I have been thinking a lot lately about the paradoxical relationship between affluence and happiness.
When I say “affluence,” I’m not talking “live in a mansion, wear a Rolex and drive a Rolls Royce” wealth. I’m referring to your average middle class citizen of a developed world country. The people that fit the description in the poster above.
Judging by the skyrocketing rates of depression and antidepressant use in western countries (not to mention anxiety and suicide rates among children) it would seem affluence and happiness are not necessarily correlated, and in fact often have an inverse relationship.
I’m not for a minute suggesting that poverty is a positive thing. There is nothing positive about seeing children (or adults) who don’t have their basic needs met. Who don’t have access to clean water, sufficient food or access to health care. But at some point there seems to be a law of diminishing returns.
I know lots of research has been done to determine the income threshold where rates of happiness stagnate. But it strikes me that it’s much more complex than money. There is something about the disconnect of families and communities, and I suspect the disconnect to our natural environment.
During our trip, we met a wonderful young man who moved to an urban centre for more opportunity. When I asked him if he was happy there, a sad look crossed his face and he expressed a desire to return to his village – a place where people live in dirt-floor huts with no electricity or running water. Where there are no schools or hospitals. A place where life is simple and people share a deep connection to the land.
I’m not pretending to have any answers. I’m as guilty as the next person when it comes to taking the abundance of my life for granted (although it’s harder to do when you are approached by a child with sad eyes wanting to sell you 10 postcards for $1, or you see people working so hard for so little).
I do hope, however, that I can hold on to all that we have seen and learned on this journey long after our last flight touches down.