I’m the guy that shows up in the dictionary next to the definition of “first world problem”. Yep, that’s me. Pleased to meet you.
For the second time in my life (first world problem, I told you), two days ago I found myself on the verge of a nerve crisis, and I had no idea why. I looked around me and everything was right where it was supposed to be: friends, family, love, motivation, you name it. After some talking to friends, it turns out my stress level (I created, how surprising) was just too much for me to handle. I just needed a break.
So that’s what I did. And I started thinking of happiness. I started realizing about how little I think of it when I’m happy, and how important it becomes when I’m not. I started going through a list of happy moments of my past, and came across one that was buried in the back of my mind.
I want to give no lesson on happiness to anyone. During these 9,154 days of living career (25 years would make me sound even less experienced), I’ve got nowhere close to the spiritual being I would love to be. Much like I’m still not able to eat ice cream without staining my clothes, but that’s another story (which still gives you an idea of how unwise I am).
Last year I spent 4 months working in Nairobi, Kenya. Despite not being a religious person, identifying more with agnosticism rather than the Christian values I was raised with, I attended a Mass in the south of the city.
At the entrance, the atmosphere is close to the one you would expect while waiting in line for your ticket at Six Flags. Let’s face it, churches are generally boring and young people make sure to stay at a far distance from them, at least where I come from. But at this church, people of all ages and social backgrounds come together to celebrate and spend the whole Sunday as a community. The sense of community is so powerful that I got swept away by it. It’s a feeling I don’t get to experience very often in routine life, when people are usually alone with their friends and mechanically consider strangers something of a threat. What they call the “dome” at the church is more of a huge circus tent under which they built a stage with all sorts of lights and mega screens. More of a Jamiroquai kind of thing. During the liturgy, people sang and danced for the majority of the time, while the pastor would sometimes storm in to praise and thank donors. Once the mass was over, I was even accompanied to the VIP lounge where they offered me a fresh juice. Yes, they have a VIP lounge (and apparently I am a VIP). The level of organization was absolutely incredible. At this point the place turned into a en plain air party where kids were jumping in an inflatable swimming pool and adults were eating and watching the hip hop dancers on the stage. Nobody seemed to want to be anywhere else but there, as if they needed their weekly injection of happiness.
I was happy AF.
The party went on for almost six hours. Leaving aside religion, this was a great moment to feel a unique sense of communal joy: I’m happy if you are happy. Kenyans are not just happy, instead they have some internal device for which their well-being comes from the well-being of others. I have to say that this was quite striking to me. Even though I’ve lived in other parts of the world and seen different forms of happiness, none of them has this unique connotation, none of them felt this way.
When I hear about happiness in Africa, it is almost a bit of a cliché to imagine people in precarious economic conditions, but with a bright smile on their faces. This is exactly what I expected, and it’s also precisely what I found.
I guess if I could humbly give one piece of advice to myself, it would be:
Keep happy memories ready for when I need them.