Secret of happiness [Archives:2004/800/Education]

December 20 2004

Dr. P.A.Abraham
Professor of English
Faculty of Education
University of Sana'a
[email protected]

Oliver Goldsmith is one of my favorite writers. In one of his essays he narrates the story of a rich man and the story has a profound impact on my thinking. The story goes something like this: there is this very rich man who has so much wealth that he sets about acquiring several scores of some of the finest diamonds in the world. But his problem is what to do with all those diamonds? So, what the rich man does is to stitch all his diamonds onto his favorite robe which he would then wear every evening and parade up and down the streets.
It was not long before he noticed that a beggar in tatters would follow him as he went about displaying his diamond and keep bowing and saying: “Thank you”. One day the rich man accosted the beggar and asked him: “What do you keep thanking me for?”
“For the pleasure of viewing your diamonds, Sir,” replied the beggar.
“But what is there to thank in this?”
“For taking the heavy responsibility of looking after the diamonds. After all Sir, you can do no better than what I am doing. That is, to view them. But the headache of looking after them is yours and not mine. That is why I thank you.”
There lies the great secret of happiness: If you want health, wealth and happiness all you have to do is to stop wasting your time trying to impress others. Happiness will be yours if you are not burdened with the stress and tension of trying to do things, buy things and conduct yourself in order to gain the approval of others. In short, it means opting out of the Big Rat Race and running your own race, on your own rules and regulations.
Wealth will be yours because of the direct correlation between the absence of any desire to impress others and one's bank balance. In India (I do not know much about Yemen) we spend astronomical amount of money for conducting marriages, often landing ourselves into debt or worse, in order to impress people of our supposed capacity to spend. How much richer our families would be if they went ahead and simply did what marriages are supposed to do which is to unite a man and a woman into the sacred matrimonial bond.
Happiness is achieved when one is pervaded with a deep sense of contentment and security that automatically flow from the knowledge that the main purpose of life is to enjoy life fruitfully and not to spend one's time, energy and money in impressing others.
How easily dazzled and deceived we are by eloquence, high honors, fancy possessions, expensive things or a suave demeanor. Let us not make the mistake of assuming that celebrities, public figures and the wealthy are necessarily happy. To do so is to be bewildered by appearances and will only make us doubt about ourselves.
Happiness is independent of external conditions. We need to practice indifference to external conditions as happiness can only be found within. Don't long for others to see you as sophisticated, unique or wise. In fact be suspicious if you appear to others as someone special. Be on your guard against a false sense of self-importance.
Don't bother by such concerns s “People don't think well of me”, “I am nobody”': You are not responsible for what others think of you. What real difference does it make to your character and well being if you have a powerful position or get invited to fancy parties? None at all. So, how is there any discredit in not being a power broker or a celebrity? And why should you worry about being a nobody when what matters is being a somebody in those areas of your life over which you have control and in which you can make a real difference?
Goldsmith's story of the rich man is an eye opener which explains the fact that if you really want peace of mind and happiness in life, in your endeavors, forgo self-importance.