Setting the Scene
When I was 21 years old I got on a plane with 11 other people and flew thousands of miles across the world and 24 hours later, landed in Kolkata, India with the mission of simply loving on people.
It was scary. It was unknown territory. It was my first time leaving the comforts of the United States.
I can remember gathering my bags from baggage claim and clinging to them, stepping outside and struggling to catch my breath in the thick, warm Kolkata air.
I slept all of 45 minutes in the past 24 hours, but I was wide awake. Amazed at what I saw. Our driver was fearless while navigating the city filled with chaos: bamboo scaffolding covering the sides of concrete buildings, the stray dogs dodging cars, the men and women walking barefoot on the pavement, the lack of stop lights or road laws whatsoever. The city seemed unfinished. Not glamorous at all.
We drove past all kinds of people working, socializing, napping and walking through the city and into the slums, seemingly enjoying a typical evening despite the dirt, humidity, annoying traffic noises and the unpleasant smell that seemed to follow us everywhere.
We worked tirelessly for the next 20 days in this beautiful, stressful, loud, insane, incredible “City of Joy.”
I didn’t have to travel across the world to love people and have a change of heart, but this experience stretched my viewpoint of the way I held so tightly to my things; mere possessions. I became grateful. More grateful than I had ever been in my life. Not because I realized how fortunate I was, but because they showed me that my life possessed so much more.
We spent a week at a school in the slums with the happiest little children you’d ever meet in your life. The building had no air conditioning, few windows, a concrete floor and about the size of a typical classroom but filled with tons of kids. We danced, sang, learned our ABC’s and played games together. It was like seeing extended family for the holidays (only a lot more sweaty and a huge language barrier.)
These kids really came from nothing. The roofs of their houses were made out of tarps or scrap metal. They bathed in buckets with water pumped from the street. Their clothes were torn and some didn’t own shoes. But man, what a valuable lesson we could learn from these children in the slums of India.
In no way could I even feel pity–they were so happy. It was infectious.
I had a change of clothes but they had more.
They had contentment. They had fun together. They had community.
America is a very individualized nation. We focus on our wants, needs, desires. We post on our social media platforms about ourselves and do what we can to make our lives seem desirable. We are naturally focused on ourselves most of the time. Shouldn’t we be experiencing this type of happiness?
Over the summer I watched this documentary called “Happy” and it is about a man named Roko and his journey around the world asking one simple question: “What makes people happy?”
He traveled to the slums of India and what he found was inspiring.
A dirt poor rickshaw puller in a slum in India once told me that he was the luckiest person alive. His hut was made out of bamboo sticks and plastic tarps, with raw sewage trickling out front, but still, Manoj Singh said he was happy, very happy, in fact. Though sometimes he only had only a few bowls of rice to feed his family, he said “I feel that I am not poor, but I am the richest person in the world.”
He learned that a person’s values are among the best predictors of their happiness.
By focusing on gratitude, compassion, and relationships with loved ones, people can instantly improve their happiness levels.
“The greatest lesson I learned while making this film is that my pursuit of happiness is not about me. It’s about our relationships and how we help each other. It’s about us.”
Get out of your bubble. Focus on people. Love them. Give of your time and, if it calls for it, give of your money or even the things you hold a high value. Get uncomfortable to make others a priority. That is when happiness happens.