Many articles and blogs tell readers to search for happiness. Well I’m here to say I found it!
Recently I was blessed enough to travel to the South Pacific and spend some time on a tiny island off the coast of Fiji. Here, I discovered what happiness means to me.
The lifestyle that exists in Fiji is quite different from anything the western world knows. We all know what its like living in the States, we are all super busy working, raising children, grocery shopping for quick prepared meals and constantly on the run. Although we never stop, the percentage of individuals living sedentary lives continues to increase. I could go on about how crazy our lives are, but I’m sure you already know how busy you are.
The first thing I learned when I landed in Fiji was the widely known phrase “Fiji Time”. This translates into, “time is irrelevant.” Now, that doesn’t mean Fijians are lazy or don’t work. They are one of the hardest working group of people I’ve seen. However, they don’t fret about having 2 days work ahead of them, and only 1 day to complete it. They will work hard, and accomplish as much as they can in the time they have.
This may seem like a simple lesson to learn, but how many times have you tried to multitask so you can accomplish twice as many activities in half the time? Who hasn’t used their work commute to catch up on phone calls or taken home work to complete while sitting in front of the television trying to have family time? I think the great lesson to learn here is that life is precious, and working hard is necessary but overwhelming ourselves with an abundance of tasks takes the pleasure out of living. If there is no pleasure, then what is the purpose of this gift called life? Finding a balance between being a hard worker and fully appreciating the beauty of the world around us is something the Fijians have mastered.
A second thing I learned was that Fijians are the nicest, most genuine people I have ever met. I have literally traveled the world, visiting 6 different continents, 11 countries and having covered most of the United States. I am not exaggerating when I say during our farewell from the island there were genuine tears on both sides. We spent a little over one week on an island living with the staff of the hotel. Every guest is greeted upon arrival and bid farewell on their journey home. The staff is genuine and caring; they learn your name and look you in the eye when they talk to you. Hugs are part of the day, and don’t be surprised if they invite you into staff quarters to spend the evening winding down with some traditional kava drink, lots of singing and laughing. They worked hard all day, running the hotel and at night you would think they would curl up in the rooms and want solitude. Nope, they relaxed in their community of coworkers/family, women gossiping near the tree, men strumming the guitar and singing songs, and still they were not tired of the tourists. They welcomed us into their group, teaching us songs and dance.
Having grown up near NYC and having lived in Brooklyn, Fijians are a far cry from new Yorkers. A New Yorker might step on your fingers while you reach for your dropped glove instead of picking it up for you. In NYC you rarely know your neighbors unless your family has lived there for generations, and they will avoid making eye contact at all costs. Now, I’m the first one to admit when I lived in Brooklyn I pretended to be listening to headphones so I could ignore cat calls while walking home. I felt safer if others thought I couldn’t hear them as opposed to I was ignoring them. This is not an issue in Fiji, so I will make the point that New Yorkers may be reluctant to engage a stranger because of safety concerns. But wouldn’t it be nice if this wasn’t an issue? Imagine a city were you could smile at those walking past you, and greet everyone you pass (known or stranger) with a heart felt “Bula!” which is hello/welcome in Fijian. The Fijians greet everyone this way, whether they know your or not, whether they just saw you or haven’t seen you in forever. It’s not a casual “hey” when they pass, they will look you in the eye and greet you every time. When they ask you “how are you?” they genuinely are looking for an answer.
A third thing I learned in Fiji is that no matter how limited your space may be, eating healthy is possible. I took a stroll through the food market one day and couldn’t help but notice how fresh all the food was. Everything was recently gathered from the earth or the sea and the prices were about half of what we pay in the United States for food. I am a huge advocate for living an overall healthy, balanced lifestyle and this includes nourishing your body. In a nut shell, they are happy and eat healthy while I am jealous about how many fresh options they have.
The fourth, final, and most important lesson I learned from Fiji was that family is the most important thing in the world to them. They will sacrifice everything they have for their family, especially to give their children a better future. Many of the Fijians are part of clans that hold claims to the land and islands. They work together for the good of the clan, focusing on everyone in the family reaching success. Their clan provides them with work and land, and the families all work together in the family business. This aspect of the Fijian culture may play a large role in why I felt like I was part of their family during my stay. The appreciation they had for one another was inspiring, and helped make me feel closer to my own family. I’m not going to say they all get along in a perfect utopia. As a psychologist I did see tension among some members, but hey, who doesn’t have that one family member that drives us crazy!
Looking back at these lessons, it stands out that the Fijian values leave much to be said for finding happiness. First, they don’t try to be super human, they work hard but take their responsibilities in stride which reduces anxiety, stress and depression. Second, they are not afraid to be friendly and genuine to everyone. This must do wonders for developing a strong supportive web of people around them, reassuring them that they always have support through thick and thin. That is a powerful way to settle the mind. Third, they care for their bodies and provide their bodies (and minds) with the nourishment they need. Finally, they put family above all else. They squabble and differ in opinions, but at the end of the day estrangement is not an option.
Having experienced the wonders of this world, I have come to realize what is important to me, and makes me happy. I love working hard, without guilt of not doing enough. I would love to have love for everyone I meet, making it my goal to bring happiness to their lives. I love caring for my body and making it as healthy as I can. Finally, I love my family. Although they make me insane they are my reason for living. These are the things that make me happy. These things may have been buried in the back of my mind, and it took a trip to Fiji to bring them to the surface, but I can say I found my happy thoughts in Fiji.
Not everyone needs a trip to actualize what makes them happy. You can do it from where you are, but it is important to know what makes you happy and prioritize these things so you don’t miss them. Life is short, live it to the fullest.