Lessons learned from an inspiring adventure.
I just returned from a trip to Chile—a wild, magical place with majestic mountains, pristine beaches, lush forests, and a palpable ethic of sustainability.
While there, we were able to enjoy captivating adventures on land and sea, with exotic animals like guanacos (related to the llama), reias (flightless birds similar to ostriches), flamingos, penguins, and humpback whales.
We climbed craggy peaks with hanging glaciers, played with dolphins as we cruised bucolic isles, and spent hours simply sitting, mesmerized by sweeping vistas.
While the activities (and the moments of deep relaxation) created memories that will last a lifetime, perhaps what struck me the most during my time there was the gentle kindness of the people.
As a generalization, Chilean people seem truly content. Even those who are living modest lives—poor when measured by Western standards—seemed satisfied with and grateful for what they have. They weren’t engaged in the bigger, faster, newer culture (what I call The Seduction of More), and they didn’t seem resentful, envious, or jealous of those who have more than them.
I didn’t sense greed or anxiety. We met plenty of energetic people with lots of ambition, but the quality of that ambition was different than what I’m familiar with. People didn’t seem to be playing a zero-sum game, where if they won, others lost. Rather, individual achievement was perceived to enrich families and entire communities.
The Chileans that we encountered seemed genuinely interested in ensuring our happiness and satisfaction. They were proactively accommodating, anticipating our needs and going out of their way to make us feel special and cared for.
They were proud to be of service and provide value, which was a real treat in today’s fast paced grind. There was no desire to flip tables or quick-process queues. The people took their time to make sure that things were done right.
From a housing standpoint, most of the homes we saw were simple at best, but nearly every household had a greenhouse, orchard (or at least one apple tree), and some animals (cows, sheep, chickens, pigs, horses, dogs and cats). They had wood burning stoves that could heat air and water, which, in conjunction with the small food production operations, offered the people a level of self-sufficiency.
Untouched beaches in the Lakes region on the Pacific Coast
There was something else that was striking: a sense of ecological accountability. The people were closely connected with the natural environment. They seemed to understand that if they took care of their small piece of the planet, it would provide for them in return. This created a mindset of abundance—modest abundance, but abundance nonetheless.
Now, I’m not saying that the Chilean culture is a panacea for all of modern society’s ills, and I’m sure there are plenty of flaws and harsh realities that we simply didn’t witness (we did see the negative impact that large industries in sectors like salmon and forestry are having on the environment.)
But spending time in a country with a softer, more peaceful approach to life than our own certainly prompts a bounty of questions. Being around people who were content, living in the moment, I couldn’t help but wonder—how much do we actually need to be happy?
I understand that people want the best life possible for themselves and their families, but if we’re really honest with ourselves, how much is actually enough to achieve that goal? Where is the line between aspiring to have a good quality of life and excess? And where does entitlement sit on that spectrum?
Sweeping vistas of Patagonia
An avid naturalist, Green Builder Media President Ron Jones believes that our disconnection with nature has created much of the psychological chaos that exists in our society. “As a culture, we’ve strayed too far from having a direct relationship with nature, which includes being responsible for our own comfort and safety,” he says.
“There is a real satisfaction to growing your own food and chopping your own firewood.”
This brings me back to a concept that I’ve been pondering: dignified living. If we step back and reevaluate our expectations, needs, desires, demands, preferences, and wishes, would the lives we create in our imagination match the ones we’re living?
What’s really important? Is it wealth, influence, and power? Is it the ability to help and serve others? Or is it something else? I suppose that there is no single answer to these intimate questions, but each individual’s response has major personal and cultural implications.