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The Secret of Happiness
Most of us believe that “to have” makes us happier than “not to have”. That to be famous makes us happier than to be ordinary. But, at times, many may begin to wonder and contradict the common belief, as they start to find out on their own that “to have” does not provide us with the solution to finding happiness. They find that, on the contrary, “not to have” can even make them happier. Likewise, some may scramble and strive to become this and that but once they have achieved their desired goal, they, in turn, long to be back to where they once were.

Years ago, I saw a documentary containing an interview with the President of East Timor. I found it fascinating. When the CNN correspondent asked him what he would do once his task of national reunification had been accomplished, he replied with bright, glittering eyes: “After my tenure and obligation as President, I will return to my home in the country and I will spend my time gardening and cultivating pumpkins.”

The Western reporter was bewildered and then laughed at what she thought was a joke from the President.

One day, I told the story to a Thai scholar who had had the opportunity to work for the United Nations and was working quite closely with the President. She relayed to him and his wife my reaction to his interview. The President was very impressed and surprised by the fact that people had actually taken an interest in his way of thinking and he and his wife sent me a book via this intermediary person as a token of appreciation.

Thus, the autographed biography of the President, who had directed the founding of a new country (East Timor), written by his wife, came into my hands. It is a page-turner for me and belongs on the high shelf of memorable books in my memory lane.

This account confirms that one’s life aspiration is, ultimately, not always, and invariably, “to possess” or “to have”. Not everyone wants “to be somebody” in order to make them happy and, sometimes, possessing and attaining leads not to happiness but stands in the way of access to happiness.

Sometimes one’s happiness rests more on being “ordinary” and “free from” social obligations than being famous and surrounded by an assortment of material indulgences.

Being an unknown, an ordinary person who has all the time in the world, can travel light anywhere he wishes, without carrying his own “self-image” and moves forward without burdens and worries. Isn’t this the kind of life aspiration for most people on the face of this earth?

How many people, though, can follow their heart’s desire?

What is it that impedes us from reaching life’s goal of attaining happiness? What is it that immerses us in a situation or a place and/or anything, without letting go or getting over it and prevents us from reaching the wished-for peace and calm? What is it that binds us in bondage and slavery?
Perhaps you will find the answer in the following apologue.

An old man had lived a long, happy life with family on an island, where he had a house, family, riches, freedom and all the time in the world. He felt he had a blessed life, no different from a king.

Nonetheless, and naturally, all things must come to an end. Such is the fact of life and truth of nature. One day he knew that his days were numbered and it was time for him to depart. He asked his children to take him to the beach for some air. He breathed in the fresh air of his beloved homeland, cherishing it in his lungs. His glance swept around to take in this prized possessions. Then, he slowly dropped on to his knees and grabbed two handfuls of sand, pronouncing to himself that his land was solely his and his alone, after which he collapsed and died.

When he came to, he found himself standing on a celestial site. Before him, there was a multitude of angels welcoming him into the land of long-lasting bliss. Once he had stepped up to the threshold, he stopped short, unable to step over it and pass into heaven. Something kept him, the newest of the divine beings, from proceeding further. Suspicious, the angel in charge searched him and found that his two fists were tightly clenching the sand. The angel told him to “let go” of his earthly belongings, otherwise he would not be able to enter the heavenly abode. However, the old man resisted, saying he could leave everything behind but to force him to leave the earth from his homeland was asking too much; it was impossible for him to comply. “This thing” represented his happy memories of earth and he was reluctant to part with it.
The old man’s refusal to let go was a violation of heaven’s rules so he would have to wait there in front of the heavenly threshold, unable to enter heaven proper. The same delegation of angels kept coming back to urge him to change his mind so that he could proceed into heaven but, however hard they tried, the old man kept refusing to “let go” of the dirt in his hands. The angels were at their wits’ end with his persistent refusal and had to leave him there on his own for many, many long decades.

One day, at long, long last, a new divinity was born into heaven. She was none other than the old man’s earthly granddaughter. When they met in front of heaven’s gate, Grandpa and Granddaughter rushed delightedly to embrace each other. The moment he threw himself at her, he unwittingly spread his hands, and all the sand in his fists fell to the ground. On seeing this, the angels took his and his granddaughter’s hands and quickly led them past the threshold into the inner heaven.

The minute the old man stepped over the threshold he was shocked and bewildered because the blissful heaven in front of him was none other than what had previously been in his possession when alive on earth. All his fortune had been transported into his heavenly abode and had long awaited a sole owner like before.
At the sight of this, the old man exclaimed softly to himself, regretting the lost time and nearly-lost opportunity:
“My! Had I known that blissful heaven was not to be found only on earth, I would have stepped into this heaven long ago.”

• About Tan V. Vijiramedhi

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Copyright © 2007-2015 TIME INTERNATIONAL MANAGEMENT ENTERPRISES CO., LTD. All rights reserved.
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