Happiness in the Garden of Eden

When we think of the Garden of Eden, we think of perfect contentment, peace of mind, and complete happiness.  But what was really in the garden that gives such peace?  From what we know, just a bunch of animals and plants, and of course, a close relationship with God.

What might be even more surprising is what was not there.  That would be a Mercedes, a Rolex, a house with a swimming pool, a Manhattan apartment, a diamond ring, and pretty much everything else that you can buy in this world.

In the Biblical sense, we might envision the Garden of Eden as a place of perfect peace and contentment.  But, in today’s world opinion, we would view the Garden of Eden as having nothing.  They would be considered below the poorest of the poor in Africa or India.  Not a stitch of clothing, no roof over their head, no fence to mark any sort of property.

Why the discrepancy?  How could the poorest of the poor be perfectly content?  Truth be told, we see that the happiness in the world isn’t quite what we think it is.

In a survey published by the BBC,

A new study of more than 65 countries published in the UK’s New Scientist magazine suggests that the happiest people in the world live in Nigeria – and the least happy, in Romania.

In order of happiness level:
1. Nigeria
2. Mexico
3. Venezuela
4. El Salvador
5. Puerto Rico

Maybe the difference between happiness in the Garden and true happiness in the world is not really any difference at all.  The world teaches that in order for us to be happy, we must keep trying to change ourselves and our lives to have more and more.  In other words, to be less and less like Adam and Eve in the garden.  But the “happy” people of the world are showing us that the world’s idea of the path to happiness is flawed.

In a recent commentary…

Let Me Upgrade You? | Views | TheRoot.com

They say once you’ve had filet mignon, it’s hard to go back to Hamburger Helper. For some, it’s elevating from an old school TV set to HD, upper level to courtside, Wal-Mart to Whole Foods, coach to first class.

But are we sometimes better off in the unknown? Ignorance is not only blissful, it’s often cheaper. After all, upgrades come with strings attached, usually dollar signs. Other times, drama—mo’ money, mo’ problems.

Jay-Z, who seems to be in a constant struggle with his rags-to-riches existence, explains it like this in “Success” from the American Gangster album: “What do I think of success? It sucks, too much stress. […] I use to give a sh–, now I don’t give a sh– more. Truth be told, I had more fun when I was piss poor.”

Another interesting fact is that some studies have shown that financial wealth does not necessarily mean you are not happy.  In a few studies, Denmark and a few other European nations have come up on top.

Ultimately, I think the point is that materialism doesn’t play any role in happiness.  I don’t think we have to run around naked in a garden to be happy.  There is something unrelated to materialism that is what we are all seeking.  The sad thing is that the world, for some reason, has become obsessed with materialism.  Not sure how that happened.  I think the motivation behind the fact that most religions shun materialism is not that materialism itself is a sin, but that it is a distraction.  When we get distracted by it, we lose focus on the center of our happiness.

My brother is wrapping up his tour of duty in the Peace Corps.  They placed him in a village in Suriname where people had very little chance of escape.  His projects were more basic than education; he was trying to raise the so-called quality of life by improving their agricultural businesses.  After two years, he’s realized two things.  First, these people didn’t want their lives to be changed.  They just worked for 4-6 hours a day, came home, smoked pot, and just relaxed their entire lives.  And they were completely happy doing this.  He felt like he didn’t have to be there.  As a volunteer, he went to bring happiness to this small community, and what he realized was that they had already found it.  Secondly, he learned that he was really sent to convince them that they weren’t happy, and they needed to think like the rest of us.  He was there to improve their quality of life, but in the process he realized that their quality of life didn’t need to be improved in order to improve their happiness.  So there was a disconnect between his task and his purpose.

Another interesting fact is that religion doesn’t seem to correlate with happiness.  The countries on the happiness list are not necessarily a list of the world’s most pious nations.  Some would say that happiness is being in God’s will.  Again, I’m not sure if anyone would agree that those countries represent individuals that are known for being “in God’s will.  But then I can’t defend this point, since only God knows.

And when I say religion, I don’t mean faith in God.  I view religion and faith in God as two separate ideas.

So the question that needs to be answered is what is the real difference between ourselves and Adam?  Why was he so perfectly happy?  And what “knowledge” did he gain when he ate the fruit that changed everything for him?

3 thoughts on “Happiness in the Garden of Eden

  1. excellent post…I’m finding this to be so true to my experience in life. I don’t think I’ve ever commented on your blog buy I stop by and read regularly. I always enjoy your thoughts.

  2. “From what we know, just a bunch of animals and plants, and of course, a close relationship with God.”

    — I think the key to contentment is that relationship with God. You know the age-old saying “Money can’t buy happiness” I guess more people should start believing it as opposed to trying to disprove it 🙂

    I thought the point of most peace corps people was to improve quality of life – not make them like our western society! By improving I would mean primarily healthcare. Most of the developing nations have myths which need to be replaced with science- I for one know the whole “natural” process of childbirth had more deaths before science! So that, added with the knowledge of clean water and medicines- yup, I’d say we are improving life. As for agricultural businesses, again the old adage of “Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, Teach a man to fish, you feed him and his family for life” I would think that these agricultural businesses are ways to help them stand on their own two feet when famine /other natural disasters strike!

  3. I don’t think you can explain quality of life improvement in such simple terms. The myths that you mention probably should be replaced by science, but science brings about its own myths. For example, C-sections are used as a source of income by many doctors in India. Did they really improve the quality of life? On a small and individual scale, yes, but the larger picture may be different.

    Here’s a simple way to look at the quality of life improvement in terms of medicine. Without medicine, we wouldn’t have pharmaceutical companies which are considerably reducing the quality of life in many parts of the world, both rich and poor.

    At the risk of sounding naive, here’s how I look at the quality of life improvement. What is the life expectancy overall? In the US, it’s in the high 70s, in Suriname, it’s in the low 70s. So is it really that big of a difference, especially when they’re enjoying their years much more than we are?

    And in regards to the agricultural improvements, here’s a story I was told a few years ago. An executive vacationing in Jamaica came across a fisherman who was just relaxing after a good day’s haul. The executive saw how successful the fisherman was and told him how he could expand his business. The fisherman said, “And then what?” He could then hire staff to fish other areas, and he could start controlling the market. The fisherman said, “And then what?” Then he could hire distributors to sell the fish to other markets. The fisherman said, “And then what?” And finally he could hire executives to run the show so that he didn’t have to do anything except rake in the profit. The fisherman said, “And then what?” “And then” said the executive, “he wouldn’t have to work so he could just sit around and do whatever he loved to do.” The fisherman responded, “I’m already doing that.”

    These people already know how to survive. One of Muhammad Yunus’ core beliefs is that all people, given natural conditions, know how to survive and take care of their family. What kills them are the unnatural conditions, like market-dominating competitors that drive them either to join or out of business.

    In Suriname, these people were already farmers. What the Peace Corps attempts to do in many cases is not just make them better farmers, but explain to them how to run a competitive business.

    I don’t want to rip on the Peace Corps, since they do a lot of good in many areas (i.e. the HIV programs in Africa). I’m just using them as an example.

    As my brother says, the Peace Corps isn’t there for the sake of bringing the Western World to Suriname, it’s preparing them for when the Western world eventually does hit.

    Considering Katrina and the housing bubble, I’m not sure if the US is the best country to be teaching how to manage disasters, natural or man-made.

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