An old Chinese proverb:
If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a month, get married. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody else.
Yeah, I know, the last line of this got your wheels turning on the quick, right? Of course it did. This little polished pearl of wisdom is part of our DNA. It’s old brain stuff that we feel intuitively because we know that by helping our fellow human beings we are, in effect, serving the greater good. Furthermore, we also know that napping, fishing, marrying, and inheriting some dough are all good things; however, they are all temporary. Think about those present tense nouns for a few minutes, and you’ll get my drift. Now shift gears, and think about the last line of the proverb, and what it implies. It goes beyond something temporary. Let’s take a further look at this profound nugget written by a guy from a culture which is about 3,500 years old.
First of all, napping is a great idea. We can all probably agree that the idea of shutting down for a few minutes during the day can be a good thing — it’s a way to relax and retool our brains. It’s a temporary respite from the daily grind. And no one dodges the grind. We grind; therefore, we are. (Dogs and cats have the nap thing down to a science. Just sayin.’) An hour of napping can make us pretty happy, but then we need to get up, and jump back into the grind, and we’ll probably feel energized and be more productive. So, there you go, nap on! Go ahead, take one right now, and then get back to this proverbial analysis when you wake from that little sliver of a peaceful alpha state.
Secondly, fishing is good for a day of happiness. However, we can substitute any noun we want for this happiness -laden activity. Here are some examples: sailing, surfing, reading, cooking, skydiving, needlepointing, et al. The great thing about fishing, is that it’s an activity that gives us and others the impression that we are actually doing something. This activity is all about the hunt — actually catching something is the cherry on the sundae. If we don’t catch anything, then there is always tomorrow for us to look forward to, and the hope that we might hook the big one. Moreover, we’ll be — according to the proverb — engaging in an activity which will make us happy for another whole day!
Thirdly, marrying is definitely a way to be happy, otherwise folks wouldn’t throw down and take a shot at it. The guy who wrote this proverb had a sense of humor — a month? Let’s be realistic, mister, getting hitched can be one continuous honeymoon for at least three months — right? Then, as we all know, it’s laundry and bills. (I’m joking of course, but I had to toss some Mark Twain snark into this keen analysis in which I’m working very hard to enlighten my reader.)
Next, the idea of inheriting a fortune, is where the wisdom of the guy who wrote this all down begins to reveal itself. Let’s just say we do inherit a fortune. If we take the time to examine the complexity of the money thing, we’ll find lots of irony. A boatload of inherited dough could possibly keep us happy for a year — maybe. Money does not exempt us from life’s travails: taxes, death, and a Pu Pu Platter of other stuff that can have us spinning out on a daily basis. The very nature of being alive is to have curve balls thrown at us when we least expect it — inheriting a fortune doesn’t stop the curve balls — it may cause more. Also, money can lead to anxiety; we might be up at night worrying about losing it. Money must be managed properly, and it involves responsibility. I’ll bet my nickels that the guy who wrote this also knew about the idea of money and respect. I’ll bet he knew that money cannot buy respect — we need to earn that. So, perhaps you may get a year out of your fortunate inheritance. But remember, easy come; easy go.
The last line of this proverb is the one that is the most interesting. All the lines before this one are measured in linear time: hours, days, months and years. The last line can create a projection of an outcome — happiness for a lifetime — but it can’t be measured, and that is why it’s compelling and makes us think. This is quite a riddle regarding happiness, and we know this word has been studied, quantified and qualified by experts — human beings love to measure stuff. But, there is a simplicity to this last line, also. Here is why it’s so simple, and yet so profound. When we help someone, we have no idea of what the help will do for that person. Furthermore, helping someone else can take many forms — money is only one method of helping a person. It’s an arbitrary decision, and we have all of the power as to how the decision will be made. This, in and of itself, is a good deal for the helper right from the jump, because it feels empowering. Then, the good stuff can happen, and go charging in to the future. This is where the helper gets to witness unlimited and unknown possibilities. We get to be part of a person’s story, and their story can make us feel good — about ourselves.
China is an old soul of a culture, and the above proverb is an example of some hard-won wisdom. Given this, if we kick around long enough in this life, we might figure out a few things. We may learn about a thing called karma. We may learn that what we put out to the world may come back to us. Finally, we may’ve found that the old axiom “It’s better to give than to receive” is true, and that we all have a shot at this thing called happiness.