WHAT CUBA CAN TEACH US ABOUT HAPPINESS
The world sits evenly poised like never before. Politically, environmentally and socially we are in the midst of significant change. While politically and environmentally there is call for concern, and rightfully so, another big issue is the emergence of the “modern great depression.” When did we just become victims? When did we let our lives control us? When did we give away our freedom of choice? When did we stop thinking for ourselves?
We are suffering from a modern unhappiness. Medication is the answer to many of our worries but do we ever think to make a change in any other area? We have seen so many incredible advancements in technology in recent times and we seem to have an abundance of choice like never before, but is it these advancements that were meant to make the world an easier place to live that are actually making it more difficult?
I was curious as to why we aren’t happier in the western world and I wanted to see if it was a direct result of an increase in technology, an increase in choice and an increase in financial prosperity? So I packed my bags for Cuba, a country renowned for its lack of technology , amongst other things, and a nation on the verge of drastic change.
Cuba is a beautiful country, full of contrasts and contradictions. It is really like jumping into a time machine and pressing the year 1950. The buildings are old and run down, the food basic, the infrastructure limited, and the resources minimal. But it works, and works well. Vibrant colours of paint dress up the buildings adding character and the people take care of the rest.
So what can Cuba teach us about health and happiness?
Dying a slow and painful death, community in the west is sadly becoming a thing of the past. The streets that were once filled with screams of children playing are replaced with televisions in every room and smartphone's in every hand. Do you even know your neighbours name anymore? In Cuba they do, in fact they know everyone's name, on every street. It's not a 'hello when putting the bins out' kind of relationship but a long conversation over an even longer dinner. They share belongings, share stories and everything in between. They eat, sing and dance long into the night, every night. Eating a meal together isn't reserved for the weekend or a special occasion, every meal is a special occasion, and let me tell you it isn't because of the food.
We live such isolated lives in the west. Our brother or sister might live just around the corner but we never see them. Why? They are too busy. They have a big house and have to work too much to pay for it, leaving them no time for the simplicities of long conversation and a real, sit down meal like it's meant to be. Our kids are now busy too, they have to reach their next level on their latest gadget before surfing the plethora of social media sites on their other gadget. That's right we even replaced a real activity like surfing with surfing.
In Cuba the issue of working too much so you can live in the biggest house, which you never spend any time in and certainly not with your friends, is a non-issue. They would rather their rundown block, immaculate in colour, and use it to actually live doing the things they love with the people they love. The house I lived in contained two brothers and a Mother and Grandmother. There was no status, no competition of whose got the bigger house, they would rather just have more time to live in it. Our breakfast went for one hour, there was no rushing to get somewhere better, as far as they were concerned there wasn't anything better. They sang at night to music so old and so out of fashion I'd completely forgotten they even existed. But they sang loud and proud. It was the type of family celebration we reserve for Christmas; they did it every night.
They wore old clothes free from brand names and status and they wore huge smiles free from envy and greed. They ate simple food, for breakfast a plethora of fresh fruits, eggs and bread. Dinner was rice, beans and a simple meat. Nothing extravagant, but more than enough to keep the conversation going. The air-conditioning in the houses and cars were good enough, letting you enjoy the tropical heat whilst teaching you to not take cold and rainy days for granted. There was nothing material and superficial about the way they lived. They read books, real paper ones, they dance, sing, talk, listen. They make their own fun not ever relying on something external to provide it for them.
I believe all of this was so rich in abundance because of the lack of technology. Will the arrival of the neighbours to the north change all of this? Or will the habits so deeply engrained and entrenched in their lives prevail? Will children all of sudden skip breakfast and instead choose Pokémon? Will wives leave dinner after 5 minutes to watch the new episode of Game of Thrones? I hope not because that is why society in the west is experiencing such damming rates of suicide and depression. We are making ourselves so busy that we never, ever stop. We stop to watch a TV show but never stop to talk, and especially listen - certainly not to our ourselves, our thoughts, feelings, bodies, emotions, fears and insecurities.
Are we unhappy because we are uneducated? Or because we let a flawed system educate our kids whilst we run off and chase our desires. Are we uneducated because we think the only way is getting ourselves in massive debt? Cuba is home to one of the most educated races of people on the planet, education is free and Cuba allocates the highest share of its national budget, more than any country in the world, to education. They don't just study to get a job, they study to get an education.
Why don't we live with our brothers and sisters in the same house if it means we can work less and do the things we love more? Imagine all the kids growing up together, learning, sharing, eating, growing, developing. Surely this beats struggling to pay the mortgage on the house you never enjoy and it definitely beats never seeing the kids you're meant to be doing this all for in the first place. Whilst technology has taken over almost every element of our lives, we control it still. We can choose how and when it plays a role in our lives and especially our children's lives. Invite the family over for dinner every night and don't let them leave, instead of rushing to work stop and chat to the neighbours over a coffee for three hours. Stop chasing happiness in external things, because the people of Cuba have none of the usual vices and I've rarely come across a happier race.