Greetings from Mexico! I’m here to celebrate my father’s 80th birthday, and I’m reminded again of just how happy and pleasant people are here. Whether it’s the waiter in a restaurant or the kids at the side of the road playing soccer (football!), there’s a lightness and joy in the air that you can feel almost everywhere you go.
I’ve asked myself often why Mexicans are so happy. Happiness is hard to measure quantitatively, but to the extent people do it, Mexicans tend to rank far higher than Americans. See here, here, and here.
My non-scientific listing of reasons why Mexicans are so happy:
Income and wealth are less important than social ties
It’s very typical in Mexico to get together with your extended family for a meal once per week. A regularly scheduled social interaction like this helps people stay close.
Compared to Americans, Mexicans tend to not leave their hometowns. Americans are more likely to move away from where they grew up for a higher paying job, better weather, etc. As somebody who made such a move, I can say it was very disruptive. It’s very difficult to create new and deep social ties as an adult. And almost certainly such moves break you away from grandparents and other extended family. It’s hard to have a meal with your family every week if they live 1000 miles away!
As an aside, the brilliant back therapist Esther Gokhale believes that moving away from your family leads to worse posture (since fixing posture is typically the realm of non-parent family such as grandparents), and correlates America’s high level of back pain to lack of family cohesion!
Lightness of being
Mexican culture is replete with pranks, stories, and fun tales! Ranging from the practical to the traditional, Mexicans love to laugh and make others laugh. Do you feel happier when you laugh? So does everybody.
Another contributor to a lighter approach to life? Mexico is a religious place; most people believe in a higher power or higher purpose. Handing over problems to a higher power/God makes us worry less, since we acknowledge the reality that many things in life are outside of our control. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to start going to church, but believing something larger than yourself and giving up control can help all of us.
Rituals and traditions
Rituals and traditions tend to outpunch their weight for happiness. Mexican celebrations go far beyond quincineras and Cinco de Mayo. These regular traditions help boil things down to their very essence, allowing us to feel deeply and acknowledge the important stages in life. I sometimes think this is why people enjoy coffee so much – the idea that every single day you take a little time for yourself in a sequenced and practiced way. Even better are traditions that involve others – there is a multiplying power to doing things together with family.
My family has a tradition at Easter where everyone holds an egg and tries to crack everyone else’s egg. Cheating is encouraged and everyone’s personality shines (are you a protector or an attacker?) Even the youngest kids get into it!
If you ask any member of any generation some of their best family memories, this 30 minute tradition will be on the list. I’m not sure there is anything special about cracking eggs. It could probably be an egg throwing contest or a costume party. But repeating events, whether annually or daily, gives them outsized power to contribute to a meaningful and enjoyable life.
What to do with this information
A few ideas come to mind:
- Be very cautious about trading money for social ties. Moving away from your friends and family for money is especially dangerous. On a smaller scale, taking a job that gives you less time with your friends, or a longer commute – might not be worth it.
- Actively create traditions that enable you to see friends and family. Whether this is a weekly poker game, a nightly prayer, an annual dinner, or a certain meal prepared every Sunday – consciously choose to do things regularly and add symbolism where possible.
- Be realistic about what you can control or not control. Spirituality is my “religion”, but any mechanism that allows you to recognize that things are outside your control will likely lead to more happiness.