Discovering Happiness Beyond Wealth: Study Insights from Indigenous and Local Communities

February 20th, 2024

By Lily Anderson

Staff writer for Wake Up World

In a world where the pursuit of economic growth often dominates our collective narrative, a groundbreaking study presents a compelling counter-narrative that challenges our conventional understanding of happiness and well-being. Conducted by the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (ICTA-UAB), in collaboration with McGill University in Canada, this research reveals that many Indigenous peoples and local communities across the globe enjoy high levels of life satisfaction, despite possessing very little in the way of monetary wealth.

Understanding Happiness in Indigenous and Local Communities

The Findings of Recent Research

Contrary to the widely held belief that economic prosperity is a prerequisite for happiness, the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) uncovers a different reality. Spanning 19 globally distributed sites and surveying 2,966 individuals from Indigenous and local communities, the research found that many of these societies report levels of life satisfaction comparable to those found in affluent countries. Eric Galbraith, a researcher at ICTA-UAB and McGill University and the lead author of the study, notes, “surprisingly, many populations with very low monetary incomes report very high average levels of life satisfaction, with scores similar to those in wealthy countries.”

Challenging the Correlation Between Income and Happiness

This study calls into question the long-standing notion that wealth, as generated by industrialized economies, is essential for human happiness. Victoria Reyes-Garcia, ICREA researcher at ICTA-UAB and senior author of the study, points out that the strong correlation frequently observed between income and life satisfaction is not universal. The average life satisfaction score across the studied small-scale societies was 6.8 on a scale of 0-10, with some communities reporting even higher averages, indicative of the levels of satisfaction seen in wealthy Scandinavian countries.

The Role of Non-Material Factors in Achieving Well-being

The research suggests that factors such as family and social support, spirituality, and connections to nature might play a crucial role in these communities’ high levels of life satisfaction. However, the exact reasons behind this happiness remain a topic for further exploration. As Galbraith suggests, understanding what contributes to life satisfaction in these diverse communities could offer valuable insights for leading more fulfilling lives while also addressing the sustainability crisis.

Practical Tips for Enhancing Your Own Happiness

In the quest for happiness, it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that more money and possessions are the keys to a fulfilling life. However, the enlightening findings from a study on Indigenous and local communities worldwide suggest otherwise. Happiness, it seems, has less to do with what we own and more with how we live and connect with the world and people around us. Here are some expanded and enhanced practical tips for enhancing your own happiness, inspired by the lifestyles that prioritize well-being over wealth.

Cultivate Strong Social and Family Relationships

The foundation of happiness often lies in our connections with others. Strong, supportive relationships offer a buffer against the stresses of life, providing comfort, joy, and a sense of belonging. To enhance these connections:

  • Make quality time a priority. Schedule regular meet-ups with friends and family, and be fully present during these times, setting aside digital distractions.
  • Deepen your connections. Open up about your feelings, listen actively, and show genuine interest and empathy in your interactions.
  • Celebrate successes and offer support during tough times. Being there for each other through thick and thin strengthens bonds.

Connect with Nature

Our bond with nature is fundamental, yet often overlooked in the hustle of modern life. Reconnecting with the earth can rejuvenate our spirits and foster a sense of peace and well-being.

  • Incorporate nature into your daily routine. Even small changes, like a walk in a local park or spending time in your garden, can have significant benefits for your mood and mental health.
  • Plan regular outdoor adventures. Hiking, camping, or simply picnicking outdoors can be refreshing and help you feel more grounded.
  • Bring nature indoors. Houseplants, natural light, and even nature sounds can help create a calming environment at home.

Engage in Spiritual or Mindful Practices

Spirituality and mindfulness can offer a deep sense of fulfillment, grounding us in the present moment and helping us to find peace within ourselves.

  • Explore meditation and mindfulness exercises. Regular practice can reduce stress, enhance emotional health, and increase awareness and attention.
  • Connect with a spiritual community. Whether through organized religion or spiritual gatherings, being part of a community can provide a sense of belonging and support.
  • Practice gratitude. Take time each day to reflect on and appreciate the good in your life. This can shift your focus from what you lack to what you have.
Ancestral Psychic

Focus on Experiences Over Possessions

The joy derived from experiences often outlasts the happiness we get from possessions. Experiences can enrich our lives in meaningful ways and create cherished memories.

  • Prioritize activities that bring you joy. Whether it’s art, music, cooking, or sports, engaging in hobbies can provide a sense of accomplishment and pleasure.
  • Travel and explore new places. Experiencing different cultures and environments can broaden your perspective and bring unexpected joy.
  • Seek out learning opportunities. Acquiring new skills or knowledge can be deeply satisfying and can also open up new avenues for happiness.

Give Back to the Community

Altruism not only benefits the recipients but also enriches the giver’s life, providing a sense of purpose and fulfillment.

  • Volunteer your time and skills. Find causes you’re passionate about and contribute in ways that utilize your strengths and interests.
  • Practice random acts of kindness. Small, thoughtful gestures can make a big difference in someone’s day and boost your own mood.
  • Support friends and community members. Offering a helping hand or a listening ear to those around you can foster a supportive, happy community.

Adopting these practical tips can enhance our lives, mirroring the joy found in communities where happiness stems from life’s richness, not wealth. This research underscores that true contentment transcends material possessions. By adopting values from Indigenous and local communities, we can find deeper, sustainable happiness.

Journal Reference:

  1.  High life satisfaction reported among small-scale societies with low incomesProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2024; 121 (7) DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2311703121

About the author:

Lily Anderson is a passionate wordsmith and dedicated explorer of cutting-edge scientific inquiries. Fueled by a thirst for knowledge, she skillfully transforms intricate ideas into relatable tales, inviting readers to embark on a captivating expedition of revelation. Lily’s efforts play a crucial role in bridging the gap between experts and the wider public, evoking a sense of awe and encouraging insightful discussions about groundbreaking scientific advancements.


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