This was a question posed to us, Zambian workers, by our Swedish counterparts. I worked for an organization in Zambia that received some assistance from the Swedish government. As a result of course and as expected, we had Swedish experts coming to work with us. The Swedes got hefty allowances for their upkeep in Zambia and salaries back in Sweden.
Well, after a few years the organization’s business started going badly. Zambian workers would be paid their salaries late while the Swedes were not affected at all. One day the whole team was having a break and we were chatting, laughing and generally having a great time. The Swedes asked a question which led to a discussion I have never forgotten:
Swedes: Have you (meaning Zambian workers) been paid?
Us: Not yet.
Swedes: That is bad. You must now be forced to be living off your savings.
Us: No, we do not have savings.
Swedes (shocked): What? You have no savings?
Us: You know how little we are paid. It has not been possible for us to save.
Swedes: Then how do you manage to survive?
Us: We help out one another. If one does not have something, another person gives him. That is how we have always done it.
Swedes: You have not been paid and you have no savings. You are poor, so why are you happy?
Us: What does money have anything to do with happiness? We are healthy, our families love us and are healthy, God cares for us and we have friends that help us in times of need. Why should we be sad?
The Swedes could not understand our thinking. We certainly did not understand their thinking. There is more to life than having money. Yes, money is important for our livelihood, but it is not all that you need for you to be happy. There are other things: knowing that there are people who love you and are loyal; knowing that there are people are looking out for you; believing that God still loves you in spite of the troubles you are going through also goes a long way in giving you peace and contentment in the midst of a storm.
I have heard westerners echo the Swedes’ confusion over and over again. Some say: “The children had no shoes, but they were smiling”, “The women have a four kilometer round trip to fetch water, but they are happy.” I do not and have never understood this kind of approach to life. Why should I be depressed over minor issues? It is different if a loved one is seriously ill and I do not have money to pay for medical care – then I would be sad because I am poor.
I really feel sorry for people who base their happiness on whether or not they have money. I understand that in the west people are more affected by money or the lack thereof, but still……..
Take joy in other things in life, even the tiniest ones – do not let money be the basis of your happiness.