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What Happiness and Yahtzee Have in Common: Tanzania Reflections

9 Aug

I am, right now, on a brain and world expanding trip to Tanzania. I am working with an amazing organization called Global Volunteers. My task is to ask questions and gather data to initiate a project that is intended to reduce stunting and raise cognitive funtion for villagers in the Iringa Region of Tanzania. This is the second in a series of thought pieces as I work my through Tanzania and this inspiring project.

I worry about drawing parallels between the students I and my fellow volunteers met on this trip to Tanzania, and their counter parts in the US. It feels dangerous and a bit irresponsible.

Everyone’s circumstances are different.


Yes, some conditions are more conducive to thriving – physically, mentally, and educationally – and even though those conditions don’t always provide a direct path to success they do provide a setting where it might be easier to unlock human potential.

Happiness and fulfillment are not that straight forward. I am not sure we can make blanket statements – circumstances alone don’t necessary translate to feeling happy and fulfilled.

Here is what I mean.

Happiness and fulfillment are relative things. We only know where we are and some of the details about how we got to this point. How we react to the circumstances in our lives is complicated. All decisions are based on what we know, how we feel, and what is swirling around us at that particular moment in time. It’s a snapshot.

We filter, sort, and search that picture for a frame of reference.

We sift and prioritize how we feel and what we perceive.

Then we dump all that out on the table, like the dice in a game of Yahtzee, and see what comes up. What shows up frames our choices and they make up our points of reference for how we put our world in perspective.

Think about this: That collection of what shows up gives us our behavioral options and we choose from what appears on the top face of the dice. Such a small slice in such a big world.

So… when I hear those around me talk about how people here, in Tanzania, are happier and more joyful even with “so little” I cringe. It just sits wrong with me. It is as if they are seeing the world through a distorted lens and that, in my opinion, leads to broad generalizations, dehumanizes life, and is dangerous.

Happiness and fulfillment really are relative things and we define our reality by choosing from available options.

Simpler does not always mean happier.

Having creature comforts doesn’t always mean you are set up for success.

The Tanzania I am seeing is filled with abundance and therefore potential. The land and the environment is rich, fertile, and evolving – that signals neither good nor bad. From where I sit, this moment in time in this country simply provides the opportunity to choose.


My new forever friend Lisa is writing about The Other Africa on her blog. This quote from the top of her Tumblr page really got my attention.

“If you followed the media you think that everyone in Africa is starving to death and that’s not the case; so it’s important to engage with the other Africa.” — Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Lisa is looking at Africa through the eyes of a scientist and a mother and sees the potential.

I honestly believe that I have been sitting in rooms filled with the best and the brightest and maybe, corny as it sounds, the future of this beautiful country. Did they arrive in these rooms by circumstance, chance, or choice and does that even matter?


Thoughts for the new year

1 Jan

I keep seeing this joke that basically goes like this:

There is a guy who is going to open a gym called Resolutions. For two weeks, this gym will be fully equipped and filled with people determined to finally get and stay in shape. After three weeks, that gym turns into a bar…..

Uggggggh. Really?

I have a different laugh track playing today — one that does not end in a punchline but just feeds more laughter and good feelings. Give it a test drive with me and see how it feels.

Let’s expect the best to happen in 2016.

Let’s expect that this year will be filled with what we want and need and then a bit extra just because it can be.

Let’s anticipate the good we can bring to others and the difference we can make in the world.

Let’s visualize this year as a field of new snow or a beach of untouched sand. Now imagine that every step we take will leave a mark. Let’s visualize ourselves stepping  intentionally, knowing that our steps can change everything. 

Yep, that’s about right.

Here is the really cool thing that is all about you and your brain: When you feel good your body rewards you by releasing those chemicals that nourish your brain and keep pathways active and alive. When you make others feel good you double that impact.  Try it. It works and it is worth it!

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