Happiness in the Amazon: Folk Explanations of Happiness in a Hunter-Horticulturalist Society in the Bolivian Amazon

  • Victoria Reyes-GarcíaEmail author
  • Tsimane’ Amazonian Panel Study (TAPS)
Part of the Science Across Cultures: the History of Non-Western Science book series (SACH, volume 6)


Researchers agree that most people value happiness, but debate whether happiness is universal or varies according to culture. A major setback in the research on cultural explanations of happiness is its bias toward industrial societies, urban areas of the developing word, and student populations. In this chapter, we explore folk explanations of happiness among the Tsimane’, a hunter-horticulturalist society in the Bolivian Amazon. Data were collected through participant observation, free listings, and surveys. Free listings captured the concept of happiness of the Tsimane’, whereas the surveys captured the reasons that made the respondents feel happy. According to free listings, the Tsimane’ sense of happiness centers on social relations (i.e., spending time with close family, drinking home-brewed beer, having visitors) and success in common subsistence activities (i.e., hunting, fishing, agriculture). Possession of material goods and money, and participation in market-based activities (i.e., buying and selling), do not appear as important sources of happiness for the Tsimane’. Frequency of responses varied between Tsimane’ living near to and far from the market town, social interaction being more important for happiness among those further away. As market economies expand, scholars and policy-makers have started to debate whether the trend improves or erodes people’s quality of life. Much of the debate has centered on the transitions associated with globalization, and little attention has been given to how local cultures define happiness and how the definition changes as those societies integrate to the market economy. Understanding how people value their own happiness will contribute to a more informed discussion of the benefits and costs of those global processes.


Tsimane’ indigenous peoples Bolivian Amazon Folk explanations Integration to the market economy Social relations 



Research was funded by the National Science Foundation. We thank the Great Tsimane’ Council and participants for their continuous support. We thank R. Godoy and F. Zorondo-Rodriguez for comments to a previous version of the article, Jaime Paneque-Galvez for drawing the map, and GT Agro-Ecosystems, ICRISAT-Patancheru for providing office facilities to Reyes-García.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Victoria Reyes-García
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Tsimane’ Amazonian Panel Study (TAPS)
    • 3
  1. 1.ICREA and Institut de Ciència i Tecnologia Ambientals, Universitat Autònoma de BarcelonaBarcelonaSpain
  2. 2.Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis UniversityWalthamUSA
  3. 3.Tsimane’ Amazonian Panel Study (TAPS)San BorjaBolivia

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