The Piraha people are a tribe that lives along the Madeira in the Brazilian Amazon. They do not think about the past or the future, and they don’t understand the concept of stress. They have been called the happiest people in the world. (1)
The Piraha People: The Happiest People In The World
The Piraha people are descendants of the ancient Mura people. They call themselves hiaitsiihi, which they use to differentiate themselves from white people and other indigenous peoples. They speak Apaitsiiso, meaning ‘that which comes from the land”. It is a tonal language with no past or future tenses – they live and speak purely in the here and now. (1)
They are extraordinarily peaceful people who are very happy with what they have. They don’t hold resentment or grudges – not to each other, not even to modern invaders who have sometimes done them harm. (1)
They have no colors or numbers in their language. They also have no words for “God” because they have no religion. The Piraha people only consider the immediate experience: They will not believe in someone no one has ever seen or met. (2)
Why Are The Piraha People So Happy?
The Piraha live in the immediate – they don’t tell stories or think about the past, and they don’t waste any time worrying about the future. They don’t even store food. Each day, both men and women hunt, fish, and gather for their food. The rest of the time they spend relaxing, laughing, and genuinely enjoying themselves. (3)
They have no need or desire for things from “the outside.” Sure, they have some clothes and tools from the Brazilians, but they don’t care about items like trucks, guns, or other modern technology. Why would they want something that they don’t need? (3)
They have families based on paired mates; however, each couple’s children are taken care of by the whole village. Most parents don’t even know how many children they have because they do not ascribe to a numerical system. They will simply say things like “a lot” or “some.” When we think of modern society, they may be considered poor, but they do not see it that way. They have everything that they need. (3)
The Piraha sleep very little: Only 30 minutes during the day and only for two hours at night. This is likely because they have always lived in areas with plenty of dangerous, venomous snakes, among other threats. They don’t have modern medicine; instead, they rely on wild plants and herbs to treat various ailments. (3)
They have an incredible knowledge of animals and have even trained some wild animals to behave almost like pets. The women hunt with dogs, as well. (3)
Threat From the Outside World
The Piraha’s way of life and level of happiness is under threat from the outside world. Some Piraha, mostly the men, are learning Portuguese to communicate with outsiders. Brazil’s National Indian Foundation has also started stepping in to “help” these “poor people.” They even went so far as to build houses in one of their villages. (3)
Unfortunately, this is beginning to cause health problems for the tribe. Thanks to the Foundation’s food, the men are gaining weight, and the children are developing cavities from too much sugar. Traditionally their diet consists of fish and other hunted meats and fruits from the jungle. Some who have visited the tribe worry that the more they are shown things that they don’t have, they will begin to feel poor and lose their happy way of life. (3)
What They Have Taught Us
Modern society has been defined as “haves” and “have-nots.” We’re taught to believe that if we have “more” – more money, a bigger house, a fancier car, better clothes, if we are prettier, etc., then we will be happy. The Piraha people show us that the reality is quite the opposite.
They are proof that the more you try to be happy with what you have, the happier you will be. The more you choose to live in the moment and worry less about yesterday and tomorrow, the happier you will be.
We may not be able to give up our modern-day conveniences and ways of life entirely, but we can apply some of the Piraha people’s philosophies into our own lives so that we can live happier each day.