Seeking Happiness

The Jakarta Post -- WEEKENDER | Thu, 01/29/2009 7:13 PM | Greenlifestyle

Today’s materialistic culture often tempts us to spend more on things we desire, instead of on things we need. The more we earn, the more stuff we buy to make ourselves happy. But is this really the path to happiness?

Let me try to find the answer to that question. Some of my friends and I used to earn more than enough money to support ourselves each month. With my income, I could afford almost everything I wanted, from the latest gadgets and coolest outfits to the best meals in fancy restaurants. But somehow, the excitement of having all this lingered for only a very brief period. And so I began to have doubts about that materialistic life.

And I am not alone here. I have several friends – and I am sure there are some other people out there – who have shared the same experience and feel a void in their hearts. Something is missing, something that cannot be satisfied just by earning a sizable income and spending more on awesome gadgets or the trendiest clothes. It seems like we need more than possessions and purchases to find happiness.

Happiness can be perceived differently from one person to the other, so we need to find our own personal source of contentment. Here are some ideas to get you climbing on that ladder toward happiness.

1. Escape materialism – consume less
If we finally understand that binge-buying can only satisfy our ego for a short while, maybe now is the time to kick the habit. Start by systematically blocking out advertising, be it printed or electronic. Another good reason to go easy with the credit card is your environmental footprint. We buy not-so-important stuff and often end up discarding it fairly quickly. Some of the waste is burned, releasing carbon emissions and pollutants into the soil or waterways. So make sure that when you buy things, you do so because they serve a clear purpose. It might be helpful to bear this question in mind every time you intend to buy something: “Do I really need this?”

2. Stay healthy – choose your food better
Keeping our body fit and healthy – that’s probably a primordial rule in our quest for happiness. So arrivederci Big Mac, adieu beloved crispy chicken wing and so long fiendish banana split; downshift to slow food, a culinary philosophy that emphasizes organic farming and local and traditional food products. Rein in your food budget, and support your local traditional market.

3. Go green – back to nature
Philosophically, green represents peace, balance and growth. It is also the color of nature and symbolizes self-respect and well-being. Moreover, green is the most restful color for human eyes and is believed to have great healing power. Going green, in the sense of going back to nature, can be a source of happiness. For example, spending a weekend in a place with views of a green landscape might bring us peace and joy, more than drooling in front of shop windows in frenzied malls will. Sometimes what our heart and mind need is just a relaxing moment free from the hustle and bustle of our superficial activities. So, give yourself some time to decompress and make a good connection with Mother Nature.

4. Practice random acts of kindness – be useful
When we practice good deeds, we feel good about ourselves. That explains why there are people who volunteer their time and energy to help others. The feeling of being useful, not only to our fellow humans but also to other living creatures, gives meaning to our life. Joining communities that are concerned with environmental issues might be a good start. Think of an issue you care about: poverty, empowerment of women, wildlife loss – take your pick. Then find an organization or project that is working on this issue close to where you live, and tell them you want to help. Here’s an NGO directory to get you started: http://www.smeru.or.id/ngolist.php.

5. Make connections – develop friendships
It’s only natural that we have the urge to share our feelings with other people. Having good, supportive friends and close relationships with our family can make us much happier. Developing new friendships with people from various walks of life will also trigger joy and excitement. If you succeed in your volunteering efforts (see previous point), you will find yourself exposed to new people, opening your eyes to a world that extends well beyond your daily worries and concerns.

So, despite the controversy surrounding the various interpretations of the lyrics sung by the fabulous four of Liverpool, I do believe that happiness is a warm gun indeed. I have my own interpretation of what John Lennon meant by “… a warm gun means you’ve just shot something”. After taking a shot at finding good quality of life, happiness creates a warm feeling within our heart.

+ Shinta Nurwulan

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