One could fall in love with Paraguay for it’s tranquilopa attitude, and many have. “Tranquilopa” is a word that is a mix of Guarani and Spanish and could be translated as “tranquil.” But, the word means a lot more than “tranquility.” It is really a way of saying “life is good,” “I am happy with life,” “I am grateful for what I have and my lot is not bad in the slightest,” and “I am satisfied, fulfilled, calm, peaceful, and enjoying the time given to me.” Tranquilopa means all these things, but it’s not just a saying. The word and its meanings summarize the Paraguayan view on life. Paraguayans are grateful for what they have and they let themselves take time to be happy. They have time for their families, a lot of it. They pass long and short hours with their friends. They always look for the next joke and way to smile. They are laid back, generally calm, and not always searching for the next best thing.
As someone who grew up in the hustle and bustle of big dreams, fast and furious work schedules, and endless to-do lists I like the lull of tranquilopa. With practice, I’ve become more patient and accustomed to the slow pace tranquilopa gives to life. I enjoy having time free of an assigned activity in which I can do or not do whatever I want. But, in recent times, I’ve discovered that tranquilopa has a deep dark side, and it’s not the boredom I sometimes feel drinking terere or chatting and staring into space for hours. I still can’t do nothing as well as my Paraguayan friends, but I’m a lot better at it than when I got here. Doing nothing is an art, and for me it’s a work in progress.
The dark side of tranquilopa is the tendency to turn the other cheek or joke rather than address a negative aspect of life. Tranquilopa sometimes provides an excuse for inaction, and thereby can be a barrier for social change, professional achievement, and project completion. Here are some examples.
A certain guy is known for being a drunk. He comes to the family party already plastered and drinks more to a point of extreme drunkenness. This man then does one of several things, he could be very rude and hit on whatever women, he could pass out, he could get in a fight, he could piss himself, or he could do something to hurt himself. I’ve seen or heard tell of all these outcomes in Paraguay. With the exception of a stereotypical frat party, most of these actions would be actively addressed in the US, especially because this happened at a party where children were present. But, in Paraguay the most common response is to joke about what happened, and do nothing to prevent it from happening again. Turning problems into a joke is a classic tranquilopa response and is an obstacle in preventing the same thing from happening again.
Tranquilopa causes one to live in the present, which is good in many ways. Some of us in the US will spend our whole lives overlooking the present, caught in the past and dreaming of the future, until the moment we die and realize that all we wanted was right there in front of us we just forgot to look. But, some things in life require long-term planning to realize. Going to college, getting the career you want (rather than doing just whatever job you can get), starting your own business, completing bigger projects like building a house, saving for larger ticket items like a car or a vacation…the list goes on. And, tranquilopa can deter people from making and following-through on long-term goals. I have found this particularly interesting working with youth. Many of the Paraguayan youth with whom I work struggle to imagine where they will be (in life) in 5 or 10. When I ask what they want to have or do, they give me blank stares. Or, some youth tell me they want to go to college, but when asked what they want to study, where they want to study, and how they are going to work out the logistics (like paying for it) the students shrug. Tranquilopa creates a sense of security that says, “what is meant to happen will,” and sometimes this idea prevents the efforts necessary to achieve complex goals.
Like most aspects of Paraguayan culture and US culture, I think a half-half mixture of the tranquilopa life philosophy and the US equivalent which I will call “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” would be the ideal for a life of happiness and prosperity. There is no denying the happiness of the people who live by tranquilopa. Paraguayans smile and laugh more than any people I’ve known before, and it’s not because they have it all in term of material goods. But, I also see people in Paraguay suffering more than they have to because tranquilopa is slowing change. Laughing things off rather than fixing them and only thinking about today are good skills, but they must be executed with even-handedness.