Oct 7 2 Comments

Freedom in riches

Poor, but content. This lady is a village woman in Karen state, Burma.

Our dog peed on the girls’s backpacks. I think it is a passive aggressive thing. He thought: “You pay more attention to the newspaper than me. I will show you.” He peed on Elise’s math test. There is some symbolism there.

One of the things I taught while in America was about freedom. Sounds like a theme from the barricades, but I actually had a different freedom in mind this time. I have been thinking about the abundance we have in our free countries. Freedom to do this and freedom to do that. To buy happiness is one of our greatest freedoms. We can shop for joy. We can work ourselves to death in order to get everything we want.

I have thought about one of the most shocking thing I have discovered since moving to Norway a year ago. While we live in what is commonly referred to as the best nation in the world—we are rich, we have great schools, hospitals, free time, social welfare that makes other people jealous, we have fresh air and mountains, we have yummy cheese and chocolate. There isn’t much we don’t have, except Starbucks. And yet, people are sick. Sick from stress, sick from worry, and generally discontent. People are not able to work because of their stress related diseases. We are a sick nation, in the midst of all our freedom and riches.

At the same time I have spent time with refugees from Burma, who are poor and un-free. They have nothing, not even a birth certificate. They don’t know what they will eat the next day. They only own one outfit. They must walk for miles to gather food. And yet, I have never once met one who has a stress related disease.  They have other diseases, sure. Like malaria a and dysentery. They die from those. But never from stress.

So what’s the deal? I think it has to do with our attitudes. Here in the West we have not learned to die to our desires and our stuff. We believe that true contentment comes from always having more, not just stuff, but more friends, more status, more toys, more fame.

I am reminded that everything we have is a gift that we get to be the stewards of. None of it belongs to us. Not our stuff, reputation, our job, our careers. It’s not ours.

This is what the refugees have learned. Because they do not own anything, therefore they have nothing to lose. Another thing I have seen is that for what they have their are thankful. I have experienced more thankfulness and gratitude among the people of Burma than I have here.

Odd isn’t it.


  • Gwen O'Roark says:

    I think the less is more concept is true. Many people find they get over whelmed with “things” and rid themselves of those burdens.
    The people of Burma have not experienced having everything or the ability to achieve them thus they are happy with what most people are striving for. Pure happiness! It seems to me, pure happiness has to be a journey we all must go on at some point in our lives. Some people think of finding god or a soul mate. I know personally our family is always much happier camping with just the things we can carry on our backs. We have too much gear but the most important thing is the family togetherness. No telephone, radio, tv, computer, etc. just family time.
    Enjoy that naughty Bob, he just loves you and missed you too. :~)

    • oddnygumaer says:

      Funny, Gwen, that is exactly what Steve said about Bob too! And I agree. Our family is never happier than when we are out together with as little as possible to bug us down. We even get imaginative then. Hope we can go camping one day together!