Creating your own normal

Most of the times, when somebody asks you if you are happy, it is very likely that you will have to think about it. It seems like such an easy question. Are. You. Happy?

Turns out, not that easy to answer. And I feel like often people are measuring their happiness the wrong way. We all have an idea of what our perfect life looks like. And in measuring happiness, people are often trying to figure out how far off they are from that perfect life. So often, when asked the age-old question, the response will be something along the lines of “I wish I had more money”, or “I’m not quite happy with my current job”, or “I still haven’t found the love of my life”. In my case, it would be “I’d like to exercise more” or “I want to spend more time writing”.

But creating and analyzing the gap between your actual and your ideal life does not happiness make. Nor does it measure happiness. If anything, it shows you that you want more. More time, more money, more love. But even if you have a million dollars, you have all hours of the week free to spend on the hobby’s that you can choose… You will always want something more.

Maybe this effect is created by our current society, or our culture. Maybe it’s all the motivational speakers screaming you can do anything you like and be anyone you want. Maybe it’s fear that always tells us to strive for more.

Whatever it is, it will always be there. We will always want more. And I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, but it does mean that if you will measure happiness based on this gap you create by wanting more, you will never be happy. Because guess what. Goals expand. Goals multiply. Goals change.

You also hear many people say that if you appreciate what you already have, you will be happy. This makes more sense to me: stopping the focus on all you don’t have and focus on the things that you do have, the goals you have already reached. Gratitude is a good thing, for sure. And although gratitude alone is not the key to happiness, it will make the gap between your perfect and current life less prominent.

I’m currently reading a book about mindfulness and I read an interesting part that I’d like to share. We are all very hard on ourselves nowadays. And I don’t mean giving ourselves a hard time if we fail in striving towards all these goals we set, although, yes, that too. But we are constantly analyzing how we feel and why we feel that way. Maybe in your life, if you think about your job, your family, your possessions, you are sure you have it all. The ingredients for the ambrosia called happiness are there. And then you wonder why it is then, that you don’t feel happy all the time.

Instead of accepting this feeling, we challenge it. We fight it with all our power, because we want that happiness. It is the ultimate goal. We question our feelings and wonder where they come from and scold ourselves for not being happy or content. I believe this causes a downward spiral that in some cases can be called depression.

It has been really bothering me lately that the world has these preconceived notions on what will make us happy, when the majority of the population cannot say with any kind of certainty that they are in fact happy.

I’ve recently read Fightclub (and watched it too) and I was really struck by the part shown in the link (which is more elaborate in the book). Parents tell their kids to go to school. They have to go to college afterwards. Then they should get a job. Marry. Mortgage. KIDS. And then what? They seem like clearcut ways to become happy. They are blocks that can make up a life like pieces of Lego create all sorts of awesomess. They are perceived as the normal way to live your life. But they never guarantee it.

I hate that the world, our society, what- or whomever has decided that we have to follow certain paths. That we are limited to certain pieces of Lego. We have to go to university, we have to get a job, get a spouse, have children and that’s that.

That. Is. Not. That.

You don’t have to do shit anything and you can do everything.

People sometimes tell me they envy the life I’m living right now. Living in different places, traveling, meeting people from all over the world. I get it, but I don’t get it. It’s not like I have anything going for me that others don’t. I just decided to do it. I saved up money, and I’m not the kind of person to do anything that I don’t like to do.

So I don’t.

So in a way, maybe I am like these motivational speakers encouraging you to do whatever. And to not do whatever. Yes, lead your life, set goals. But let your life flow. Go with it. Let things happen. Stop trying to control everything. Enjoy what you have, and take time to figure out what it is that you want to do, not what society wants you to do.

These themes, happiness and normalcy have really been keeping me busy lately. I’m living an awesome life right now and yet there are still the inevitable moments during which I feel unhappy, and those who know me personally may know I’m the analyzing type of person. I want to know why I feel unhappy, but feelings are simply not easily caught up in logic. There is not always a reason and in fact, I believe that the only reason for unhappiness is you. It is your mindset that decides if you feel happy or not.

But that’s kind of a confronting thought, isn’t it?

Because it means you are responsible. It means you cannot blame your job or the people around you. You cannot blame your life.

Because it’s you.

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I will always choose happiness

Not convenience.

Not obligation.

Not expectation.

But happiness.

In my previous post (which has been one in a month and a half, I realize), I told you that I was optimistic about making the summer great at the campsite I was working at. Well, I’m a big enough person to admit that I was wrong. I am apparently not capable of doing every possible thing, and that is okay.

Because I am not capable of working 60 hours a week, I am not capable of letting other people direct my life (because I AM capable of doing this myself) and I am not capable of spending even a minimum amount of time feeling unhappy. Because feeling unhappy, made me unhappy, which made me miserable. So I got out.

I guess having long working hours is great if you love your job, if it’s your passion. I would gladly spend this amount of time writing each week. But I do not want to spend it working at a reception desk, doing the same thing day in, day out, every day (and may I add, for minimum wage).

Of course, it was not all bad. I had fun moments and I met nice people. I also had a great weekend with one of my best friends, of which pictures will be shared at some point. But I was simply not happy. And I’m not bitter about it (anymore), I’m just glad I got out. I’m proud that I took charge and made this incredibly hard decision and at the moment I’m becoming more and more myself again. Because honestly, I was lost for a second.

For those of you curious about my life (and surprisingly, I’m learning that that’s at least a few), of course, the next question is… If you’re not at the campsite anymore, where the hell are you?

Well, I’ll tell you.

Last Monday, I had a Skype conversation with a person from the ANWB (which is basically the organization you call when you have car trouble, although they do offer a lot more), to apply for a position in Lyon. Every summer they need many extra hands there, because of all the people going on holiday in France. I had looked into this job many times before, but because the work at the campsite was for a longer period of time, I chose that (not wrongly. Something about life lessons).

Of course, being the actually very capable person that I am, I was hired right away (hello ego-boost). I headed to Lyon on Saturday and started my fulltime training on Monday. Tomorrow is day 4 and I like it. It’s similar to the job I did at the ING, which I also enjoyed a lot. It’s a lot more… me. I have a studio in Lyon, which includes my own private bathtub (a.k.a. heaven) and my own kitchen. I had to spend quite some money to buy a bunch of stuff that I also had back in The Netherlands, but it was worth it. Because not only do I have a job that fits me, I also have control over my life, I have new energy to do fun things, I will learn more French than I will in an all-Dutch campsite, I will have more time to work on the things that are important to me (exercise, yoga, writing) and I can take all the baths I want.

So right now, things are good. And more posts are to come.

But besides talking about myself a lot (which I know I do a lot on this blog), I want to make this an inspirational post. Because if you are doing something right now that is making you unhappy, or that is making you feel like you’ve lost yourself… Quit. I don’t care how you do it, just make it happen. Unhappiness is just so… unnecessary. If I can do it, so can you. And if you feel like you cannot do it yourself, send me a message and I can try to help you think of reasons why you can, and you should.

Life is too damn short to be anything but happy.

How I ended up in the back of a cop car on New Year’s Eve

So, my 31st of December did not go as planned. At all. I was staying in Yogyakarta during New Years and had planned to go to the celebration at Borobudur. The plan was as follows: I was supposed to go to the Borobudur temple around the beginning of the afternoon and then stay there until the celebration. Then, in the night, I could go back to Yogya.

I had not really thought this through, I was just sort of assuming everything would work out. But the first wrong turn was when I woke up and my host took me to lunch, because it all took a lot longer than a simple lunch should have. So eventually I got ready to go to Borobudur, but then he said I should come to his office first, and from there I could get transport. But there was no way to go to Borobodur by Go-jek, like we hoped, and all the other options took a lot longer. Normally, that’s not a problem, but seeing how it was already three o’clock at this point, I did not want to arrive at the largest Buddhist temple with limited time to see the damn thing. I also did not want to pay 40 euros for these limitations.

After sitting in the office of my host for a while, thinking about the best solution, I felt a little desperate. It was the 31st of December and if I didn’t go to the Borobudur celebration, I had NO celebration.

Simply. Not. An. Option.

So, I made a new plan. I would go there in the evening, party all night, and go to the Borobudur when it opened, at 6 AM the next morning. It seemed like a solid plan, and my host thought so too.

The next issue that arose, was the transportation. Man, this story is going to become so long, because the whole day felt like that and having to figure all of this stuff out, I really wasn’t having much fun. The options were to go by bus, having to transfer two times and it would take very long. The other option was to borrow the motorbike from my host and go by myself. At that point I did not know the roads would be rather good, so I was scared to go by myself. But it seemed like the best option. However, the minute I decided that yes, I was going to conquer my fears and go on a motorbike, by myself, in the dark, to a place 40 kilometers away, my host started telling me horror stories and said that as a woman alone I would run into criminals.
‘So, what, they will rob me?’ I asked, a little scared. ‘I just won’t bring much money. And I can drive away quickly on the motorbike.’
‘No, no, they won’t rob you. But maybe they will stab you.’
Okay. So I won’t be going by myself then.
The final option was that my host would bring me (BRING ME) and then drive back with his cousin. She was arriving from Semarang that evening (but what bus did she take?) and instead of going all the way to Yogya, so that my host would have to stay at home to let her in, she would get out in Borobudur so she could drive the rest of the way with my host. A very elaborate construction, that was so nice of them so that I could go to the celebration.

So, we left the house around 9 or 9.30, which I thought was a little late, but okay. Then we made a lot of stops on the way, to get gas, to go by his office, and finally we were on our way. It was a very long ride. By now I am very much used to being on the back of a motorbike, but this was just… so long. Maybe it is unnecessary to say, but my ass hurt when I finally got to hop off.

During the motorbike ride, my host turned to me and asked:
‘So where are you staying tonight?’
Uh. What? I thought this party was going to go on all night. We talked about me staying up all night, but he never mentioned that the party would be finished around 1 AM. So what am I supposed to do for five hours, until the opening of the park? Well, I brought my Kindle, so I supposed I could just walk into a random hotel and asked if I could hang out in their lobby, reading. It wouldn’t have been my first choice, but I was feeling adventurous.

We arrived at the temple and a new problem surfaced. Where the hell was the entrance to this party?!
The temple is big and there were several entrances. We kept walking around and finally we found the way in. At this point, it was already after 11 o’clock. So even though I reserved a ticket, we didn’t pick it up. And it was unnecessary because there was a gate, but there were many people outside the gate as well, and from there you could see the stage and the festivities really well. So it was good. I was there, at the celebration.

And then…

My host had to leave. I figured he would at least join in some of the celebration, together with his cousin. I didn’t realize he was JUST going to drop me off. So I looked around, desperate for some company, and then I saw two people with long blonde hair. If anything, they were bound to speak English, so I approached them. I introduced myself. I asked them if I could hang out with them for the duration of the party, because I was all alone. They said yes. My host left.

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And so I made new friends, friends that were my best friends for two whole hours. And this is a perfect segway for me, into a wise lesson that I learned.

Sometimes you just have to accept that your contact is short term and you won’t see each other again. And you can enjoy it and be okay with it.
For a long time I just thought of social contacts as something that was an opportunity to grow. I didn’t really feel like hanging out with new people if I knew it would just be for one evening (travelers for instance). I wouldn’t get something out of it in the long term. And I know this sounds horrible, but that is how I reasoned sometimes. I can actually be a very selfish person and I am totally aware of that.
But now I don’t feel that way anymore. Because each person you meet teaches you a lesson. Maybe it is a lesson about their culture, about communication differences, about yourself… But a lesson it will be. As well as a memory. And now I am collecting these lessons and memories and I treasure each and every one of them. I get inspired daily while traveling and meeting many people from all over the world. They show me different views on things, tell me different opinions, share stories about their lives, which may differ from mine in so many ways.
I have short term contact all the time now, and they continuously brighten my day.

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Alright, enough of that. The story continues. The two blondes had a friend that was Indonesian (saying the world is small is the understatement of the century when we realized that the guy actually lived two streets away from me in Jakarta!!!) and this friend had two more friends. (I can feel this story boring you, but please, stick with it. It is about to become one of those weird experiences that you only gain when you travel or live your life in a crazy spontaneous way)happy-as-a-clam-def
He told me that those friends would go to a hotel of another friend of them and that I could join them. Well, didn’t that just seem like the perfect solution. I was happy as a clam.

When the clock struck twelve I wished my temporary friends a happy new year, I texted some people back in The Netherlands (IMG_0662_Fotoractually no, I sent them a video) and it was about an hour later when they were planning to go back to Yogyakarta. And if I didn’t want to see the Borobudur I would have probably been able to catch a ride with them, but that was not the plan. No, the plan now, was to go to a hotel with two strangers to hang out with said strangers until the sun came up.
O boy.

They introduced me to the two friends of the guy (I’m sorry, I did not remember their names so you’ll just have to do with my non-descriptive descriptives) and they were two policemen who had to oversee the event. Do you see where I’m going with this?

They told me they would be a little bit longer to round everybody up and do their debriefing or whatever, but I could wait in their car and we would leave shortly. Next thing I know, we are walking to their car, I get in the backseat and wait for my newest two friends to come back and drive me to the hotel.
I was giddy with anticipation and with the way my day was turning around. And when they came back after half an hour they drove me to the hotel, where I met the owner. He had studied in Belgium for six years and spoke perfect Dutch. Who would have guessed?!

Picture from booking.com
Picture from booking.com

He made me a sandwich, I got some water, and we hung out in one of the small wooden thingies… (what to call them…? See the picture) I was totally set, the evening turned out great and while having a conversation in a mixture of English, Indonesian and Dutch, the owner mentioned he actually had some mats to sleep on, if I wanted to get some shut-eye.

Picture from originalasia.nl
Picture from originalasia.nl

Well, I wanted, so after a few more minutes I went to the back where he laid out a bed and went to sleep for a little bit.

As it turns out, the Borobudur temple actually offered a sunrise tour, so around 5 AM the owner drove me to the entrance of the park and I watched the sun rise at the Borobudur temple. It was a bit rainy and there were many clouds, but honestly, who cares. It was great.

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I was there by myself, alone with my thoughts. I walked around, studied every nook and corner and when it was just after 6AM, I got a drunken call from two of my best friends to wish me a happy new year.

So yes, full disclosure, I felt a little bit lonely at that point. They were on the phone, in the midst of insane noiseIMG_0691_Fotors of fireworks going off, people having fun. And I was alone at this amazing temple. I got over it pretty quickly, but I missed my friends at that point and was really honored that they would spend twenty of their drunken minutes with me (of which their recollection the next morning was foggy, at best).
Also, I was amazed by modern technology, that would offer me the possibility to talk to my friends, basically for free (whatsapp call) while staring at an amazing artwork of a building.

So that’s it. That is the crazy story that saluted my new year in style and that will probably set an example for the rest of my travels. And if all my failed plans and changed itineraries will be anything like this… I’m truly going to have the time of my life.

For more pictures, click here.

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The happiness of friendliness

A weekend ago I went to another Indonesian island, called Sumatra. I flew there from Jakarta on Wednesday and went back on Monday. I encountered so many friendly acts and faces here, that I just wanted to share some with you.

On Couchsurfing, I posted a request for someone to host me on my first night in Medan. I landed at the airport there and in the morning I wanted to continue my journey to Lake Toba, but I needed a place to crash. I realized this was not something that people may be jumping up and down for, and I posted the request two days in advance, but I got a reply. And the reply was so nice. It was from a guy who works at the airport and lives very close to there. That night he had a nightshift, so what happened was that he picked me up from the arrivals section, drove me to his house and left me there. His work finished at 8 am, so around 9 he picked me up and dropped me off at the busstation! He even stayed with me until I got on the bus and we had some fun conversations. But this was such a selfless act and I so appreciated it. Later, when I flew back to Jakarta, he met me at the airport and gave me a souvenir. It was a little Batak house and he walked me all the way to the plane (because he was awesome and had security clearance for everywhere).

When I arrived at Lake Toba, I just enjoyed everything so much. I took the first day to relax and read and write by the lake. The second day I went out for a new adventure: riding a motorbike. I entertained myself in the afternoon, just learning how to give enough gas (but not too much) and watching the amazing views of the lake and the mountains. In the evening I went to see a local Batak performance of dance and music. I was seriously unimpressed by the dance performance, because it was very easy. Which is probably why they asked some people to join them for the final dance and when I was asked I didn’t see a reason not to join – everybody could do that dance.
So I did. After that there was a wonderful music performance of which I have a little (big, whatever) clip.

I left Lake Toba on Sunday and my flight back to Jakarta was not until Monday evening. So I posted another request on Couchsurfing, to find somebody to show me around Medan. The girl who replied was very nice and showed me all kinds of places. One of the things that was very memorable for me, was the moment she went to the mosque to pray, in the afternoon. I placed myself on a bench in a small tent where they sold some street food, and I got my Kindle out, because there was no one there. But that never lasts long when there is a bule around.
First, three little boys came up to me.
‘Hello miss, hihihi. Where are you from? Hihihi what is your name?’
I answered all of their questions and after two or three questions they became too shy and ran off. Then, I looked over my shoulder, where I was sitting against a gate. And three little girls’ heads stuck through the gate next to me and smiled sweetly.
‘Hello miss!’
I greeted them and asked them in Indonesian how they were, which caused many giggles.
‘Dari mana, umur berapa, apa nama anda?’
I replied to all of their questions and they too ran off shyly.
It was quiet for a little while and just when I got my Kindle back out, I was interrupted again (which was welcome, of course).
This time, an old man. He came up to me speaking English very well. They are never very original in their questions, so I answered the same ones once more and just as he had his answers, more men came up. They all shaked my hand and I felt like I ended up in a meeting of the old men’s club. I was introduced to everybody (“Look, she is from Belanda”). And I always sort of have this picture of old men together, being very calm and wise and mellow. But they were a bunch of rowdy men laughing and joking with each other. It was such a great atmosphere and when my friend was done praying, I had to say goodbye and I left with a big smile.

And then, later that afternoon, when we were walking down the street, I was stopped by a man of whom I’m pretty sure he never saw a white girl before, because he was so excited. He asked me many questions in Indonesian and I was proud to be able to answer and then he proposed (yes, I mean for marriage).
My answer: ‘Maaf ya, nggak mau.’ (Sorry, I don’t want to)
Oh how he laughed.
He kept shaking my hand and put his arm next to mine to compare skin colors (Duo Penotti is the best way to describe it) and then I kept walking, because otherwise he probably would have taken me home to meet his entire family.

Even though sometimes the attention you get here as a foreigner can be a bit overwhelming, they have the best intentions and are always so welcoming. This time away has been proof of that yet again. And it just makes me so damn happy.

Of course, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t take any pictures of my trip to Sumatra.

I thought it would be harder

It’s been a month now. And I really – really – really – like it here. I heard a lot of stories from people going abroad, that they would have moments where they would get homesick, they missed Dutch food, and most of all they experience culture shock.

I am not homesick. I’m sorry to all my friends back home, but I am just not. I don’t miss The Netherlands at all. I do miss my friends but we still keep in touch and Skype whenever I can. Maybe I don’t miss it because I prepared for this for so long, I was ready to leave it all behind and start over.

I can write a whole post (and maybe I will some time) about the food. But here, suffice it to say… I love it. I am in love with it. Everything I eat is so good and it is all so cheap. You can buy it everywhere and anywhere and it never fails to amaze me. I tried to discover why it was that I loved it so much and I came to a conclusion. It’s because everything they use is pure. It’s just vegetables, herbs, rice… Okay, sometimes they add some oil (or a lot of oil), which is the only downside, but still. The ingredients are not processed and that really improves the taste. I have to say it again, I really love the food. Really.

I have not experienced any culture shock. But I think that is because I came very well prepared. I had already seen a little bit of the world and I actually made everything way more scary and different in my mind than it really was.
I also have a theory that the culture shock will be bigger if you try to hold on to your Western beliefs and ideas. I like to think I am a very open-minded person and so when I got here, I just let everything happen and I literally went with the flow. I wanted to eat what the locals ate, travel the way they travel and learn as much about the culture as possible.

I imagine if you intend to find the Western food and culture here and you don’t find it… that might be a shock. But I immersed myself in everything Indonesian and that made it really easy. I was looking forward to all the cheap fruit, the rice and the joy of not having to cook. I wasn’t looking forward to going around on the back of a motorbike, but I gave in to that experience too and now I love it.

And I discovered something very important along the way.
I love Indonesia…Honestly, I didn’t think I would and I don’t know why. I figured I would miss the comfort of home, having people around you who you can count on and knowing your way around. But a new place is only new for so long until it becomes something else…
It becomes home too.

I think a big part of me loving it here is the food and the other part is the people. Because making friends is not that hard. Great people are everywhere and the Indonesian people are just so nice. It is impossible to not feel good here, when everywhere you look you can expect to find a smile on someones face. Where in The Netherlands something would be too much effort for someone, here they do it for you without complaining. They even offer!

I do have to admit that another part of my love for Indonesia has to do with the prices. Everything is so cheap here. You can take a taxi or ride on the back of a motorbike to go to places, food is super cheap and the rent is cheap.
I feel like I get such a good deal every time I buy something and really… It all adds to the happy feelings!

So, if you were wondering how I am doing here, the answer is great! I’s been a month and even though I still have four months left, I am already dreading the moment I have to get on a plane to leave it behind (but then again, it will be to travel, so maybe excitement will overrule my dread).
Regardless, I already know I will definitely come back to Indonesia after I leave it this time.

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