Web Extra: International Insights

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“Barriga llena, corazón contento” (“Full tummy, happy heart”)  —Latin American saying
Carlos Orihuela, Ph.D.: “Happiness is a concept with many senses in Latin America. It depends on traditions, ethnicity, economic status, social class, and the degree of modernity of one’s culture. There are many people whose notion of happiness is similar to the Americans’ more and more every day, but it is still only a small social segment—mostly metropolitan elites, people who have the opportunity to be educated in the ‘First World’ or have exceptional education in their own countries.”

“I am because we are, and because we are I am.”  —African proverb
Askhari Hodari, Ph.D.: “There is also another proverb: ‘Children are a poor people’s riches.’ In general the pursuit of happiness in many Afridiasporic cultures tends to be related to other people; people often view relationships as a kind of richness. So that, as long as one has family and friends, they are able to experience happiness. It is often an empathetic experience. However, this is changing fast with Western influence.

“Freedom makes me happy—environments and days that are not restrictive. My mother and father make me happy. They have been married for 43 years and still talk and listen to me every day.”

“Happiness of tomorrow does not exist. Happiness is now or never.”  —René Barjavel, French author
Catherine Daniélou, Ph.D.: “A 2004 SOFRES study/poll shows that 94 percent of the French consider themselves happy. They realize that their lives may not be easy, and yet they derive their happiness from relationships and simple well-being. The greatest challenges to the French people’s happiness are related to their ages. Young people are very affected by unemployment. Older people say that what would bring them more happiness is friends and people to talk to. The most socioeconomically challenged French people underline that they do not have enough money and/or would like better housing.

“One interesting fact in the survey is that health care is not a concern for the French, since France offers socialized medicine. I personally believe that many Americans find health care a challenge to their happiness, because it can be such a worry and financial burden.”

“La felicidad cae del cielo.” (“Happiness falls from heaven.”)  —Latin American saying
Carol Argo: “Much of what we in UAB International Scholar and Student Services know about expressions of happiness in other cultures we have learned experientially. Reading about cultural differences is one thing, but experiencing those differences over the years has proven to be the best means of learning. We try to keep in mind that there may be cultural and/or individual restraints associated with nonverbal communication. The smile is generally a universal expression of happiness, but the meaning of the expression may be determined by situations and relationships. For example, a smile may be used to hide feelings of pain, frustration, or embarrassment rather than expressing joy; it may be used to show affection or convey politeness. It may not be appropriate in some cultures to show emotion in formal situations, but totally appropriate in private with friends.”

“It’s a great pleasure to have very smart and diligent students in the world to teach.”  —Chinese saying
Lily Yang: “The greatest challenge to the Chinese people’s happiness is that it varies with the material things they have, and material things are not lasting. Once you have used them, you are not happy anymore. There is a Chinese saying: ‘A family cannot be rich enough over three generations.’ This means that children who grow up in a wealthy family won’t develop the character of being diligent and appreciating or enduring hardship. Then later they will just use up all their ancestors’ wealth. The family’s fu fades away.

“When my students at UAB are diligent about their learning, that makes me very happy.”

“The heart of man . . . contains a hidden fire which is evoked by music and harmony, and renders man beside himself with ecstasy.”  —Al Ghazali, Muslim philosopher
Lamia Zayzafoon, Ph.D.: “I don’t think there is a pure Islamic perspective on happiness. Medieval Islamic theology is steeped in Judaic thought, Nestorian Christian theology, and Greek philosophy. Similar to the other Abrahamic traditions, happiness in the Qur’an is divided into two categories: a material earthly happiness which revolves around procreation and material wealth, and spiritual happiness that is tied to good ethics and deeds. ‘Wealth and children are the adornment of worldly life, but in your Lord’s sight, right actions that are lasting bring a better reward and are a better basis for hope’ (Qur’an 18:45-46).

“There are two prominent medieval Muslim philosophers who wrote about happiness: Al Farabi and Al Ghazali. Inspired by Plato, Al Farabi attempted in his book The Attainment of Happiness to create an Islamic philosophy of political happiness: ‘The human things through which nations and citizens . . . attain earthly happiness in this life and supreme happiness in the life beyond are . . . theoretical virtues, deliberative virtues, moral virtues, and practical arts.’ In The Alchemy of Happiness, the Sufi philosopher Al Ghazali posits four conditions to reach the perfect state of happiness: ‘knowledge of the self; the knowledge of God; the knowledge of this world as it really is; and the knowledge of the next world as it really is.’

“In my research into Muslim philosophy and the Qur’an, I have found that the challenges to happiness in Islam are an unjust ruler, wars, slavery, death of a child, poverty, idleness, estrangement from God, and disinheriting the orphans. From a secular perspective, bureaucracy is one of the biggest challenges to happiness in many Muslim societies and other countries of the ‘Third World.’”

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