Petrichor: Trying to buy happiness


an you buy happiness? In fact you can! According to the study Prosocial spending and buying time: Money as a tool for increasing subjective well-being conducted by a group of researchers from Harvard University, University of British Columbia, and Simon Fraser University, spending money on giving (including charity), experiences, and time can actually buy you happiness.

I made a couple of big purchases lately. By big purchases I mean more than €150 and none of it among the 3 things mentioned above. Which led me to ask myself, am I trying to buy happiness?

You could say I was. One of them was a painting, my first art purchase. I bought it from a Filipina artist, an expat like myself. It was a part of a series she did when she moved to the Netherlands, and according to her, an expression of her vulnerability as a newcomer in a strange country. When I saw it, it brought a golf of memories not in the least similar to hers.

I mentioned it in passing in one of my birthday posts. Sexual awakening. Surely every teenager on the island was experiencing the same thing but no one talks about it, an unwritten rule of our pious society. I’m only so bold writing about it now because well, I’m 36 and had since stopped caring about what other people think.

There I was in my aunt’s room, a 15-year old girl day-dreaming about a boy, tightly clasping a hotdog pillow between her legs. I stayed in that bed, in that position for a long time, as long as I needed for my fantasy to run wild with all sorts of intimate scenarios my virgin brain could come up with. I felt the excitement in my body, the warm, delicious sensation emanating from my my groin, spreading through my breast, to my whole being. As my imagination become bolder, my breathing turned into heaving, my lower body started moving, rubbing the pillow slowly in my groin area, as if it had a mind of its own. And then a sort of electricity passed through my whole body, that ended in a shiver while turning my legs into jelly. Relief. My first masturbation, my very first orgasm. It happened on a humid summer afternoon. The air was pregnant with the smell of the Earth after a tropical downpour. That’s why I was in the room in the first place, because it was raining hard outside.

What has that got to do with the painting, you may ask?

The shy, almost pained expression on her face, the slightly parted lips, her closed eyes, her young body, remind me so much of myself, of my sexual pleasure before I discovered love-making. The banana leaves covering her face was like a veil of innocence, covering the embarrassment I felt after exploring my young body. Is it wrong to do this? If it is, why does it felt so good? Will my mother get mad?

The painting is called Petrichor, the word that refers to that sweet, strange scent of the Earth after rain has quenched her long, dry spell. Summer weather in the Philippines coincides with school vacation. At the end of summer, tropical downpours become frequent. After weeks of ruminating whether to buy it, I was still undecided but the title did it for me, which I only happen to see later. Jesamine Totanes was kind enough to deliver it personally, and we had the most amazing afternoon exchanging stories.

Growing up on the island was the happiest period of my life. It wasn’t perfect but I was surrounded and protected by a loving family. Whenever I look back to my childhood, I would be overcome by nostalgia. It was a time I will never be able to return to. The landscape of my childhood has changed and will continue changing with brutal disregard to the beautiful memories I hold with it.

Buying this painting is a way of holding on to those memories, to that happiness. Every time I look at it, I’m transported to my youth, back to the island, to the 15-year old me and the colorful events that shaped her life.