Thai Artist Looks for Happiness in a Bowl of Rice

© Nino Sarabutra

"What will you have with your rice today?" That's how people in Thai artist Nino Sarabutra's home village greet each other, a question she says gets closer to the heart of assessing your neighbor's happiness and well-being than a simple, and often empty, "How are you?"

That traditional exchange, and the meaning behind it, inspired Sarabutra to try and create a larger "good life index," interviewing people both in person and through an online survey that asks questions about regular monthly spending as well as respondents' "last bought luxury," what they "can't live without," and what would make them more happy.

Money, Health, Family, Love
Answers to the latter question range from the practical -- more money, more time with family; to the humorous -- "when my neighbor [turns the] volume down [on] his radio," one woman writes; to the poignant -- good health for aging parents, "everybody's happiness."

© Nino Sarabutra

For her project "To Live or To Live a Good Life Yes No," Sarabutra created 365 handmade porcelain bowls, to represent the simple pleasures of the food we eat each day -- and the multiple roles food, and sharing it with other people, plays in our lives. Each bowl is engraved with her thoughts on food, people, life, and happiness, such as "Too much or too little," "Marinated with love," and "Money can't buy you happiness. Neither can poverty."

The installation, shown both in Bangkok and at the recent SurVivArt show in Berlin, combines the bowls, hung from the ceiling by thin threads, with pictures and facts about the people surveyed projected on the wall.

Different People, Different Stories
"What makes people happy differs depending on their aims in life, their jobs, financial status, family, lifestyle, priorities... Every answer tells different stories," the artist told TreeHugger in an email. "I interviewed many people in the village where they don't use Internet. They don't have much but they don't need much either... Some people have everything but they wish for world peace or better justice [for] humanity."

"One thing I know is it makes people think about themselves," she added. Take the survey yourself and see how happy you feel.

Tags: Artists | Arts | Exhibits | Thailand

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