Then, slow down for a minute, breathe deeply and read this article.
The first week of this month, (October, 2003) I was in Mexico responding to a critical incident fatality on an oil rig in the Bay of Campeche in the southern Gulf of Mexico. The weather was deteriorating fast due to Tropical Storm Larry. I was fortunate enough, perhaps, to get one of the last choppers back to shore piloted by a fella I came to refer as 'El Loco Capitan.' The weather was so bad that no other pilots would fly! It was a wild ride, to say the least, but he got me back safely to the Poza Rica heliport.
Then, I was faced with another dilemma...getting from Poza Rica back to Tampico, which as it turned out, is a 3-4 hour drive up the interior of the coastal mountains in which we dodged mudslides and potholes big enough to swallow our truck. Again, I was fortunate, and had as my guide and driver, the in-country logistics manager for the company I was working for that week. Pablo was Mexican but spoke very good English (which was a real blessing, because I speak very bad Spanish!) and had traveled around the world as a seaman, so had seen many places and ways of life. Pablo, as it turned out, was a bit of a philosopher, so our harrowing drive turned in to an experience of international understanding and stress management basics.
I was commenting to Pablo about the extremes and contrasts of what I was seeing...beautiful countryside, quilted with orange, avocado, banana and tropical fruit orchards. Some were graced with large haciendas, other were contrasted with small adobe huts and some with plywood and cardboard boxes of abject squalor. The horses, donkeys and dogs tied out by the road in front of the houses fared no better, with most being bone-rack thin with no prospects of improvement. I thought of my portly pony back home and smiled as I contemplated sending him down here next time he acts ungrateful. As we rounded a turn, there was a cervaza hut with an old man tipping a bottle while his donkey, loaded down with firewood, was patiently waiting for him. It was a National Geographic moment and I found myself laughing and shaking my head.
About this time, Pablo the Philosopher chimed in. He said, "I read a news story this morning about how the Mexican people are the 2nd happiest in the world." I chuckled back, "No wonder, with cervaza huts every 50 yards on this road!" Undaunted by my feeble attempt at humor, Pablo continued, "It's because we don't strive after possessions and we are content with having the love of a good woman." Now, the Western idealogue part of me could find many things to argue in that statement, but I just took it in instead. "Americans," he stated matter of factly, "were 16th on the list." I pondered this for a minute and replied, "Well Americans are not happy and are stressed out much of the time, I can vouch professionally for that. And we do have a 58% divorce rate as well as being overloaded with debt." Hmmm...perhaps Pablo and the Mexican people are on to something.
When I returned home, I found the same news story in my email. It seems that, according to the World Values Survey published in New Scientist magazine, that Nigerians are the most gleeful folks on the planet while the former Soviet countries fare the worst. The researchers concluded from their data that consumerism is the leading happiness suppressant. The happiest folks seem not to overindulge themselves or even want to.
This validates what I have seen in my practice. A number one stressor for Americans is consumer related pressure, called Debt Stress. Striving after bigger, newer and better while going deeper and longer in debt keeps us fearful and awake nights. It doesn't do much for relationships either when jobs and careers come before love and family. I see this every day in marriages and families torn asunder by up-side-down values. Suze Orman says it best when it comes to understanding the true value of wealth. 'People first, then money, then things.' Even psychiatry knows that the best buffers against stress are caring human (and animal) attachments.
Several years ago, I self-applied a coaching program called "Simplify your Life." I went against the cultural trends, and down-sized most everything and got out of debt in the process. I have never been more relaxed, content and happy in my life.
Here's more about happiness.
For more information on DEBT STRESS
For more information on HAPPINESS