QUITO — Is this not infectious?
This snapshot of a sea of laughs and smiles was taken on Palm Sunday afternoon at the Plaza Grande in Quito’s Centro Historico. A sizable crowd gathered and quickly took over the eastern steps of the cathedral to listen to a pair of street comics perform. I couldn’t follow what the two were saying or miming and could barely see what they were doing.
But it didn’t matter.
The laughter was loud, raucous and infectious. Just seeing so many people gather somewhere, outside, to enjoy a bit of street theater was enough to put a smile on my face.
Are you familiar with Pablo Neruda’s poem, “Your Laughter“? In the three short and succinct lines which open the poem, Neruda clearly summarizes one of humanity’s most vital essentials:
Take bread away from me, if you wish,
take air away, but
do not take from me your laughter.
And then he concludes:
Laugh at the night,
at the day, at the moon,
laugh at the twisted
streets of the island,
laugh at this clumsy
boy who loves you,
but when I open
my eyes and close them,
when my steps go,
when my steps return,
deny me bread, air,
but never your laughter
for I would die.
Typical Latin, no? Actually, quite possibly.
According to Gallup’s annual Positive Experience Index released on March 19, Ecuador finished in a tie for second, just behind Paraguay, as the world’s happiest country. Remarkably, for the first time in the poll’s ten-year history, every country in the top-10 is in Latin America. (Neruda’s homeland, Chile, is in a tie for 15th with Canada, Bhutan, Rwanda, the US, The Netherlands, and a few others.)
The survey, designed to measure things that GDP and wealth do not, included the following questions:
- Did you feel well-rested yesterday?
- Were you treated with respect all day yesterday?
- Did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday?
- Did you learn or do something interesting yesterday?
- Did you experience enjoyment?
And the key take away? Gallup summarized:
Money isn’t everything in life. Guatemala is one of the poorest countries in the world, ranking 118th in terms of GDP (nominal) per capita, yet when it comes to positive emotions, it ties for second. There is much to be learned from Latin America on this International Day of Happiness because while they aren’t the wealthiest people in the world, they are certainly among the happiest.
Suzan Haskins and Dan Prescher, editors of InternationalLiving.com, who have extensive experience in Latin America and who currently live in Ecuador, shared their perspective on “Why Latin America?” for The Huffington Post a few days ago.
Beyond the Latin Americans’ tendency to live for the day, the key points in Haskins and Prescher’s analysis are these:
A value system that puts family and friends above ambition and money. An outlook that makes living, laughing and loving in the moment rather than putting happiness on hold for some future goal. An environment that easily and naturally meets the most basic needs of shelter and food. Healthcare that is considered a right for all instead of a privilege for a few.
Check it out.
Locally, I’ve noticed that people in Quito do smile a lot, enjoy laughter, and aren’t afraid of showing respect.
That’s infectious, too. And I’ll miss it when I leave in three weeks time. Thankfully, Colombia, where I’m heading to next, was tied with Ecuador and Guatemala for the runner-up spot as well. I’ll report back on their brand of happiness before summer’s end.
And for the record, today’s Pic du Jour, the 460th straight, was snapped with a smile on 29 March 2015.