Over the years, I've got to experience a lot of cool cultural activities. I've sipped gin with a chief in Ghana. I've shot blow darts in a jungle village in Ecuador. I've feasted on fish heads with locals in the mountains of Taiwan.
But travel isn't just a chance to do cool new things; it's also an opportunity to learn about different philosophies, perspectives and ways of seeing the world. With that in mind, here are five cultural concepts from around the world that I think we could use more of.
1. Joie de vivre
This French phrase translates to "joy of living" and captures a philosophy of savouring life's everyday awesomeness. It's easy to get lost in the stresses and annoyances of the daily grind, or spend our time pinning our hopes for happiness on an uncertain future. Channelling more joie de vivre brings us back to the moment and helps us enjoy life's simple pleasures.
This concept really resonates with me. After being diagnosed with leukemia in 2008 and given a 40 to 50 per cent chance of surviving, I needed ways to keep myself motivated for the long road ahead. So I took out my journal, and at the top of a new page I wrote the words "Reasons to Fight." I then proceeded to write anything and everything that came to mind about what made life so awesome and so worth fighting for.
Before I knew it, I had a list that was 118 items long. Looking back at the hastily scrawled list, I was struck by how many of life's simple pleasures and experiential riches were on it. It overflowed with things like going for a hike, a gin and tonic, the smell of fresh bread, Mom's spaghetti sauce and skinny-dipping. Like joie de vivre, it turned out to be an amazing reminder to appreciate the little things in life.
2. The Great Law of the Iroquois (Seven Generation Sustainability)
The Great Law of the Iroquois states that we should consider how our choices will affect our children seven generations down the line. It's a call to think beyond our own immediate wants and needs, and factor long term impacts into the decision-making equation. The origins of this concept comes from The Constitution of the Iroquois Nations: The Great Binding Law, which says:
"Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the present but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the ground "” the unborn of the future Nation."
We live in an age of instant gratification where things like crippling consumer debts and our warming planet are regular news stories. Whether we're talking about climate change, sustainable urban development or prudent financial planning, a little more forward thinking and proactivity could do us all a world of good.
In his TED Talk, Dan Buettner points to this Japanese concept as a key factor for longevity. Meaning "a reason for being," ikigai is that sense of purpose in life that gets us out of bed in the morning and brings you satisfaction. In Japanese culture, finding your ikigai is a long journey that involves a lot of personal reflection and soul-searching. Once found though, it's a powerful source of meaning and inner peace.
The idea of a purposeful life is nothing new. But I like the emphasis ikigai places on the effort it takes to find that purpose. We too often drift through life on autopilot, letting the external world take us from one situation to the next. We seem afraid to be alone with our own thoughts, for fear of confronting our personal demons. Instead, we cram activity into every spare moment and surrounding ourselves with constant distractions like YouTube and Facebook.
Understanding our purpose or what brings us satisfaction in life requires more self-reflection than we tend to give. I think we could all benefit from spending more time on self-discovery activities like meditation, journaling, spending time in nature or going on a retreat.
A direct translation is a bit tricky, but the Danish tradition of hygge refers to a sense of cozy togetherness. Whether it's busting out the board games on a rainy day or cuddling up with a loved on in front of a roaring fire, the idea conjures up thoughts of wool socks and warm hugs. There's something mighty comforting about sipping hot tea with a friend while the wind howls outside.
As a Canadian, I'm no stranger to the long, cold nights of winter. Which might be why this concept appeals to me so much. We all face dark days. Having community to turn to during those times makes a big difference. We could all use more hygge in our lives.
5. It takes a village to raise a child
Although often cited broadly as an "African proverb," the origin of this expression is a bit unclear. Wherever it came from, it's a philosophy that many cultures around the world embrace and one we could use more of. Similar to hygge, this idea speaks to the importance of community, and that we all have a shared responsibility for each other.
I grew up in rural southwestern Ontario with four brothers, three sisters and a massive extended family. As such, I always felt like I had an army of people looking out for me. Sleepovers at my cousins' and Sunday dinners at Grandma's were part of the weekly routine.
The idea that it takes a village to raise a child is a beautiful one. It promotes community and neighbourliness and recognizes that we're all in this together. Those are ideas I can get behind.
What cool cultural concepts tickle your fancy? What philosophies or ways of looking at the world do you think we could use more of? Add your thoughts to the comments below!
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