Polar Ends of a Continuum

Happiness is the smell of rich earth and dew clad grass after a showery night; pink petals fluttering beneath a startling blue Kyoto sky; how my cat snuggles into my lap as it rains outside; the wind grazing my skin and the morning sun nuzzling my face; the taste of salty ocean breeze and the waves lapping at my sand-sunken toes; the soft dongs and tinkles of gamelan at a family’s wedding; harmonizing with the choir as we sing traditional Indonesian songs during the weekly flag ceremony at school. Happiness is the beauty of nature and music.

It is gathering together with friends at the school dorms to share food and laugh; an unexpected rendezvous; an email from an old friend; a phone call from home; the endless rice paddies welcoming me on the road to my grandma’s village as the adzan calls from the mosque; praying together at the mosque; the sweet aroma of satay as I break fast with my family during Ramadhan; my two-year-old sister prancing around the house; visiting the orphanage and sharing stories with the children there. Happiness is togetherness; it is love.

It is traveling to faraway destinations and tasting the unfamiliar air; it is coming home after a long day; getting lost inside brilliant novels; the feeling of winning a trophy after hours spent working for it; the quiet joy of learning something new; serendipity; the simple fleeting moments; the things diamonds couldn’t buy. Happiness is the fruits of a struggle.

Sadness is that sudden phone call at 2 a.m. that caused my mother to break into tears; turning on the news only to hear of wars and hatred; terrorism, like the bombing that killed 27 people in Surabaya; Islamophobia and other misunderstandings; the baby grimy with dirt that wailed on the sidewalk whilst his mom was tending to something else; pedophilia; rape; genocides; cruelty; the implications of the Stanford Prison Experiment; the man put in jail for speaking his mind; living on scraps to get by. Sadness is the ignorance of humans. It is lack of empathy.

It is walking in the streets of Jakarta covering my mouth so as not to breathe in gas fumes and smoke; the trash that floats in the city’s canals and pile up in neglected patches of earth; seagulls drenched in oil and fish infested with plastic; burning forests; poached animals. Sadness is the pain we inflict upon our home, mother nature.

It is expecting too much of anything; the betrayal of a friend; homesickness; loneliness; being haunted by death; questions of existentialism; questions of self worth; depression; a burned bridge. Sadness, too, is a part of being human.

Those are all the things that make me happy and sad. My emotions are autonomous—a reaction to the interactions I create with the world around me. Inherently, I cannot control how I feel, but I can control how I act upon those emotions. That is the wisdom of the Stoics.

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