You are poor, so why are you happy?

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?

Mum plucking a pawpaw

Mum plucking a pawpaw – this is happiness

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.

16 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Shakti Ghosal
    Mar 03, 2015 @ 13:05:29

    Hi Zambian Lady,

    What a lovely empowering post! Indeed the premise that Happiness is a function of how much money or possessions we have is a mindset that has been created by the Materialistic World we live in. I can only say that you in Zambia are blessed and I pray that you continue to retain this blessing by being who you are and not fall into the trap of Western Consumerism.

    A couple of years back I had also posted on the aspect of Happiness and how a worldwide poll seemed to show that people in poor countries seemed to be significantly more happy than their counterparts in rich countries. I quote from that post:

    “So we come back to the question, “What is happiness?” I believe it is an attitude floating in relativity. An attitude to accept pain and disappointment as part of pleasure. An attitude to move away from self obsession while being obsessed.with our core values and commitments. An attitude to retain our faith as we face ridicule and hurt to that “me –first” self. An attitude to welcome the Good without being possessive along with the Bad without being disappointed. The attitude to “let go” when it no longer serves us.”

    In case, you or any other reader wishes to read the full post, here it is:




    • Zambian Lady
      Mar 04, 2015 @ 20:00:31

      I read your blog post and it is quite interesting. Having more does not necessarily translate into happiness. However, I am not sure about the sentence: “Happiness is an attitude to accept pain and disappointment as part of pleasure.” I accept pain and disappointment because they are inevitable in life, but accepting them as part of pleasure – hmmm that is something else. Thank you for your thoughtful comment.


  2. Minuscule Moments
    Mar 02, 2015 @ 08:11:57

    Oh how I smiled reading this. I grew up in a family of nine children. My father worked hard to keep us fed and clothed. He would say. ” We may not be wealthy but we are rich in love and family.” He is gone now but this love we have is still strong and rich. Thank you for making my day and reminding me of the most important things, this is one of the best posts I have read in a long, long time.


  3. earthriderjudyberman
    Mar 01, 2015 @ 21:32:25

    Your thoughts and feelings make perfect sense, Zambian Lady. Too many base their happiness on ‘things.’ Well their delight in their new ‘things’ soon fades. They look around and realize that they want still more things. The quest for more and more is never ending. Sad.

    We’re not rich but we’re not poor either. I do count among my blessings the love of my family and good health. Several years ago, we had a stretch of 8 months where my husband was freelancing to pay the bills after he’d been laid off. Thankfully, he was rehired by that same firm. Until he was, we did learn the difference between ‘want’ and ‘need.’


  4. anotherday2paradise
    Feb 28, 2015 @ 19:54:45

    Love the photo. 😀


  5. anotherday2paradise
    Feb 28, 2015 @ 19:54:05

    A really wonderful and uplifting post. You’re so right. Happiness lies within ourselves, not in how many possessions we have. Sharing and caring is such a great gift. 🙂


  6. Otto von Münchow
    Feb 28, 2015 @ 17:16:01

    A beautiful post full of wisdom. I wish more people could learn from you. What you say here, I see again and again when I travel around the world. Those who have everything aren’t able to be happy, they always want more and more. Instead they should seek out love and passion and sharing with each other. As you say, life is not money – but it seems like money forces one to believe so when it is acquired beyond a certain amount.


    • Zambian Lady
      Feb 28, 2015 @ 17:47:11

      It has been eye opening to me see that having more does not necessarily bring happiness. I hope more of us would realize that abundance does not equal happiness.


  7. UnderAnAfricanSun
    Feb 28, 2015 @ 04:31:34

    A beautiful and thoughtfully written post, thank you, it was good to start the day reading this.


  8. Jill Weatherholt
    Feb 28, 2015 @ 01:09:57

    I love this. Having lived with a chronic disease since my early 20’s, money means nothing, if you don’t have your health. Thank you for a wonderful post.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: