The stereotype of world travelers is the upper-middle-class kid who goes to some random, third-world country, sees a bunch of poor, half-naked kids joyfully playing in sewage puddles with toys made out of string and broken sticks.
And suddenly has the life-changing epiphany that, ‘No’, you do not in fact need an XBox 360 and 24-hour delivery from Dominos Pizza to be happy in this World.
Human capacity for happiness is surprisingly flexible. Psychological research shows that people quickly adjust to their surroundings and are able to find joy in most situations, regardless of their culture, material wealth or political situation.
Traveling the World has lowered my estimation of happiness. Happiness is important, sure. But it is also common and can be found in most situations once your mind adjusts to your surroundings.
You can find happiness in any slum or in any mansion, on the beach, in the mountains, or in the middle of the desert.
But what is rare in many parts of the World is human dignity. You know, people who are not treated like animals – used, ignored, cheated, beaten, mutilated, silenced, or suppressed.
Those happy kids playing in sewage pipes and shitting in buckets will be lucky to make it to middle age without serious violence, addiction or health problems in their lives.
In our modern culture, you are so fixated on feeling good all of the time, it seems you sometimes forget that there are more important things in the World than being happy or entertained.
There are things that are more important than pleasure or happiness.
These realizations will make you happier overall. Ironically, it is by making these other values – community, connection, self-expression, honesty – more important than your own gratification that your happiness and fulfillment happen naturally as a side effect.