I Found the Secret to Happiness 7,303.21 Miles Away from Home
Two years ago I flew to Bali to follow a dream.
It was the first time I’ve been so far from home. But I’ve never felt like a stranger there. From the time we landed on the island, the simplicity of life fascinated me. The trip was completely an eye-opening experience.
I knew about happiness before and I felt it countless times. But the happiness I learned in Bali was a different kind. It wasn’t dependent on outer circumstances. It was a kind of happiness that comes from within.
Balinese people were a living example of how the Dalai Lama describes happiness.
“Happiness mainly comes from our own attitude, rather than from external factors.” Dalai Lama
But how do they seem so happy like in the travel books? They don’t seem to have much money. They don’t seem to have the fastest internet we have. They don’t have the chance to spend hours to satisfy their need to scroll and be aware of the entire world.
Are they happy because they’re isolated from the rest of the world or did they find the secret to happiness in something more simple?
Being happy with what you have
The day I arrived in Bali was probably one of the warmest days I’ve ever experienced. I was excited about landing in paradise but let me tell you, I was also kind of tired of the sticky weather already.
1 hour in Bali and I was already resisting not to complain.
As I was waiting for the boat to take me to another island, one thing I’ve seen right in front of me changed my understanding of happiness in the blink of an eye.
The Balinese people carrying the heaviest fancy suitcases to the boats were enjoying the atmosphere more than us. They were running around, playing with suitcases on their shoulders and splashing water to each other.
It was a perfect example of being in the moment. I don’t think they were signed up for that heavy job voluntarily. But they were making the best out of the moment.
Yet, we who are living with all the opportunities one can have, i.e. technology, money, fresh clothes, home office, can’t seem to enjoy the moment. We always chase the future. Nothing is ever enough for us.
I wondered that perhaps happiness isn’t about chasing moments in an unknown time. Perhaps it’s about building it with what we have.
“Each minute we spend worrying about the future and regretting the past is a minute we miss in our appointment with life- a missed opportunity to engage life and to see that each moment gives us the chance to change for the better, to experience peace and joy.” Thich Nhat Hanh
Maybe the joy is in the first sip of morning coffee or a smile at a stranger’s face.
Whatever your understanding of happiness is, create it in small things you experience daily. And don’t live a life waiting for the external approval that may or may not arrive tomorrow.
Feeling joy in other people’s happiness
There is a Sanskrit word, Mudita. It means to be happy for someone else’s happiness.
It’s not a foreign concept to us but we barely practice. Because we’re mostly self-centered. It’s human nature so I don’t blame us.
But as we only focus on ourselves and not look around to see the magic happening for others we limit our options to be happy.
Instead of this, what if we embraced other people’s joy and feel it like ours? Wouldn’t we have a lot to be happy about?
I found my answer to this question in the group of people I spent the 3 weeks in the paradise island. I haven’t mentioned you yet but I went there to join a yoga teacher training. I was nervous about doing yoga next to 20 other advanced practitioners until I got to know them.
They showed me that we can celebrate other people’s success. We can cheer others up as they climb the ladders to their dreams.
But how did the people I met in Bali were easily happy for others while people I knew in the city weren’t? It shouldn’t be about the location. After all, outer circumstances can only make us happy to an extent.
They celebrated others’ happiness because they were happy with themselves. They didn’t need to compete with anyone else. There was enough space for winners in life.
Miriam Kirmayer Ph.D. suggests in an article how we can use envy as a motivation tool. If you’re not excited about how others move forward in life while you’re staying still, take them as an example. Know that what you envy in others shows you what you’re also capable of doing.
Being in peace with your crazy jungle mind
I was 7,303.21 miles away from home and left the burden of city life behind. But it was still me no matter how far I went. I was me with my fears, my worries, my what-ifs, and my desires.
You think that as you’re on a paradise island, your thoughts would go away. But after getting over the first awe of the beautiful island, my monkey mind started to visit me again.
As the day of leaving was approaching, I told a friend, “I’m half here, half back home. Half enjoying my time and half worrying about going back.” Don’t get me wrong, I had an amazing life in the city. But my challenge was more of a mental one.
As these things were going on internally, I had to make a choice. Either already leaving my body and being back in Germany, or making the best out of the last bits of my time left in Bali.
And I decided to stay in Bali with my mind and my body. I was surrounded by the crazy Balinese jungle. And the inspiration I was looking for was in there. The jungle had all sorts of plants and animals yet there was harmony within it.
I wondered why wouldn’t I do the same with my chaotic mind?
But knowing is one thing and becoming it is another. I had to figure out how to be like a harmonious jungle. And I found my answer in meditation. It became my daily guide to be more at peace within myself. I learned to observe my thoughts rather than escaping from them.
“Let go of the battle. Breathe quietly and let it be. Let your body relax and your heart soften. Open to whatever you experience without fighting.” Jack Kornfield
If you can’t meditate, find what makes you feel like you’re meditating. Is it sports, cooking, or listening to a podcast? Pay attention to how you feel when you do certain things. You’ll find the answers there.
What to take away
In our modern developed world, we attach our happiness only to external circumstances. During all of our struggles or endeavors, we never take the time to be.
Happiness is easier to achieve when we don’t try to arrive somewhere all the time.
It’s about our ability to find joy in our present moment, either in someone else’s joy or in our crazy jungle minds. Be willing to find it.