Close Connections: Happy for no apparent reason


By Nancy Norman

Imagine that! I mean, really imagine that. What does it feel like? What does it look like? What makes it possible?

The saying comes from a friend who’s lived in Merida (the largest city on Yucatan Peninsula) amongst the Mexican folks for several years. As we visited her on our travels, we were commenting how happy, generally speaking, the people of the Yucatan seem. No matter what job—road worker, bathroom attendant, construction workers—they connect with each other and smile and wave. And return our “buenos dios” on the sidewalk.

Our friend said, “Since I’ve moved here, I’ve noticed that as well. And I’ve decided, knowing how so many have so little, that they are happy for no apparent reason.”

I really don’t know what accounts for this as I think about it from our cultural viewpoint. But maybe…?

  • Expectations. One non-native person I talked with who lives in Yucatan said the people generally are accepting of their life circumstance at the moment. That doesn’t mean they don’t dream, but he notices that they don’t talk as if they’re longing for something else, depressed, desperate or anxious abt not living differently.
  • Helpfulness.  Because Bill and I learn our Spanish from the people we interact with, we are consistently struck with how helpful Yucatecans are. We stopped at a crossroads near the Mayan temples of Edzna, trying to decide which way to go. An old car passed, turned around and the driver asked (in Spanish) if we needed help. We never hesitated to ask for help because people were so willing to give it.
  • Connections. Due to U.S. politics, we were aware that we might not be accepted by some. To the contrary, whenever we reached out, people were eager to have conversation or connection. In a small village police station, we asked for un baño. There was a woman fixing lunch. On our way out, she offered us some of their food. Brief but warm connections.
  • Customs. The Yucatecans have customs that contribute to a pleasant feeling. When people are eating, others (stranger or friend) say to them, “Buen provecho.” It’s “enjoy your meal,” but it’s more than that. It’s a hope for the others’ pleasure and comfort. When we said it, smiles and “iguals” (equally for you) prevailed.

Conversations there don’t usually start with what a person wants or needs. Rather than, “Do you have a baño,” they say, “Buenos dias. Tienes un baño?” They take time for a personal greeting before going ahead with the conversation. It feels nice. (I’m doing that here more often now.)

  • Family. There is an obvious emphasis on family. Outings to town squares include family members holding hands and greeting others. Siblings caring for younger siblings. Interactions with laughter and smiles.
  • Pace. The people generally are industrious and keep busy. And their pace is not slow, but easy–not hurried and frenetic.

Happy for no apparent reason feels like acceptance of what is. It looks like quiet smiles and “holas” all around. And it’s possible because relationships are what count.

Nancy Norman is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, musician with The Storys music and former “Intimacy” columnist for The Wichita Eagle. Email her at







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