Growing up in a materialistic world like we live in today, many adolescents are judged by how much money they have, how big their house is, or what kind of clothes they wear. These types of lifestyles are flaunted and normalized on social media, and it’s hard to not get caught up in the money-oriented whirlwind that is our society. Unfortunately, I was surrounded by this as I grew and matured, making me think that having ‘stuff” to show off was the way to make friends, and ultimately be happy. It wasn’t until I went on a vacation with my family to South Africa and saw how people with nothing but the clothes on their backs live happily, that my view on my own life changed. Witnessing the genuine joy everyone felt from being with the people they loved and creating memories helped me put everything into perspective. Having designer clothes and other material items isn’t the secret to lifelong happiness; it’s understanding that you’re only given one life, and if you spend it worrying about how other people look at you, you will never have joy that lasts.
When we arrived at the airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, I was shocked by the poor, dirty, and underdeveloped land that sat before my eyes. As I tried to get my bearings, one question stuck out in my mind; “How do people live like this?”. It was hard for me, coming from a nice area of Delaware, to understand how the people could live their lives in a place with so little. As we made the long drive to a remote village, the landscape around me seemed to get more impoverished with every hour that went by. Many people lived in shacks with tin roofs, while others struggled to find a place to sleep at night. I began to get an uneasy, unsafe feeling, having never been exposed to this kind of place before.
After what seemed like hours of driving, we pulled off of the road and entered into a one-story building in the middle of the red earth. The building was an elementary school for children whose families don’t have enough money to pay for anything for a better education. We spent the day talking with the teachers, playing with the children, and suddenly, the uncomfortable feeling I had faded away. The children and adults alike didn’t care about what we were wearing or where we came from. They were filled with excitement from having people to talk to and spend time with. Being at the school was the most rewarding experience of my life because it taught me everything I know today about true happiness.