I consider myself fortunate to be both an American and a British citizen. Fortunate because I have a double sided perspective on living life, garnered from two of the most influential nations in the world. I love both countries. Both countries-like anything- have their advantages and disadvantages. But what have these great nations taught me about the pursuit of happiness, and how can my reflections serve you?
1) The US, being a young nation, are not so encumbered by tradition. You are not as likely to be straight-jacketed into long standing yet superfluous or random customs just because that’s the way they’ve always been done. Americans are not so tied up in the rigors of social etiquette, or class expectations. I have observed that they live life more so from the dictation of their hearts and their individual right to happiness. No doubt this way on living from a space of passion, and not a sense of duress, is inspired by the Founding Fathers as cited in the 1776 US Declaration of Independence:-
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
So in this way the US has taught me to question why I do things, why I believe things, why I should accept ideologies or the way things are done. They may be steeped in tradition but are they serving me now? We are part of institutions and cultures and societies, yes, but that does not mean we should negate our own internal wise counsel, that we cannot forge our own way or exercise our own understood route to happiness.
2) I love British’s ability and willingness to laugh at themselves. We are happy to let our guard down over a glass of wine in the pub, to laugh at our own foibles and mistakes. Bridget Jones, my all-time favorite heroine, celebrates just this, albeit in a slightly exaggerated way.
We also posses that classic dry sense of humor and wit, oftentimes not watered down with political correctness. Are they…joking?! We might be slapstick during the annual Christmas pantomime season but watch any great comedy show-‘The Office,’ Little Britain, ‘Blackadder’ ‘Derek’ or ‘The Royal Family-’ and you’ll see our unique and hilarious subtlety of humor.
I do find a trip back home to England pulls my ‘cheeky’ side out. My friends and family there, typical of the Brits I know on the whole, encourage a bit of good-natured naughtiness. They remind me that life is not all about schedules and striving and seriousness. Laughter is the fastest way to feel good, to feel alive and vibrant. What makes you laugh? Spending time around funny friends or watching comedies that make your eyes water with joy are such instantaneous mood-fixers.
3) Self help, spirituality and working on yourself is not seen as weird or woo-woo or unnecessary nonsense over here in America. In fact, the self help industry is a booming. You don’t have to be broken before you turn to a psychologist, alternative healing or centering practices like yoga or meditation. Loving on the self, in my opinion, is viewed more here as part of a balanced lifestyle.
Taking time to take care of my inner world really has been a hallmark of my self healing journey and America has been the perfect environment to show me how. So I encourage you not to reach breaking point before reaching for the self help book on the shelf that speaks to you, or addressing the problem that seems to be building damaging momentum in your life.
Sometimes the help or confirmation that we need is only a mouse click and a few moments of dedication to ourselves away. There is no need-not in todays world- to suffer in silence, my friend.
4) With that said, I do admire the British resilience, their resolve to Keep Calm and Carry On, or to coin Winston Churchill, to KBO (keep buggering on). It was this wise sentiment that helped us to clinch WW2.
During times when you feel scared, or challenged, or overwhelmed, I think this philosophy can be just the tonic. Sometimes that’s all that life calls for; putting one step in front of the other, just KBO-ing, one day at a time.
As someone with a tendency to wallow in emotions, to squish every residual sensation out of each one that passes, I try to channel my British half. There is a time to retreat, reflect and re-center, and there is a time to get up and get on with it. The Brits are marvelous examples of fortitude, mixed in with a hearty dose of good cheer.
5) On the whole, the American culture definitely has a bright, bubbly perspective. Once past passport control on US soil, you can almost feel this cheery, energetic vibe buoy your spirits. It’s the land of ‘have a nice days,’ ‘you’re welcomes’ and ‘is there anything else I can help you with?’ Happiness, when felt, is almost contagious. Voices are not to be hushed, nor hearty hugs forsaken, for the sake of politeness or for fear of what others might think. I love the exuberant, unapologetic celebration and display of good feelings in the US.
There may be a reason why I sense this though, as a comparative to my native homeland, Britain. If you’ll permit a wee bit of comic license, comedian Bill Bailey on ‘Michael McIntyre’s Easter Night at the Coliseum’ (BBC1) sums it up like this: –
“ There’s a global happiness index…we’re (Britain) like bottom, behind Belgium. And that’s because British happiness is basically knowing that things could have been a lot worse. That’s British happiness. ‘How was your weekend?’ ‘Not too bad. ‘ We thought it was going to be really bad but we dialed it down to not as bad as we thought. We’re measuring out our lives in diminishing increments of diminishing expectation.”
(Also, though, illustrative of point 2; we Brits can and do laugh at ourselves:-)
6) The Brits have a good work-life balance, they know how to unwind. This is helped enormously be the fact that we get much more time off in the year: 5 weeks off, minimum, in employment, 6 months to a year for maternity, we get paternity leave and also a sound sprinkling of national and bank holidays.
Ah! Don’t desert me now, my American friends! I know there is not much we can do about that where we are. My husband gets 5 days a year off. But what I’ve adopted over here, inherited from my British side, is my insistence on quality time with my family and friends. We always have sit down family meals, and I encourage my husband who’s an eat- and- run sort of man to linger at the table that while longer: Without the dastardly iPhone.
We also take family breaks, even though that means two days of camping or an overnight stay at the weekend and we have family meetings and no-media nights. Sometimes we have to say ‘no’ to events that would cloy and compromise our version of a healthy dose of leisure time to just Be.
We have to carve out the time for ourselves, because over here you’re less likely to be given so much leisure time. In my humble experience-of course it depends on your particular lifestyle-the pace of life is faster in the US. This makes it even more important to unplug and get out of the adrenalin fuelled, over-stimulating environment.
Ameri-tain? Brit-ica? A country that combined all these happy inducing pointers would be my Shangri-la place indeed. No country is perfect. What I’ve realized is you can pull strands of what you like from certain cultures and try them on for size in your own world. Do they serve you? Happiness is sometimes a trial and error thing. But find your version.
I’d love to hear from you below. What do you love about your country? How has it contributed to your happiness?