Originally Published March 3, 2008
Happiness is one of those enigmatic things that many people can often have difficulty finding. What is happiness anyway? I have often contemplated what truly makes anyone happy…is it really a state or is it something you can just be?
I am not really sure, but when I was cleaning up my computer on the way to San Francisco last night, I came across this amazing picture that was taken a few years ago on a trip to India. My travels to India were one of self exploration. I had been going through some personal things that were difficult and I needed to decompress. Although, I met up with a friend for a few days in the beginning of the trip; I was on this journey, essentially, alone.
I spent the majority of my “vacation” in a small Ayurvedic retreat center in the Nilgiri Hills, just above a tea plantation and close to many rural villages. During my time here, I had the extreme pleasure in meeting many of the inhabitants of these villages, in particular a beautiful woman (who I will call, Parvati, although I do not remember her name), who with her husband (many years her senior) ran a small “convenience” store (term used lightly-more like an open air shack with items for sale like rice, bindis and washing soap). I walked everyday up and down the slope, past the convenience store to a beautiful stone plateau that overlooked this amazing and awe inspiring valley. Along the way, Parvati and I became friends, even though we could not speak each other’s language. We somehow communicated through gestures and general osmosis I guess…although her husband helped us out a few times with his limited vocabulary of English.
I think the most powerful people I met along the way were the beautiful children. The first few days I arrived, they would follow me and run after me…I am sure for a few reasons….I was white (and very fair at that time of the year- December) and my light skin compared to their dark skin was something they rarely see. They wondered what the “white” thing I was carrying around was…and were even more amazed when they could hear music out of it (my iPod)! And finally, they were stunned that they could view the images on a tiny device that was a camera immediately after the pictures were taken! The brilliant laughter, utter glee and sheer amazement that these children had over something that seemed so trivial to someone like me, made me take a step back. These were some of the most joyous people that I had ever seen in my life….and compared to most people’s standards, these children truly had nothing…just happiness.
Towards the end of my trip, Parvati invited me and some of the new friends that I had met to have Chai in there home…I remember this moment very vividly. She was so proud to have my friends and me in her home. Modest was an understatement. Her home (which housed a family of 4) was about 200 square feet and included: 1) a concrete floor, 2) a drain for washing in one corner, 3) a twin bed on a rusty frame in another corner, 4) 3 plastic chairs, 5) a small kitchenette where she made her chai, and 6) one small roller suitcase which housed the entire family wardrobe. I remember how excited and happy she was to have us over…a gesture of kindness, in Indian culture, inviting someone into your home for tea is an ultimate act of hospitality.
There is a point and I am getting to it…I think what really took me back, was that all of these things that we have and all of this soul searching to try to FIND happiness, would be so much easier if we could just take a lesson from Parvati and the children in this village….just BE happy. These were some of the happiest and most joyful people I had ever seen in my life, despite the lack of things, absence of drama, and tough and sparse living conditions. Remembering them brings a huge smile to my face…and makes me want to experience it again!
Don’t worry…just be happy!