The Secret to Happiness Lies in the Creole State
Why are people in New Orleans so happy?
I kept reiterating that question to myself as I was conferencing in New Orleans over the weekend. “Laissez les bons temps rouler” (let the good times roll) is the unofficial motto of the state. A report released by the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research states that Shreveport, Houma, Lafayette, and Baton Rouge are on the top of the list of U.S. Metropolitan areas with the highest reported level of happiness. Every single individual, ranging from the airport and hotel staff to the department store associates, to the random residents walking up and down Canal Street, were filled with warmth, gratitude, hospitality, humbleness, positivity, and contentment. The human connection that filled the city was magnetic. It seemed as if their smiles were permanently tattooed. Born and raised in Los Angeles, this level of euphoria seemed unreal. What is the common thread that binds all New Orleanians?
This apparent level of happiness began to stand out as I continued my doctoral road trip to Washington D.C. Expecting the same level of warmth and hospitality, I was much disappointed by the level of despair, sadness, negativity, and desolation that filled this collective of people. What was the problem? Why was I feeling so out of place in this big, beautiful, and historical city? And, why was I letting this negativity get to me? I kept wanting to ask these Washingtonians: “You live in this gorgeous city rich with beautiful buildings, nature, delicious food, opportunity, where anyone would be envious to live. What is the problem?” Every opportunity I had to talk to a resident, I did. I asked them if they were happy and they said “yes.” But I didn’t buy it. I thought myself; perhaps these Washingtonians should ask the New Orleanians what the secret to happiness is. Then I remembered the words of my late grandmother Lydia, who always used to tell me "A heart that's filled with gratitude and contentment is always happy." My grandmother never had much of any luxury but was always happy because she was grateful for all that God had given her. Is gratitude the answer to one of the biggest problem’s humanity faces in this day and age?
Disparity does not only lie in Washington D.C. but is apparent in Los Angeles where I reside. It's as if happiness is a chore. People are moody, unhappy, unauthentic, spiteful, selfish, lack self-worth and compassion, stressed out, and ungrateful. If you don’t detach yourself from this negativity, it becomes contagious, and before you know it, you’re stuck in a room full of people who dislike one another. Is this lack of gratitude and contentment the cause of the marathon of school shootings and acts of unkindness in humanity? Is gratitude something that can be taught or is it innate? Can you merely write a how-to book on how to be thankful and solve the problems of the world? I find myself driving in my car continuously reiterating the words "Thank you, God!” This simple practice has been the source of my happiness. And I feel the more grateful I am, the more the universe brings my way.