I HAVE NEVER BEEN under the illusion that happiness was a simple matter of more money and more material goods. But I did question where happiness could be found.
When I was young, I saw poverty at its most extreme in newly formed Bangladesh, where my family lived for four years during the 1970s. People struggled each day to stay alive and were lucky to find food and shelter.
As an adult traveling through Mexico, I have seen similar poverty. For these families, each day must be as grim as the last and presumably more money would buy happiness. But not every family I’ve met has been so impoverished. These families, who had the basic necessities of life, seem happy with what they have—and just as happy as those I see around me in the suburbs of Washington, DC. They don’t need the material goods that so many of us in the U.S. pursue in hopes of finding happiness. Instead, their happiness seems to lie in having family around them, all under one roof.
It’s a lesson that influences how I lead my own life. During my travels through Mexico with friends, we eat at roadside restaurants. You can tell which are the best, because you see more locals congregating. The food is as good as, if not better than, what you might find in a nearby restaurant that’s more upscale. We also typically stay at basic hotels, where our room might consist of nothing more than a bed with a ceiling light and fan. The bathroom facilities are outdoors.
On my most recent trip, we opted for a hotel that was slightly more luxurious (keep in mind, that’s relative). As I took a walk along the beach early one morning, I wondered if this would improve or diminish the level of happiness I got from the experience. It didn’t. That’s not to say that staying in a five-star hotel or eating at a similarly rated restaurant won’t be a happy experience. It probably will be.
What it says is that you don’t need to spend extra to find happiness. For me, it isn’t the fancy hotels and restaurants, but rather my relationship with my fellow travelers. That’s where I find happiness. It’s the experiences along the way which bring us together. It’s the time with friends and family, the laughter and conversation, not the dollars we spend.
Nicholas Clements is one of Jonathan’s older brothers. He is retired and lives just outside Washington, DC. His previous articles include Help Wanted, On Our Own and Growing Up (III). Follow him on Twitter @MDScaper.