After traveling to third world countries and seeing first-hand the devastating living conditions of countless families, I could not imagine anyone being happy with so little.
I try to be grateful for all that I have: a solid education, a stable home, clothes on my back, food on the table and a loving family to come home to.
However, every once in awhile I catch myself wanting more – wondering what it would be like to live in a bigger house or if my potential would be more adequately fulfilled if I attended an expensive, private school. If I had all that, would I be satisfied?
In the winter of 2017, my family and I took a trip to Thailand and Cambodia, and my perspective on happiness changed forever.
My mother signed us all up for a boat ride through the floating villages of Siem Reap, Cambodia- what I assumed was going to be a scenic, relaxing photo op. What I didn’t know was that our tour guide had other plans.
He stopped the bus midway to our destination and told us we would get a chance to experience one of the poorest villages in Siem Reap. Growing up through the brutal rule of the Khmer Rouge and having to kill whatever animals he could find for survival at the mere age of ten, I understood why he thought we (relatively affluent tourist) needed a little perspective.
I mentally prepared myself for hostile stares from the village people and an overwhelming atmosphere of sadness and despair.
Much to my surprise, right as we stepped off the bus onto the dirt, a dozen or so children in ragged clothing or no clothing at all ran up to greet us. They didn’t beg. They didn’t steal. They wanted nothing more than to hold our hands and show us their homes. With big smiles on their faces, they walked with us through rows of shacks made of tarps, scrap metal and various other random collectables.
Many of the locals had to build their houses on stilts or floating on the water- living off of the fish in the river.
A few little girls made a game in which the object was to touch my braided hair without me noticing. Their giggles and jovial personalities almost drowned out the dreary surroundings.
I could not imagine living with so little, let alone feeling content with life in such dire conditions. But the children made the most out of what they had in order to be happy. They played soccer with rocks, chased the stray dogs and filled their time with imaginative activities.
These children don’t know the comfort of a soft mattress to sleep in every day like I do or the privilege of stable education. As unfortunate as their circumstances are, finding joy in little, everyday pleasures is a necessary coping mechanism.
Happiness is a completely relative emotion. It is only when we learn to accept what we are given instead of pondering the idea of a more affluent lifestyle that we are able to truly be happy.