Just got back from Cancun, Mexico. Went to a resort with some friends we’ve met over the years on our trips to Jamaica. We had a good time, but we weren’t impressed with the resort or Cancun. The chicken wings were easily the best food at the resort, but the enchiladas sucked. In fact, they had hardly any Mexican food at all. Who would’ve guessed?
We found Cancun to be similar to Jamaica. Lots of really nice resorts surrounded by some real rundown, dilapidated areas. The roads were nicer in Cancun. However, we much prefer Jamaica. Maybe we’d get used to Mexico and come to like it as much as Jamaica, but we loved Jamaica from the minute we arrived. The people are very friendly and laid back. Despite the economic conditions, Jamaicans are generally happy and optimistic.
Since this is a retirement blog, this isn’t a trip report. I find it curious that so many of us fret and worry over every aspect of our retirement while people around the world in places like Jamaica, who will probably never retire, just live there lives and find a way to be happy. Yeah, America is a place of amazing opportunity and wealth, but what are we doing to ourselves?
Obviously, these are generalizations. Not every Jamaican is happy and surely some wish for more, hence the large Jamaican populations in some American cities, but the fact that many of us are unhappy in our full-time office jobs, 3 bedroom/2 bath homes, and two new cars while many much poorer people are generally happy is telling. Again, this is a generalization.
Could it be that many of us spend so much time working for and worrying about money in an attempt to buy more and more stuff doesn’t really result in happiness? Could all that security we strive to obtain cost us more than we think? I think so. I think that living simply is the key to happiness. I’m not saying we need to live like we’re from a third-country, but we don’t have to pretend we’re Bill Gates either.
I love the stuff I can buy. Cars, computers, TVs, whatever, I love it all. But if I traded in my 14-year-old Jeep for a new Jeep or my 47-inch LCD TV for a 70-inch screen would I be happier? Will I wander around in bliss remembering the purchase with great fondness a year from now? No!
I do, however, remember the time I spent with my family and friends, like on my Cancun trip, the experiences I have, like fishing or travel, and the things that challenge me, like writing. In fact, I cherish those memories. I don’t cherish my TV, but I do love the time I spend in front of it with my wife. I don’t cherish my Jeep, but I do love the experiences it allows me to have.
But I don’t need to go to Cancun, own a TV or a Jeep or have a few million sitting in a bank to enjoy myself. I could visit with friends nearby, go fishing locally or sit and talk with my wife. It’s not the money and the stuff it can buy that makes us happy, it’s what we choose to do with that stuff. That’s why a family trip in an old station wagon, something I did when I was a kid, is just as fun as that same trip in a new minivan.
Money is a means to an end, not an end in itself. If the Jamaican woman behind the bar who works 14 hour days, drives three hours to work and annually earns about what we spend on the trip can find happiness, surely you can too, and probably for a lot less money that you think. In fact, all that money and stuff tends to complicate life and make finding happiness harder.
Look, I’m glad I don’t live in Mexico or Jamaica, or Cuba, North Korea or Iran for that matter, but I think that we can learn a few things from the people who do. Happiness is derived from the things you do and the people you share them with. Concentrating on those things, rather than how much money and stuff we have, bring the contentment that we seek. If you happen to be able to afford some stuff and have a nice little nest egg, so much the better.