A cultural blend defines happiness in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is quickly becoming a very popular tourist destination, which is noticeable in many cities and towns. Tuk-tuks are ready to take you anywhere, locals have opened their houses for anyone and some towns are getting overtaken by hippie foreigners. Nonetheless, happiness in Sri Lanka based on the statistics isn’t very promising: they’re ranked in the bottom 30 of the world happiness index.

Yet we are determined to find some key secrets to happiness in the pearl of South Asia, Sri Lanka. It’s a country not only famous for her Ceylon tea, but also for the delicious spices, friendly people and rich culture. And two weeks during the holiday season in Sri Lanka brought us many memorable insights.

Cultural blend

First of all, it quickly becomes clear Ceylon (the old name of Sri Lanka) is a rich blend of many different religious and spiritual beliefs. Home to the tooth of Buddha, many Buddhist live in Ceylon. Simultaneously, it’s also home to Christians, Muslims and Hindoes. This not only provides many stunning buildings and sacred places (such as Adams peak), it also leads to an interesting atmosphere. Essentially, it’s a vibe that leads all Sri Lankan’s to tolerate one another and to live in harmony.

Christopher is a Christian who lives in Nuwara Eliya. He explains that happiness is living a simple life and have a good relationship with God. He has all types of friends that have a deep connection and good relationship, despite their differences. In fact, they sometimes join each other’s festivities.

Hassi is a Buddhist who lives in Weligama. To him, Buddhism makes the people happy.

“Buddhism gives a lot of freedom and accepts you to be who you are. Being a Buddhist gives you peace”.

Paradise mindset.

Hassi used to live in London for a few years before going back to his hometown in Sri Lanka. He liked living in England but felt the sacrifice he paid: his relaxed lifestyle.

That’s why he decided to save money and come back. He opened a guesthouse and runs it with a few employees. What’s most important to him, is to have some fun. He likes making jokes with his employees and assures they enjoy work.

“In the end, happiness is about peace. Being with friends and family and don’t worry too much”. When you live in Sri Lanka, you already live in paradise and can eat coconuts the whole day!

But some don’t seem to realize this. According to Christopher, it’s because human beings are never satisfied.

“A human being is hard to satisfy, this is human nature. Politics is the same, they always want more power.

His secret is to live a simple life, being less focused on possessions and more on social connections. However, for a large part of the population this is easier said than done.

Poverty and politics

The relation between money and happiness is most prominent in Sri Lanka, compared to all the countries we’ve visited so far. When asked about general happiness, many Sri Lankan’s are convinced the majority is not very happy.

They explain that life is expensive and they don’t make a lot of money. This causes them worries and sometimes stress. We also feel a sense of despair in the way many Sri Lankans approach tourists. They are often keen to make money and we often feel like being targeted directly.

Our driver told us that he is the care taker: I work for the whole family. I am happy that I can give my family what they need. Food, medicine etc.”

“If they are happy, then I am happy”.

According to Hassi, money is indeed the first step towards happiness. But after that, there is so much more. It only fulfils your happiness up to a certain point. But the true happiness is found in the social connections and level of peace you (and your mind) have.

Money well spend.

We’ve become friends with a locally well respected Ayurvedic doctor. Both locals and tourists are keen to see him and his shop is always full of people. He explained to us how he believes money is well spent, and how the relationship between money and happiness works.

According to the Buddhism lifestyle, there are multiple categories for expenses. One of the eight might consist of savings, but the distribution between all the categories should be balanced.

“One of the most important expense categories is social events. Be it a dinner with friends, a local gathering or just hanging around with a bunch of people”.

Only then money makes you happy. You need to involve others. And involving others is something many Sri Lankan’s often do.

Take Care

What we’ve experienced is that they host many big festivities where anyone is welcome. We’ve been part of Bentota Perahera, one of the most important buddhist festivals in Sri Lanka.

Our host family took us everywhere to see the repercussion and to meet other locals. What’s interesting about days like these, is that the whole town is expected to contribute to the event. Either financially, by providing food for all the people involved in the parades or by preparing all decorations and materials. The main aim of festivities like these is to be grateful and celebrate.

Lakki, our host, explains that part of his happiness is also to take care of others. In the first place his family, but also helping his neighbours and tourists definitely makes him happy.

And we’ve noticed this genuine care taking everywhere during our stay. We felt extremely welcome, and they do everything they can to make you feel at home. And by serving the good Ceylon tea, they know how to do this ;-).

Happiness in Sri Lanka

Being in the top 30 of the HPI and the bottom 30 of the WHI, the definition of happiness in Sri Lanka is not easily found. It’s a country with many big contrasts. But the most interesting insight we’ve gathered, is that regardless of any contrast, there is tolerance.

Sri Lankan’s are happy because they get along with everyone, despite different (religious) backgrounds. But they don’t only have tolerance for each other. There is also tolerance for tourists, being willing to share anything from ancient wisdom to food. Well, mostly spicy food, as they know how to tolerate spicy food.

Regarding others though, it’s more than just tolerating each other. Sri Lankan’s like to have fun and seek many opportunities to be with others. Having a nice chat with a few friends makes them happy, just as spending dinners together. It’s the social connection and sharing that is key to their happiness. Which is exactly the variable that is high contributor of happiness in Sri Lanka according to the WHI.

Sure they are keen to make money. And yes, this (partly) contributes to their happiness. Maybe they even tend to focus too much on money, seeing it as their mean towards happiness. But then again, when you have challenging live conditions, who wouldn’t?

And this is exactly what Lakki advises us: My advice is that if you don’t have money don’t forget that you always have a smile! Sharing is important for happiness. We also share a lot with family and friends. From food to business opportunities.

For interesting facts in Sri Lanka, click here!



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