Friday, April 26

What is happiness?

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Happiness is about counting our blessings and appreciating the joy of the “here and now”. — Bernama file photo

Happiness is about counting our blessings and appreciating the joy of the “here and now”. — Bernama file photo

IN the 1991 movie ‘City Slickers’, Curly (played by the late Jack Palance), a tough old cowboy had a simple life philosophy that he espoused to the main character Mitch (Billy Crystal). He called it the “just one thing”.

Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is? This. [holds up one finger]

Mitch: Your finger?

Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean shit.

Mitch: But what is the ‘one thing?’

Curly: That’s what you have to find out.

Curious, I posted that question – “What is the one thing, the ultimate goal, in life?” – to a number of friends. Almost to a man they all said, “Happiness.” Though my respondents unanimously agree that happiness is what we all seek in life, there is not much agreement as to what it is.

Of course, the pat answer in the mind of many is money. While it is true that money could, as a servant, give us a life of ease.It is also very seductive and can very easily transform itself from a servant to a master. Money can be an all-consuming master.

History, both ancient and contemporary, has shown that once it has taken root in our hearts, it can completely suck away our milk of human kindness and rob us of our honour. It is because of this dangerous propensity that the Good Book warns us, “For the love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6:10).

Sometimes we think that happiness is a place. Notice how often we look at a holiday brochure and say, “Ah, if I can go this place I will be so happy.”

I have a friend who thinks that being in London is happiness. One day he did go to London and he posted on the Facebook, “I am in London! Am happy beyond words.” However, his holiday was only for two weeks. Does it mean that he was only happy for two weeks? On the contrary, he is such a cheery and happy person and he is fun to hang out with.

When we think of happiness being a place it seems always to be another place from where we are.

A few years ago I went to Guilin for a holiday. We stayed at a very beautiful hotel called Gui Shan. My wife is a most proactive person and always on the go. As soon as we checked in, she said waving a brochure, “Quick, quick, let’s go to see a cultural show. You know it is very famous here.” The show was supposed to start at 7pm. It was already 6pm when we finished checking in and so we rushed into a taxi and virtually flew over to a place across the river.

The ticket lady was very nice but she said, “Sorry there is no more seat.” “Please, please,” we pleaded, “find us just two seats”.  Seeing our anguish, she was sympathetic. “You know, this is not the best show in town. The best show in Guilin is on tomorrow at this hotel. I can get you the tickets.” She pointed at a big poster on the wall.  I looked at the poster. It read, “Gui Shan hotel proudly presents – The best show in Guilin.”

Sometimes our vision of happiness is not just about another place but of another time.

When I was in secondary school, faced with my elders berating me for not studying hard enough, I had this fantasy that when I had the chance to go to university, I would be happy.

At university I hankered for working life when there would no more examinations. However, nine to five working life can be depressing and we longed for the day when we could retire. Last week I joined a group of retirees for breakfast. Guess what we talked about? Yes, the good old days.

Now looking back I come to realise my childhood days in the seaside town of Mukah were among the happiest times of my life. Mind you, university life was not bad either. Just that in both cases I was not aware of my blessing of the time.

There is a saying, “Yesterday is History, Tomorrow a Mystery, Today is a Gift, That’s why it’s called the Present”. I never knew the true meaning of that saying until two years ago when I had to undergo a major heart operation. At that time I recalled a poster that read, “You know what’s the difference between money and time? You know how much money you possess but not how much time you have.” It was a sobering thought and it was also an enlightening thought.

I’ve come to realise that happiness is not another place or another time. Happiness is about counting our blessings and appreciating the joy of the “here and now”.