During our time in Rome we had a fantastic tour guide named Olga. Olga led us around the Coliseum, the Roman Forum, the Pantheon, and the Vatican over the course of two days. Olga is one of the most knowledgeable and personable tour guides I have ever had. She was a joy to be around and knew practically every detail of Roman history over the past 3000 years. A conversation that stood out to me during one of our tours was about Italian’s views of Americans. The conversation began with a question regarding American politics and, of course, President Trump. Olga was honest with her answers and told us that although Italians disagree and dislike American politics in many ways, they have nothing against the American people. She said that she prefers to only give English tours because Americans are kind, respectful, and organized. She said, on the other hand, that Italians are all over the place when it comes to giving tours and they are not always respectful to her. Olga also emphasized the idea that Americans are the only people who smile to the world. I noticed this for the first time when I visited my sister in Copenhagen last fall. She had to warn my family not to smile at people when they pass by because smiling at strangers is not a part of the culture and they think it’s weird. Olga encouraged us to keep smiling at the world and to embrace the smiles of others as well. Along with this, Olga said that Americans are viewed, at least to her, as the happiest people on Earth. I was so surprised by this comment. I think we as Americans often complain about our lives more than not. Everyday is a struggle for happiness and how to achieve it. We wrestle with the idea of happiness and how to define it and what it truly looks like. To Olga, the simple act of smiling at one another and to the rest of the world is enough proof of our happiness.
For me, I often look to the extremely poor third world countries as models for happiness. I have had the opportunity to serve as a missionary in Nicaragua and Belize the past three summers. During my time there, I truly got to see and experience untainted happiness. The children and families in these countries have practically nothing, yet they are so joyful and positive. It amazes me how we have so much in America, so much money, opportunity, and freedom, and we are still so unhappy. Not to say that every American is unhappy with their life, but I do think that there is a common theme of wanting more. It is interesting to compare the Italian’s views of Americans and our own view of ourselves. I hope that we continue to be a country that smiles at each other and the people around us. Instead of fighting over the president and politics, I hope we can learn to smile at ourselves more and our own lives and truly appreciate the amazing opportunities and freedoms we get to enjoy.