Girl From Ipanema; A Lesson In Happiness

October 5, 2009 by  
Filed under Blog

On September 2nd 2009, Rio de Janeiro, the city I was born and raised in, was chosen by Simon Anholt, an author and policy adviser, as the happiest city in the world.  You can read the whole article in Forbes Magazine at http://shine.yahoo.com/event/tastefulliving/the-worlds-happiest-cities-508202/
I have had the luck of living in three cities, Rio de Janeiro, New York City and Los Angeles, which gives me an insider’s perspective plus enough experience to understand what makes a city, or country tick.

Let me just start by saying hands down Rio de Janeiro is a happier city than NYC or LA and I say that not because I read it in Forbes. Why?  Rio de Janeiro had a different focus, a different take on life.

In Rio de Janeiro, actually in the entirety of Brazil, people work so they can have fun and have the life style they want.  Brazilians or Cariocas (as people from Rio de Janeiro are called) love to dance, sing and get together with friends and family. Fun is the focus and everything is done in big groups; from going to the beach to dinners, parties and lunches. 

A typical Sunday is: wake up late, go to the beach, get together for a feijoada (a black bean dish with all kinds of strange meats – which used to be left over meats the slaves would get a hold of and stir in the pot – purchased at the butcher shops such as; pig’s feet (you get the drift) all accompanied by guitars, singing and Caipirinha (Brazilian’s official drink). 

I have made documentaries in Brazil that involved spending time with very poor people leaving in shacks with electricity rerouted from street poles but I must tell you that most of them knew how to push their troubles aside and have a respite from difficulty by laughing with friends and singing their hearts out.

In contrast people in NYC and in LA seem to keep score on who puts more hours of work in a week.  The forty hour week is a thing of the past not only in these two cities but in the US as a whole.  We eat on the run and at night we are so tired that most of us end up throwing a frozen dinner in the oven or microwave. 

Families are so spread apart that one is lucky if they have one member of their family living near by.  And who has time on a weekend to sing, dance, eat, and drink?  We have places to go and things to do.  The emphasis in work for the sake of work is a cultural trait in the US and creates a lot of stress in our lives plus most of us can never achieve enough financial success to have the big house, car, appliances that the get bombarded into our lives on a daily basis, and so we end up thinking of ourselves as losers.

I have chosen to live in the US.  I love this country and its people.  I’m a doer.  I get excited by ideas and the opportunity this country gives me to fulfill them, but I do wish we would start paying more attention to quality time.  And that means hanging out with friends and family, relaxing and mostly having a good time, whatever that means to each one of us.

I for some time had forgotten of this beautiful quality of enjoying life and oneself and am now on my path back to recoup this outlook I once had because believe me, no amount of money or accomplishments can compete with laughing and loving with abandonment.

And that is the reason Rio de Janeiro is the happiest city in the world.  It is the city of carnival, samba, and the girl from Ipanema.  We certainly can’t have the girl from Ipanema in Los Angeles or any other US city but we can have her American cousin and we too can learn to laugh and love with abandonment.

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