I am writing this week's column from Northern Australia and Papua New Guinea where I have been on a cruise ship lecturing to 75 listeners of my national radio show.
I have traveled outside of North America at least once a year for nearly 40 years. These travels have taken me to some 82 countries (yes, I admit to keeping count) and have taught me more about life than anything I learned up through Ivy League graduate school.
That is why I so strongly advocate that high school graduates not go straight to college, but take a year to do anything except attend school. Travel -- especially when done alone -- can confer much more wisdom than college.
This is my 12th cruise. Thanks to these trips with my listeners, I have cruised from Antarctica to the Baltic, from Indonesia to Peru. It has become by far my favorite way to travel. Having your hotel take you from city to city is almost too good to be true. Sometimes, as in the case of my visit to the eastern tip of Papua New Guinea, there is no other way to get to a place, let alone in luxury.
Why have I never met one American (outside of a handful of entertainers) working on a cruise ship? I have met young people from almost every country in the world working on cruise ships -- except Americans. Do young Americans not know about this unique way to see the world and interact with peers from around the globe? I wish I knew the answer. I would suggest to any person in his or her 20s to spend a year working on a cruise ship. It is an incomparable experience.
Whenever I go abroad I am struck at how superior the international editions of Time and Newsweek are to their American editions. This superiority provides a clear illustration of the American media's dumbing down of almost everything they touch. The American editions of Time and Newsweek are largely infotainment.
I have visited some of the world's poorest countries, written a book on happiness and lectured on happiness around the world. Once again, on this visit to a remote part of New Guinea, where I saw few homes with electricity and where people live essentially on the food they grow and sell, I am reaffirmed in my conviction that being poor is no more a guarantor of unhappiness than wealth is a guarantor of happiness.
In this extremely impoverished area of New Guinea, there was no begging whatsoever, and the people were among the friendliest and happiest I have ever encountered. What accounts for these facts? Why is one national or tribal or ethnic or religious group largely happy and another largely sullen?