Saturday, August 29, 2009

Verse 44: This or That

Verse Forty-Four
Fame or self: Which matters more?
Self or wealth: Which is more precious?
Gain or loss: Which is more painful?
He who is attached to things will suffer much.
He who saves will suffer heavy loss.
A contented man is never disappointed.
He who knows when to stop does not find himself in trouble.
He will stay forever safe.
~ Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English translation ~
For too many of us, our lives are marked by unquenchable desires. Whatever we have or we've been blessed with is never enough. We're always on the lookout for something bigger, better or more sensational.

It's like an addiction. In the beginning, little things excite us and bring great happiness. After awhile, the small things lose their luster and we need more numerous and exotic things to sustain the good vibes. And so, we keep amassing more doodads, gizmos, gadgets and people -- trying in vain to recapture the happiness high of our infancy. In time, no amount of possessions, fame, popularity, or fortune will do the trick. We end up drowning in a sea of accumulation, yet there's a deep hole in our hearts and souls.

For me, this is the great drawback to a life set on the pursuit of happiness. Laughter and smiles are not sustainable. For every mountain we scale, there is a valley beyond. For every stupendous joy, there is also pain and sadness. Happiness is but one facet of the roller coaster of life.

This is not to say that we shouldn't embrace happiness and good feelings when the opportunity presents itself. I am no nihilist. Being able to laugh, smile and find joy in this constant river of change is a healthy part of living. But a difficulty arises when the pursuit of happiness becomes the be-all, end-all of existence. It's a method to set anyone up for ultimate failure.

Contentment, on the other hand, IS sustainable. The contented person readily acknowledges that this life is filled with ups and downs, laughter and tears, yin and yang. Such a person embraces the entire panorama by accepting it for what it is.

When a person is content, there is no room for disappointment because every aspect this life has to offer is accepted like a long lost friend or relative.

This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

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