing stores). It was a nice change to loose touch with the outside world and become immersed into the forests, villages, and people.
Being on these islands has made me ponder the idea of happiness. The search for happiness is an ongoing, universal quest for all of us. Some people seem to have found their happiness while others seem to fight a loosing battle and remain discontent. I wonder why this is? And why does it seem that people in some parts of the world are happier than others? And if the Ni-Vanuatu are the happiest people in the world, then what is their secret?
“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel the world looking for it.” – Elizabeth Gilbert
I have always liked this quote, probably for the encouragement it gave my endless wanderings, but also for the statement that we are each responsible for our own happiness. I have always believed that happiness must first come from within.
Despite all the luxuries and gadgets available to increase our happiness, the developed world still suffers the highest rates of stress, discontentment and suicide. The more time I spent observing the daily lives within villages of Vanuatu, I began to wonder if happiness is more easily attained by other cultures than my own. There seems to be a direct correlation between happiness and simplicity.
I can personally attest to the fact that the more opportunity and choices I have, the more unhappy I usually feel. Indecisiveness is my worst trait and I constantly struggle with deciding which path is best in life when there are so many great choices. Despite the conveniences of western living, I somehow envy the simpler life free of unnecessary stress and complications.
The Ni-Vanuatu are self-sufficient people who spend much of their days farming and harvesting their land and sea. Every day I passed locals with machete in one hand, their gatherings in the other and a huge smile on their face as they wished me a good day. They work for survival while other cultures work for luxuries.
Throughout my travels I consistently see genuine happiness in the smiles of those who have so little per western standards. The people of Vanuatu may not have much in terms of material goods, but they find great happiness in their family, friends, traditions, sport (soccer), daily work and living in the present.
At a glance, it is easy to look at a thatch hut and bare feet and pity those who seem to live a harder life. But I have realized that I can learn so much from those who have discovered how to be happy with less.