One of the most meaningful insights I come back to over and over when I describe my experiences in Ethiopia to others is my realization that despite having very few material things, the people of the Omo Valley live very joyful and satisfying lives.  It would be easy to think that is just the children and they grow older the realities of their harsh life become clear but I just didn’t see that.  The willingness of the adults to help, to care, to sing to dance, to play, etc convinced me they live very joyful lives.

I came across a couple of insights this week I will share below which explore this phenomena a little deeper.  The first is a distinction between happiness and joy as defined by the greeks:  “Happiness describes the freedom of the rich from normal cares and worries, or to describe a person who received some form of good fortune, such as money or health.  Joy is described as the culmination of of being and the good mood of the soul”.  Happiness is fleeting, Joy is much more persistent when available to us.  Thank you to Anne Robertson for these distinctions.  I share this one because it explains for me the deeper sense of satisfaction I observed in these people and this is joy.  It is not defined by what we have and instead by who we are.

The second insight comes from a book by Lyne Twist called “The Soul of Money”.  This passage further described the difference between me and the people of the Omo Valley.  “For many of us our first waking thought is “I didn’t get enough sleep.”  The next one is “I don’t have enough time.”….We spend most of the hours and days of our lives hearing, explaining, complaining, or worrying about what we don’t have enough of.  We don’t have enough exercise.  We don’t have enough work.  We don’t have enough profits.  We don’t have enough weekends.  Of course, we don’t have enough money, ever.  We’re not thin enough, smart enough, pretty enough, successful enough, educated enough, fit enough.  Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something.  And by the time we go to bed, our minds race with a litany of what we didn’t get, or didn’t get done, that day.”

I didn’t experience “not enough” in the Omo Valley, their attention appeared to be on the more fundamental things in life, how do we protect our rich culture and traditions, maintain who we are.  I expected to observe resentment over what we have that they didn’t and interestingly I didn’t experience that at all.  They have enough.

Thank you to Brene Brown for references to the above passages.

Mursi Girl

Kara mothers

Two of my favorite young guys!

The Kara People have wonderful smiles!

Dasanach boys!

Motherhood comes early

We also had some fun!

3 thoughts

  1. Good stuff, Andy. Looks like we’re on the same wave length if you read my blog of January 29th. Thanks for your input on a subject very dear to my heart.

  2. I can relay to your realizations Andy. I came from a very small town in Guatemala without a street light (and still is like that) where life is at other levels.
    Yes, the infrastructure is very much the same as many years ago (20 or so) and “happiness” in a material form still is about the same, but Joy still is also at the same level or more.

    Speed of life feels a lot slower than US. People focus on traditions, culture, faith, community.

    People still leave their doors open during the day. Kids play on the street…

    I may have more material things in USA and easier to obtain (Wal-Mart’s), but still life is US doesn’t feel as Joyful as I had when I used to live in Guatemala or when I go back to visit.

    That is one of the reasons that I reserve my vacation for the end of the year, so I can go there and recharge my life batteries and refresh my perspective of life.

    I agree with you, I also live with the feeling of not having “enough” when I do have probably “too much” to the point that I don’t enjoy all the things that I do have.

    That is what “Capitalism: does to people, usually☺.

    Very good insight, thanks,

    Edwin A. Navas
    Global Commodity Manager -CSP
    Intel Corporation
    Office #: 480-552-7124
    learn more about our organization, our value proposition, who to work with by Team, click Learn more about IT Strategic Sourcing

    “To reach something that you never had, you will need to do something that you never did”. Edwin’s Translation.

  3. Can’t agree more with you. With all the times I’ve traveled in Africa, I’ve also noticed that. Am off for Kenya tomorrow and can’t wait. We should be friends on Facebook, because there are some good petitions and info I get about the slaughter of the elephants and other important “stuff” Hope you’re well, Andy! All the best, Barbara

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