Does the word conjure up the palm tree studded tropical beach scene for you? Why is that the typical answer? If we could have it, would we really be happiest lounging around on poolside recliners while sipping fruity drinks? Or is that just what we're told is the best, so we assume it to be true?
Have you ever peeked behind the magic curtain, so to speak, to see how the natives of those places really live? What I've seen tends to range from deplorable poverty to ordinary living. Take many of the popular travel destinations for Americans, for example Mexico or the Caribbean. I often see far more locals in tragically uncomfortable or unhealthy living conditions that here in the United States.
And yet the allure is there, the promise of the perfect setting that will renew and whisk your cares away. Does it work? Does just being there in the sun with a pretty view of the ocean make people feel better?
Okay yes, I agree to some extent that a beautiful, warm location is a nice welcome for someone who has free time, such as on vacation. But I am talking about something different here, what is paradise? Where is the perfect place to live the perfect life?
There should be as many different answers as there are people on this planet. I recently read a book that tried to shed a light on this very topic. Geography of Bliss, by Eric Weiner, is a journalist's attempt at finding the happiest countries on the planet by talking to the locals, describing the culture, and finding out what makes each society tick. Very fun and easy read, and it opened my mind up to the idea of a happy community, built from the outside in.
The American way, true to our collective independent and pioneering spirit, is to look within ourselves for happiness. If we aren't happy it's something we're doing or not doing.
But what about the network of relationships that bind us to one another? What about cultural values? These, it turns out, explain much of why one region of people are happy while another is not. Researchers in the scientific field of happiness (yes they do exist! they prefer the term "subjective well-being"), have been ranking the areas, cities, and countries according to the happiness of their inhabitants. And, surprise surprise, it's not those tropical paradise island nations that consistently are on the top of the list!
This leads me back to my original question, and title of this blog. What is my idea of paradise? I'm living it. I've got the happy smiles to prove it. For me it's being married to my soulmate, a man who is (among many other things) smart, loving, supportive, and ready for adventure. It's being a mom to the most charming, beautiful, happy little baby to ever touch my heart. It's having an abundance of wonderfully fun and caring friends and family. It's living in a city that is safe, modern, progressive, creative, and inviting. It's having a job that challenges and rewards me, and let's me help others. It's working the number of hours I want to work so that I don't feel too exhausted to spend quality time at home. It's having easy access to parks, restaurants, vineyards, mountains, and the ocean.
I can celebrate my life because I know it wasn't always this blissful. I didn't always have the choices that I do know, nor the people in my life to make me feel so at home and at peace with myself. But yesterday is another story. Today I celebrate today, and relish in the present.