In pursuit of happiness
Happiness is a warm gun, sang the Beatles, and happiness is a long cold drink, an old beer advertisement heralds, and happiness is the happy and smiling faces of children.
But happiness is not always about self-gratification -- it can be about giving.
A Chinese proverb says if you want happiness for an hour, take a nap; if you want happiness for a day, go fishing; if you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune; if you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.
And the Dalai Lama said, "If you want others to be happy, practice compassion".
Happiness is probably something everybody pursues in life, but happiness means different things to different people.
And to most, happiness means different things at different times.
Although material wealth, or at least well-being, is certainly an important element, happiness is not always associated with money or wealth.
Poor but happy people are forever in our midst -- and it is too easy to find wealthy miserable people.
And it's probably easier to find the latter group than the first in Indonesia, or in other places for that matter.
It is therefore courageous for anyone or any institution to try to rate and then aggregate the happiness of a nation, or of a people in a city.
The Frontier Consulting Group Indonesia last week released a study called the Indonesian Happiness Index 2007.
The study is based on a survey involving 1,800 respondents, 300 each in the six cities selected including Jakarta, Medan, Bandung, Semarang, Semarang, Surabaya and Makassar.
It finds the Indonesian Happiness Index (IHI) at 47.96 (presumably out of a possible score of 100), which put Indonesia below the average (meaning an index of 50).
The study did not say where Indonesia stood in relation to other countries.
The survey included questions related to the age, gender, income, education, job/position and religious devotion of the respondents, and came out with some interesting results.
People in Semarang and Makassar are said to be among the happiest in Indonesia, with those in Jakarta and Medan are among the most miserable, with their city ranking fifth and sixth respectively.
Speculation around why Semarang is the happiest city to live in remains however, as does the reason behind the study's findings that men are generally happier than women. No explanation was provided.
In terms of age, those in the 41-50 year-old category were happiest and those in 21-30 years old were most miserable, probably because those in the first group tend to be more established in their jobs and life, while those in the second group are just embarking on adulthood.
The rest of the survey's results are somewhat predictable. Those with a higher education and a good income (the two are usually related anyway) are happiest.
The more religious among us are said to be happier (probably because we think God is always with us).
Perhaps we should also thank religion, and religious leaders, for helping the nation through some of the most difficult times in the last 10 years.
In most other countries, the hardship the nation endured would have led to social upheaval.
In terms of profession, one result shows those in middle management were happier than those in top management.
So, those craving for the top job may want to think again -- and weigh-up the lucrative perks versus the responsibility that comes with being number one in the company.
If the Frontier Consulting Group put Indonesia below average (because it ranked below 50 in the index), a study published in 2006 by the New Economics Foundation actually put Indonesia among the happiest lot in the world in a survey of 178 countries.
The Happy Planet Index, issued to challenge the use of the gross domestic product (GDP) and the United Nations' Human Development Index (HDI) in measuring the welfare of a nation, found material wealth did define the happiness (or the fulfillment of a happy life) of a nation.
Vanuatu heads the happy index which includes Vietnam, Sri Lanka and the Philippines in the top 20. Indonesia came at a decent 23rd. The United States ranked 150th and Zimbabwe bottom of the list at 178th.
The Happy Planet Index, and the more recent Frontier Consulting Group measurement of Indonesians, reminders that while we keep to the adage that "men don't live on bread alone", material well-being is still important in our pursuit of happiness.
Granted, it is not the most important measurement of happiness, but it is an important component nevertheless.
And the pursuit of happiness, while not clearly stated as a right in our constitution, is an inalienable right for every citizen in this county, just as life and liberty are. (Editorial, The Jakarta Post, October 29, 2007)