JN: What has been the biggest impact for you personally since the release of your film Happiness?
EJ: After 6 years of research and filming, 460 hours of tape (edited down to a 76 minute film), and thousands of conversations on the topic, I have learned a tremendous amount about happiness. For one, I now know that we can implement certain practices within our lives to help cultivate more happiness. It may not come naturally to everyone, but that doesn’t mean that everyone can’t manifest it for themselves. For example, after observing the Dalai Lama, I noticed that he practices the Tibetan Tonglen Meditation daily. During this practice one consciously breathes in the suffering of others, andbreathes out compassion and love towards those individuals, communities or causes that are in distress. Having practiced this same meditation myself with my students, I too have experienced these powerful effects.
JN: I understand you are running Happy Boot Camp Retreats here in Bali which s very exciting. What inspired them?
EH: Instead of taking a couple of 3 hour-workshops here and there every few weeks in busy city lives, I thought it would be more beneficial for like-minded and curious happiness seekers to get together at a relaxing and spiritual center like Ubud. Here I can also collaborate with world class yoga teachers, healers and musicians and dine at some of the finest restaurants I felt that it was important to develop a comprehensive retreat that would give people proper time to really integrate the theory and practice of happiness. Three hours is just an introduction.
JN: Can you give some specific examples of what you do during these retreats?
EH: During our six days together we not only do things that you would expect on most retreats here in Bali (yoga, meditation, spa treatments, and silent time to reflect) but we go deeper and really look at some cutting edge research on the cultivation of happiness and gratitude so that participants understand the scientific research to back up the practices. While filming Happiness, I had the opportunity to learn some empirically proven happiness-enhancing techniques from world experts on psychology, neuroscience, and spirituality. I wanted to share these with students but they require more time than a workshop or a film could provide offers, hence the retreats. I also feel a moral responsibility to help people lead happier lives.
JN: Comparing Japan to Bali, what similarities and differences do you see between the two cultures in terms of their relationship to happiness and gratitude?
EJ: In many senses, there are a lot of similarities between Japan and Bali. They are both highly collectivist, and put priority on groups over individuals. I think we both see spirits in many things, especially in nature. While Balinese people seem to have plenty of time to spare to embrace community, family, and spirituality, modern Japanese society does not allow its people to savor all these great things, and expects them to dedicate their lives to a career and work.
In my experience I would say that the Balinese are generally happier than the Japanese, and there are possibly a few reasons for this. It could be because they have a very tight, close-knit community and keep up a more traditional life that is lost in contemporary Japan. I think that the upacara (offerings) allows people to come together in a really unique way, different from anything I have seen anywhere else in the world.
Eiji Han Shimizu is a media producer from Japan. He divides his time between Ubud and Tokyo. When not inspiring happiness around the globe, he produces a graphic novel series about human rights and is currently launching a meditation app for the Japanese market called “ZENpod”.
By Janet Nicol