When I was younger, happiness often seemed something that I didn’t have yet at a particular moment. I thought that I would be happy once I had achieved this or that, lost those 3 kilos, passed that exam, got a boyfriend again or managed to find a new job. Sometimes, I forgot to live in the moment because I was so concerned about what I first needed to get or achieve in order to be fully happy. Don’t get me wrong, I had a wonderful life, family and friends and I actually WAS happy. I just thought there could be more.
I have very high expectations of myself and the people surrounding me which is why I was often aiming for more than I had (and sometimes still do…). And to a certain extent, this can be positive as it pushes me to always give the best I can. But on the other hand, nobody can ever achieve perfection. And if happiness is only perceived in combination with perfection, you have a problem.
Happiness is a very individual thing. From a western point of view, it seems connected to the circumstances you live in, whether you have enough to eat, are healthy and have a safe place to sleep. If your physiological needs and safety are not satisfied, then covering these basic needs probably already means happiness to you. But if you are further up on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you aim for higher satisfaction and self-fulfillment to achieve happiness. You look at people around you in our rich world and think they have more and must therefore be happier. So, you think you need to have that too in order to be happy. And I’m not only talking about material things. You may think all your friend’s relationships are happier or their kids are better behaved and cause less trouble. Social media plays a big part in this, where we all try to show only the best of ourselves and our families.
When I came to Indonesia, one of the first things that struck me was how happy the people here seemed to be. They were constantly joking and laughing and seemed to be having a blast. I learned that they and their families sometimes live a very simple life. But they live in the moment and don’t worry about tomorrow or about getting more out of life. Which is probably also why many of them didn’t seem to have a big problem with earning substantially less now that the resort is closed. So what? There have always been ups and downs in their lives and they would get through this crisis as well.
Lockdowns and strict regulations seem to have bothered the population of the western world a lot more that over here. Freedom of movement is something we consider very important to our happiness, which is why people were/are unhappy to have to stay home. None of the people I know in western countries were faced with existential problems – at least not yet. And yet, many seemed a lot more stressed and unhappy than my local work colleagues who are happy to still have a job and enough to eat.
Which leads me to think that happiness is only partly dependent on external factors and more on your inner attitude. Probably also on your genes and the values you were given from your family. It’s the «glass is half full or half empty» question that comes to my mind. Obviously, we cannot always make ourselves think positively. There are personal tragedies that happen to all of us and may make the glass look half empty for quite a while. But I’m talking about the general attitude that you can adopt if you choose to.
I had to learn to do that, and I still am. You may think that living in paradise contributes a lot to being happy. It does, I agree. But you can also be unhappy here, and I wouldn’t deny that there are moments when I feel sad. But I generally believe (and always have) that things will turn out well, which does add to feeling happy. There still are things I would like to change or wish I had more of, but most of the times I manage to remind myself that I don’t really need them. I left my comfort zone when I came here and had to cut back on monetary goals quite drastically, but it’s enough for now and I try not to worry too much about the future. Something will come up after this adventure for sure.
Happiness is also based on peace of mind, and I think I currently have that. So, I’m happy. And I hope all of you out there too!
I never even dreamt of working on a remote island in Indonesia, but life has a way of taking care of itself…
Pulau Pef - Raja Ampat - Indonesia
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