The past 3 entries have been much easier to write compared to today’s one, I should think. I have plenty of experience with books, anime and music to be able to draw numerous examples where I learned lessons from, but I’m not as much a frequent traveller and the friends I’ve made from overseas don’t always represent the countries they come from. I learn much about their country and their ways of life, but it is a stretch to generalise from what they say about their country to conclude anything about their attitude towards happiness. After all, happiness is a deeply personal feeling, something that not everybody in the same country shares. How shall I reconcile the world with happiness? There’s nothing else to do but my best, right here.
1. Vatican City
The Vatican City is the smallest internationally recognised sovereign city-state in the world. It is completely landlocked and has been independent since 1929. Its population, estimated in July 2012, is only 838! It is the only remaining absolute monarchy in Europe, with its political system ruled by the Pope of the Catholic Church. The incomes and living standards of lay workers in the Vatican City are comparable to counterparts in the city of Rome. It is also home to some of the most well-known art in the world, such as the Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica. The Vatican itself was added by UNESCO to the List of World Heritage Sites in 1984.
Lesson: Happiness is earned on your own.
No matter how weak or insignificant you may be, you have the power and the responsibility to build your own happiness. You mustn’t depend on others to make you happy, or blame your unhappiness on other people or circumstances that occur in your lives. The Vatican City built up its own reputation and identity on its own, without help from anyone else, and succeeded in its own small way through the decades. Sure, it’s not one of the global superpowers and probably never will be, but it survives still, on its own, in the way it knows best. And this is how happiness is forged too. It doesn’t need to be spectacular, but it must resonate with you, and that will be enough.
I love Japan, and yet I am content to love it from a distance. I will never want to live permanently in the country. Japan is home to some of the strangest customs and its culture can be difficult for outsiders to understand. Japan is home to concepts such as otaku, to hikkikomori, to cosplayers and extreme hentai perverts and all other things considered as “normal” to them, and even objects of emulation by foreigners. Looking at a visual kei band for the first time may induce mild discomfort in people not used to the gothic costumes and makeup. The Japanese take everything to extremes.
Lesson: happiness takes various forms.
This is perhaps not an immediately obvious link, but it can be seen from looking at the Japanese for a while that they derive happiness from things we may find peculiar. Men take delight in dressing up as women, people manage to reconcile traditional values such as sexism with the capitalist demands of the outside world. Young women pop idols’ fanbase generally consists of middle-aged men as their most profitable age group. It’s bizarre and even sickening to us, but they live with it, or even thrive on it.
Not everyone interprets happiness the same way. You may disapprove of someone else’s method of obtaining happiness, and you may be correct, but don’t force yourself to find happiness in something simply because it’s the “acceptable” mode. If you’re not happy getting good grades in school, don’t pretend to yourself that you are. Instead, seek out your own happiness.
We hear a lot about those Scandinavian countries in world reports. Sweden, Norway and Denmark regularly take the top spots in world happiness ratings, economy, equality and governance. They have a low infant mortality rate, a high literacy rate and great gender balance. Sweden was also the best-governed country in the world in 2013, as declared by the Economist. And not only that, we hear now that it comes first when it comes to Official Development Assistance, donating 1.45% of its Gross National Income to charity. Just why are these countries such saints? Why are they the envy of all other countries worldwide?
Lesson: Happiness comes in making others happy.
Not only are the Scandinavians happy, they’re also notoriously helpful and hospitable. Sweden donates money actively, and on a personal level, the Swedes would be only too pleased to offer you shelter if you’re lost and homeless and need temporary lodging. They mayn’t be most involved in world affairs, but they’ve maintained peaceful relations with all other countries as much as possible. And it’s really true that when you make others happy, you also find happiness this way.
4. Democratic Republic of the Congo
By all rankings of Purchasing Power Parity in the world, the Democratic Republic of Congo is by far the poorest. Its PPP is $368 per capita and its Human Development Index is low at 0.304. It has been stricken with wars within Africa for control of mineral wealth. It is said that its citizens are among the poorest in the world but the country itself is the richest due to its natural resources, but due to civil wars, its citizens have a high mortality rate and prevalent malnutrition. Its literacy rate is estimated at about 67.2%, which means over 5.2 million children still receive no education.
This country has its own unique take on music. It has a genre named soukous, which is a blend of its ethnic musical sources, Cuban rumba and merengue. The country also has a lot of art and sports, such as in masks and wooden statues, and sports such as football and rugby.
Lesson: happiness does not equate to worldly possessions.
You would think that the people in the Democratic Republic of Congo are suffering all day long, pulling a long face as they drag their sick bodies around to work, work and work some more, because they simply don’t have enough money otherwise. Surely they wouldn’t have time for things like art, music and sports — signs of a developed country with satisfied, happy citizens. Well, the incredible thing about the human condition is that humans can very easily get used to any hardships in their lives. If everyday was filled with suffering, they will soon get accustomed to the suffering and adapt to their daily lives in order to cope. Happiness does not always mean having the means to do everything you wish, and in fact you may even become even happier when you shed all material possessions.
China is really big and diverse. It has major cities like Beijing and Shanghai on the one hand, and less industrialised provinces such as Yunnan and Zhangjiajie on the other. In some parts of Yunnan, life can be completely different from the city. There are 10 indigenous ethnicities and even in today’s modernising era, they still try to retain some of their cultural heritage. A certain ethnicity, for instance, is still largely a matriarchal society. Another still eats deep-fried insects, if you remember an entry from a Thursday many months ago. Most of them are still farmers, or make a living from stitching handiwork (and selling to tourists). Sure, China isn’t what I’d call the most honest country, but it’s undeniable that the people in these mountainous regions are living quite contentedly, despite not having much access to smartphones or even the internet sometimes.
Lesson: happiness can manifest in the littlest satisfactions of life.
Don’t always think of epic momentous occasions. Sometimes doing what you like everyday is also a cause for happiness. Living and breathing in the fresh air everyday when you wake up is a source of delight. If we cast our gaze inwards and look around us, we’ll find that there’re really many things we have that we should be thankful for.