A few weeks ago Elena wrote a post about happiness: Will you be happier if you get richer? (su-re.co). I've been thinking about it a lot lately and I really could not answer her question of "what is happiness for you" in one sentence. My answer would be a blog on its own. So here we are, I highly recommend reading her post before this one.
I'd like to go beyond the overused slogan of "money can't buy you happiness" and Instead, talk about "places". Surely, places could entail wealth but would also include many other factors. I got inspired to write this blog after watching this video, a crossover between two of my favorite YouTubers:
The Netherlands was ranked sixth in the 2020 World Happiness report. Nathaniel Drew, a multitalented content creator decided to pay a visit to the country to learn a thing or two about happiness. He concluded that the pressure of finding happiness is what makes a lot of people unhappy. This culture seems to be very apparent in the States, where everyone dreams of working hard to be rich. The Netherlands seems to be the opposite of that, with a more stable environment, reasonable work culture, and the directness of people make it so that they aren't so easy to offend.
I must say I agree and disagree. The Netherlands is a beautiful country (and a rich one due to its very dark history). I enjoyed my 2.5 years of living there. However, there are also the darker sides that I don't believe foreigners get to experience (e.g. racism, tough work culture, healthcare), but I will cover this at a different time. Anyway, there is still a lot of positive things that most Dutch people would not see, so I wrote a short book for them (again will cover it a different time).
One of the chapter in the book talked about infrastructure. I can see why miles and miles of flatland in a relatively homogenous country is boring to the eyes of the Dutch. But for someone like me, I appreciate being able to bike anywhere with actual bike paths that don't suddenly disappear. Going through parks, city centers, and aesthetic brick houses. I also happen to like the trains here, they have a notification if it is late (unlike most places). Dutch people don't appreciate the trains here as much because they are often late (but I came from the land of tardiness). Also, everything is just super convenient here, I do believe Albert Heijn is a superior supermarket in Europe (argue with me).
This really made me believe that happiness is in the small things. I went to Italy for my Erasmus exchange to experience something different. Disclaimer, I am not generalizing the whole country with my experience as I lived for 5 months in a small town named Rovereto. Truth be told, I wasn't the happiest in the first few months.
I am not saying that I was never happy in the country. I definitely was. Rovereto is an amazing place for how small it is. It is literally a 30-minute walk from the most northern part to the southern part. I was drinking espresso every morning and tasting gelatos every evening. It has so many fascinating museums from arts to war. It has an impressive contemporary dance scene. When I arrived, I immediately searched for a dance community. Rovereto is also surrounded by mountains, I could easily hike within a 30-minute train ride. Writing this paragraph actually makes me feel very nostalgic. Here's a clip of the city through dance.
In my first week, I actually saw a live hanging dance show in the middle of the city. I didn't think a city could give me so much in such a small area.
Excerpts from Rovereto
However, I was missing some things. I was quite lonely. Not that I mind watching ballet shows alone, but I just wanted a community. My housemates didn't really speak English, which is great because I get to learn Italian pretty quickly. But they would all go home on the weekends. I felt that not a lot of university students hang around after class. People come to University, study, and go home. In the Netherlands, I feel that the student community was a bit more alive. I was active in my study association and was a board member in a modern dance association. I had 'outside study' hours, but in Italy, it was almost mostly 'studying' and 'living'. It was either the library or just groceries, chores, and cooking.
It got a lot better towards the end. I found a bouldering community and started climbing twice a week. I hosted cooking 'classes' for my classmates, teaching them how to make Gyoza. As we were studying Cognitive Sciences, we call our group Cooknitive Sceintists! Soon after, my classmates became friends and we really hung out after hours. We hiked together, we visited the Christmas markets together in a different city. My extroverted self was finally fed. Not soon after, I had to leave Italy and I was quite sad when it happened. Now I am sort of traumatized by short exchanges, as they are too short of a period to really enjoy the location.
There are a lot of things to reflect on personally. To me, community is perhaps the most important thing to make me happy. No matter how perfect the environment is, I think loneliness can damage anyone. I think this is perhaps why some Dutch people feel like there is nothing special in the Netherlands, despite the environment. The same reason I probably felt in Indonesia before I went abroad. Similar to the Hedonistic Treadmill explained in Elena's blog, we may be desensitized or adjust to the environment. This way, I really don't want to discredit my 'lonely' experiences. Without it, I probably would take communities for granted. Without that period, I would not have understood what made me happy. Without studying abroad, I would not have appreciated my home country as much.
So sometimes, putting pressure on being happy to the point of overworking yourself would make you unhappy. Going to the nicest place on Earth won't even be the answer either. Instead, finding out what makes you unhappy may just do the trick. So maybe an alternate title to this blog is "the Pursuit of Unhappiness Can Make You Happy". To those of you searching for happiness, do you know what makes you unhappy? Have you ever found happiness after knowing what makes you unhappy?
I hope you learn to appreciate your surroundings a bit more, because we do easily take things for granted. Thanks for reading!