The music was loud, blaring, and I could barely hear Luca’s voice as we exchanged stories of travel. We were at this beautiful little bar on the beach, filled with all kinds of people. It was the night of a super blue moon lunar eclipse. An astronomical trifecta that most certainly called for a rather large celebration. The BBQ was out, serving squid, crab, fish, vegetable skewers, basically anything you could dream of. In the background a fooseball tournament was unfolding and everybody was a riot over it. Fancy cocktails, top of the line BBQ, music and dancing, a real stockpile of joyous moments. All unfolding at this very well manicured establishment on one of the most beautiful beaches on the planet. The night was one to remember, for more reasons than you might think.
As our conversation continued Luca began telling me about his time spent in Cuba, in 2015. I have never been to Cuba, and have always really wanted to make it there, so I was immediately fascinated by anything he was about to tell me. But what he had to say, and the direction the conversation ended up going, was quite distant from what I had anticipated.
He began with explaining the severity of the poverty. Telling me how hard it was to find what we may consider basic comforts. They didn’t have this, or that, and no one had ever even heard of that before, sorry. He explained how strange this was but expressed excitement at how it forced him to adapt. As we continued discussing the basics of food and hygiene, we naturally found ourselves on the topic of booze. And the tone in Lucas voice elevated as he expressed that, “You could get a bottle of rum for fifty cents!” Fascinating, no doubt, but what I found even more fascinating was what came next.
Luca began to explain that your average individual was lucky to make the equivalent of ten US dollars a month. That these people really had essentially no money, but that this was perhaps what made them some of the most beautiful people he had ever encountered. Where one might expect such circumstances to drive people into a resentful and greedy state, holding on to whatever they could get their hands on, the Cubans had chosen the flip side of this coin. Apparently, they are the nicest and most caring people, willing to share any and everything they have with anyone in need.
It was common (and I’m sure still is), to see a group of locals all sitting in the town square sharing rum and cigarettes, while they played some cards and socialized. And apparently the rum and cigarettes were always a community pool.
Luca explained, “They would just get their monthly pay and go to the store, spend half their money on rum and cigarettes and such, and then just put it all down on the table for everyone to share as they claimed ‘I just got paid today!’ ”. Apparently, everyday someone was getting paid, so the group always had what it needed. What’s more, this care and sharing with one another extends into every aspect of their lives.
If you wanted a cup of coffee in the morning, you need only go to the neighbors, knock on the door and ask. Or perhaps you need to fix something around the house and didn’t have the necessary tools. Knocking door to door, one neighbor would have a screw driver, the next some screws, and the guy down the street would let you borrow his pencil. All done without any form of resistance.
“One day I had to give it a try”, Luca would go on to explain. “So one morning I just walked across the street and knocked on the door. This little old lady answered and I just asked ‘Can I have a cup of coffee?’. She invited me right in, and made us both a cup, sitting down to a conversation with me.”
I didn’t even have the chance to express how amazing I thought this was before he was sharing another story… “The whole village shared one phone, like one of those super old school ones with a cord and spin dial, you know. If someone called and asked to talk to Betty, you would just be like ‘ya okay call back in 1 min’, and then unplug the phone and run over to Betty’s house. Plug it in and wait for it to ring again.” Needless to say, I was fascinated.
This conversation went on for hours as we began discussing the deeper philosophical meanings behind what this all meant to the both of us, and as Luca continued on the primitive nature of their society, coupled with the extreme kindness of the populace as a whole, we mutually concluded that westernized society kind of drags the joy out of people. We realized that here were these people with no money, no WiFi, no cell phones, and from our perspectives really nothing of any material significance to speak of… that were perhaps some of the happiest human beings on the planet.
Then, as if my mind wasn’t already completely boggled, Luca would go on to explain the really peculiar questions these local Cubans would ask him.
“This one guy asked me, ‘so you flew here huh?’… and I was like ya. Then he asked me to tell him what the inside of an airplane looked like..”
It took me a good bit of time to clarify this with Luca… like they really had no idea what an airplane looked like? Luca and I just kind of chuckled as we realized the definite connection between elevated happiness and a very real lack of material necessities being imposed upon the society. We realized that here, we have this group of human beings, simply living their lives. Doing what is necessary to keep the society as a whole on its feet and with a smile on its face. Actively living in a state of non-comparison and pursuing nothing more than what was necessary. And what do you know, everybody was happy!
I’ve since spent a good bit of mental energy and time reflecting on this conversation and have had some really beautiful realizations for myself, as a result. I notice in my own life how the societal standard affects me, and doesn’t, and I find it all quite riveting. If I compare my life to the life of others, my ego takes over and my collective mindset moves in one of two directions. I either feel that I have it better than most, or I feel like I have nothing compared to everyone else. If I let these impositions of ‘standard’ living… billboards, advertisements and what have you, influence me, well the result is the same. This forces me into a state of comparison, and questioning, and desire for that which is not my current status. I end up craving material items and tangible approval from the masses. While here, I begin to feel uneasy, and as angst builds, I become increasingly more negative. Fairly noted, this negativity isn’t necessarily visible to the outside world, nor is it necessarily of any significant power upon its onset, but internally everything is astray, and if I remain in this type of mindset for too long things just spiral out of control.
On the flip side of this coin, when I choose not to compare myself to others, and to just live my life focusing only on me and my current moment… I’m always filled with nothing but joy. Furthermore, when I actively put forth the effort to bring ease, comfort, and happiness to the lives of the people who surround me… I procure even more internal joy. Seeing others happy, makes me happy! It’s an interesting paradox, living for others in order to live for yourself. But you know from what I hear, and from what I can see and feel in my own life, it works!
I think too often we allow ourselves to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life, chasing this and that and trying to prove to everyone that we are capable, and worthy of status. We have set a ‘standard’ of living so egregiously far-fetched it’s honestly appalling. With this we continually fight for something more, and resultantly get very attached to how everything ought to unfold for us, as we begin expecting things to come our way. Then, when we don’t get our way, we become agitated and complain. All this hard work for nothing, expectations unmet, statuses not achieved. But you see, the thing is, even this life that we often complain about… is something that certain people on this planet, our fellow human beings, are not even capable of dreaming of. Personally, I see something very powerful in this. It would seem that those who spend their time living for others, and away from material dreams, are the happiest of us all.