We are wondering what the definition of happiness looks like to the Indonesian who are ranked average on the world happiness index. With over 17.000 islands, we’re sure it’s not an easy one to find out. Yet the definition of happiness in Indonesia isn’t as dispersed as all the islands the country is home to.
With so many islands to choose from, it’s hard to determine where to look for the secret to happiness in Indonesia. Yet the one place we know we can’t miss is Bali. Even though a large part of Indonesia’s society consists of Muslim people, the spiritual Hindu way of living in Bali probably has some key insights to happiness. We’ve elected Flores as our second destination. It is one among the economically least developed parts of Indonesia and consists of a blend of Christian and Muslim. Finally, we’ve met a few people from Java to talk about the differences.
Bali. Beauty in everything.
They seem to be making everything a real pleasure to look at. Not to mention all the fancy eateries with beautifully decorated dishes, but the true Balinesian rituals such as their daily offerings, their temples, their clothing and their neighborhood. But the true beauty is found in the personalities of her inhabitants.
In Ubud, the spiritual center of Bali, we’ve met a holistic doctor and psychologist who comes from Java. She tells us very openly that between age 29 and 38 she was struggling herself, finding out who she was and what her goal in life is. She now hosts a tv program, is a renowned lecturer and, most importantly, is happy.
Her definition of happiness in Indonesia consists of trust, forgiveness, and openness.
“You need to love yourself much, much more. Get to know yourself and accept this creation. Sure, sometimes the monkey in your head makes it hard, but don’t let it control you”.
And Eka agrees it’s about love. For him, it’s about doing good things, all with love. He worked on a cruise ship before, times when he was overseas for over 9 months. His wife is currently working on one. It’s a hard decision for them to make, but they can save a lot of money and it’s like an offer you do for a good future.
“If you do a good thing, you will get something good in return” is what he believes.
With the money they save they support their parents. It contributes to his dream: living with their family, having children and making people around him happy.
When visiting an island where you are greeted like a famous artist continuously, we quickly found out they are not yet familiar to tourists. It’s one of the most friendly places we’ve ever visited. We rented a motorbike and had a flat tire twice (not to blame, but Tjerk was driving both times ;-)). At first, we were a little hesitative to just approach a stranger for help, but soon found out you can just jump on the back of their motor to drive to one of their friends who will fix the tire for you. You do sometimes need to use a lot of hand gestures and visualizations to communicate, but again the universal language of the smile applies!
We’ve been lucky to stay with Ricardo, a father of three who lives in Ruteng. He worked for a large medical company in Bali and moved back home a few years ago. He missed spending time with the family because of the long work days. His wife told him that she wants him to be there, especially when the kids are growing up, and that she didn’t marry him for the money. “We got back to Flores and started from zero. But it felt good”.
Ricardo is very happy and content. For him, happiness is if we can always be grateful and thank God. Every day we already have everything we need. And they have a good supporting system around them. As soon as someone has a big life event (marriage, college), family, friends, and neighbors are invited to “take the next step together”. It means that you all help each other out (also financially). It illustrates they are all in it together.
Happiness in Indonesia is the power of NOW.
Anwenli (Onewayticket) is a French lady who lived in Indonesia for over 3 years. According to her, she never hears Indonesian complain. Never. “They just accept whatever happens and continue to live life”.
They don’t seem to worry, don’t seem to be stressed, and look at opportunities to experience pleasure and fun and not think too much. The question arises whether living in the moment is contributing to their happiness or not. It might be because, confirmed by Anwenli, there are so many people who have nothing (in her eyes) yet smiled the whole time. And Ricardo agrees to this.
“The funny thing is if you cross-check with people in the city and people in the village to find out what they really want, it turns out it’s the same”.
He explained that the main difference is that in the village they find out what they want in life quickly because they already have everything at hand and are not distracted by unnecessities such as the latest Ipad.
This completely makes sense to us. Of course, we like having the latest gadgets, and some indeed make our lives more pleasant and easy, but the question is how (if at all) it contributes to our actual happiness. Or whether it challenges our happiness of being able to live in the moment.
On the other hand, it seems like the downside is that how they are living in the moment makes them (seemingly) not care about the future. Or anything in fact. Like Anwenli says, they just call everything (bad) that happens faith and easily accept everything: even accidents and environmental pollution.
To us, it seems like there must be a balance between accepting what is when it’s outside your sphere of control, and caring and trying to improve things that you do have an influence on.
But regarding the positive impact of the power of now, in Bali we truly experienced how to focus on the present. Everyone has their daily routine of preparing a new offer, and definitely take the time to be thankful.
Happiness in Indonesia is a celebration.
We are convinced most of the Indonesian people consider themselves happy. With a ranking of #81 on the World Happiness Index, they are supposed to be average, and the 16th position on the Happy Planet Index even puts them in the top 20 of happiest countries.
Yet we found out that happiness in Indonesia can’t be simply expressed in life expectancy or GDP. There’s a deeper level of connection, fulfillment, gratefulness, and acceptance. The acceptance of people with different beliefs, rituals or traditions, the acceptance of things out of our control, and the acceptance of one’s self.
The Indonesian find plenty of ways to celebrate life, from national festivals to family ceremonies. They take time to enjoy life. And do it together. Ceremonies are central to their happiness, they take time to prepare the festivities and ask everyone to join them. Eka: “On a Hindu festival my Muslim neighbor is invited and the other way around. We all respect each other and stay authentic”. Or like Ricardo explains, “you invite at least a 1000 people to your wedding, otherwise, it’s not a real party”.
It all comes down to a celebration of life and love, spread across over 17.000 islands. An even though we haven’t visited them all, we can only imagine the remaining 16.998 islands are as peaceful and loving as Bali and Flores.