Lessons in happiness from India
Your name? Where from? Your job? I've lost count of the number of times I've been greeted with these 3 questions during the past 3 weeks.
I've been lucky enough to be honeymooning in the state of Kerala, India, also known as "God's own country" or "Land of Coconuts". Amongst the obligatory cocktails, naps in the sunshine and candlelit dinners, my husband and I noticed something quite special. The endless smiling of the people.
This got me thinking - what is driving the smiling? And so today, on the International Day of Happiness 2017, I want to share with you 4 lessons in happiness that I have deciphered from a quick toe-dip into the culture of Kerala.
Lesson number 1 - We need community and community needs us
The image at the top of this article shows the warm reception we received when invited back to the family home of a friend we made on our trip. Somewhere at the back, hides Mr Charley's wife, mother-in-law and brother-in-law. In front are the first wave of the local children.
In a village like this every adult nurtures every child. The fruit of the land is shared so nobody goes hungry. Neighbours reach out to one another in times of celebration and sadness. The disease of loneliness doesn't appear to be an issue here.
Lesson number 2 - We can be guided by compassion
Driving through the tropical countryside we saw a sign for a school that read "guided by compassion". From early years, children are taught to consider what another person is experiencing. Understand another's suffering and help them.
Organisations play their part too. In the tea production area of Munnar we saw the TATA Global Beverages 25 year old DARE school for 'differently abled' children. A unique school that provides space for creative exploration and preparing young people for an entrepreneurial future. The education here is also rooted in compassion, as all our schools could be.
The Dalai Lama once said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
Lesson number 3 - We need to work to maintain our health
My idea of a perfect holiday is sleeping in past 10am, however I found myself waking at 6:45am for the morning yoga class put on by each hotel. Madness.
"Breathe maximum", "Stretch maximum", "Keep rolling", "Completely relax".
In between the giggles and gasps of astonishment when the 70 yer old master yogi bent himself in half, we were reminded of the importance of keeping our bodies and minds moving - and the importance of slowing them down too. Promises of being free from disease, staying in shape, and experiencing pure happiness kept pulling me from the bed each morning.
Yoga is a practice that appreciates the physical, mental and emotional health of a human. Something we must work at daily. Use it or lose it.
Lesson number 4 - We will grow through learning
Back to those 3 little questions I was asked time and time again. Everyone had an insatiable hunger to practice their English, learn something new from us, test our understanding of the world. It's an addictive approach to life that encouraged me to ask more questions of what I was seeing, hearing, feeling. I grew through analysing what was happening around and inside me, yielding lessons to use in my work and enrich my own life and local community.
On checking in to our hotel in Munnar, we were greeted with these words on our door. Happiness, wellbeing, thriving - these are simple words but not simple concepts. There are many symbiotic relationships involved. If the answer to lifelong happiness was so simple there would be just one book on the shelf that we would all reach for daily. This is not to say we are incapable of building a happier world - far from it.
At everyday people we believe that by taking small everyday actions an extraordinary vision can be transformed into a happy reality. This applies to organisations as well as individuals. The lessons in this article are equally applicable to a business that plays a pivotal role in nurturing their culture as to an individual looking to make positive change in their lives.
If you'd like to start applying these lessons, or you have your own learnings in happiness to share, I'd love to hear from you.
Kat Hounsell, Founder at everyday people, @everyday_action