Jul 11, 2009

The Very Wise are Happy, and the Stupid are very Sad

ST July 11, 2009
In this meritocracy, there's no time to smell the roses

I REFER to Thursday's letter by Mr Anil Bhatia, 'Wealthy and yet unhappy - how come, Singapore?'

There is a systemic flaw in our meritocratic system where we strive to be the best in everything, in meeting wants, in careers, in infrastructure. In the process, our human capital is put through various stress tests from a young age until retirement and even the grave.

The young are put to a stress test the minute they start formal education at primary level with homework and remedial classes. School holidays are filled with more lessons, remedial classes and co-curricular activities for upper secondary students. To gain entry to top junior colleges or polytechnics, students must achieve an aggregate score of eight points or less, compared to 10 to 15 points years earlier. How not to be stressed out?

Young adults struggle with work from demanding bosses who expect 24/7 due diligence from employees. Many in this age group struggle to acquire material wealth at the expense of pro-family, procreation activities. Mature workers worry about job security and those who are retrenched often remain chronically unemployed for a long while. Many in this age group (45 to 55) are most vulnerable, with massive expenses to take care of, such as children's education, housing loans, elderly parents' medical bills and retirement expenses. How to be happy?

The elderly are also vulnerable as their children may fall into the mature age group who are either struggling to maintain their livelihoods or unemployed.

With little financial support from their children, many are forced to work as cleaners or do other manual work with their limited skills. Retirees who have exhausted their Central Provident Fund savings are forced to go back to work with limited scope of employment in the current economic climate.

There is hardly any stage in the human cycle where we can slow down and
make an effort to smell the roses in society.

Roland Ang

To understand the topic of happiness, we must first understand an important point - happiness is the only thing that we ever really want. Whether we realise it or not, literally all our actions and behaviours are based on the same ultimate motivation. We are always either seeking to move towards happiness, or to move away from suffering.

It could be a child asking for a toy or ice-cream. It could be a CEO busily building MNCs. It could be a student slogging for his exams. It could be an old man about to commit suicide. It could be a dog chasing a ball, or a cockroach running away from an insecticide attack. In all cases, the ultimate underlying purpose is always the same - to move towards happiness, and away from suffering.

But we do not move with equal skill and efficiency. A tiny minority of the human race are very, very good at it - they are the wise ones. The majority of us are clumsy at it - when happiness occurs, it occurs more like a random accident or a stroke of good luck. And some of us are downright bad at it. These are the people who find that their lives are plagued by anger, fear and pain .... day after day, year after year.

A thought for the weekend. If the ultimate motivation of every human being is happiness, then the world's most successful people are those who are happy every day. That is the only logical benchmark. It doesn't matter whether the person is a villager, a housewife, a top doctor or the president of a nation. After all, they all have the same goal. Their goal is to be happy.

So the happiest person among them is the winner.

73 comments:

Ray said...

Unfortunately, the search space for happiness isn't linear.

Cheers,
Ray

Anonymous said...

As humans we live in two worlds. There is the external physical world of work, family and friends that we travel in. Then there is the world of our mind and imagination. It is a virtual reality that can appear and feel just as real. When it comes to your emotions the virtual world of your mind can be more real.

Anonymous said...

Ultimately it's all virtual, even your work, family and friends. Whatever they mean to you is whatever meaning your mind attaches to them.

keisimone said...

Hi Mr Wang,

I am curious.

You use the word wise 2 times.

First time in your title.

The second time in this line

"But we do not move with equal skill and efficiency. A tiny minority of the human race are very, very good at it - they are the very wise."

Are you trying to be ironic? I am not sure. I think you didn't really mean wise in the same way in both your title and in that line.

Please explain.

Mr Wang Says So said...

No, I did not intend any irony.

Happiness comes quite easily & naturally for little children. But beyond that age of innocence, it is wisdom that guides human beings towards happiness.

Here I mean happiness of a more lasting, regular and consistent nature, rather than the "random accident" type of happiness.

CK said...

http://ckmuse.blogspot.com/2009/06/being-happy.html

thespinsterpurse said...

Mr Wang,

I agree with most of your post, and would like to offer my perspective on the last line

"So the happiest person among them is the winner."

I guess there is no happiest person. I'm either happy, or I'm not. If I'm contented, have a comfortable relationship with the Self, and have a sense of purpose, no other person can be happier, or happy-but-less happy than me.

Happiness is cannot be compared. For comparison is the root of unhappiness. Or so I think. :)

Anonymous said...

I know the secrets to find true happiness...

mrdes said...

Sometimes I feel I can be happy and be myself only when I am writing, when I am in my virtual world that is...the rest involves just compromises and pretences under the weight of social expectations. There is a price for everything - including freedom to this virtual world. Like the Great Man said himself: There is no free lunch! I just spend as much time doing things I am happy doing, with no thoughts of money, purpose...

Anonymous said...

Happiness is temporary, contentment is forever?

yamizi said...

Sir,

I like this post.

It's very encouraging =)

Jonathan Wong said...

I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Wang's two assertions:

1. Everyone's ultimate goal in life is happiness
2. Thus, the most successful people in life are those who are the happiest

However, somewhere along our evolution, the majority of civilized people started equating happiness with earning lots of money.

There are a few possible reasons why people will equate money with happiness:

1. Because "things" make people happy, and the more money you have, the more "things" you can buy. Coincidentally, the more expensive the "thing" is, the happier you will be once you buy it.

2. Because people view wealth as a scoreboard of life. The higher your score is, the happier you are.

3. Because from young, your government, parents, and society drills into you that wealth equals happiness.

Anonymous said...

Most people are too bogged down with debt, bills and mortgages to find happiness.

Many people are too bogged down with work or caring for family to even think about happiness.

Maybe they are already happy. Maybe they are unhappy. But they are probably too busy to think about it.

CK said...

Read 'Affluenza' by Oliver James.

Anonymous said...

Happiness comes from within yourself. If your mind is troubled, no external factors can make your happy. If your mind is at peace, no troubles can bring you dow :D

Anonymous said...

I think Mr Wang's conclusion is too simplistic. Happiness cannot be a barometer for success in life, because one could be a rapist, a mass murderer, or even living an entirely inane parasitic life and still claim to be successful through feelings of happiness. Of course, you could argue that the 'happiness' they acquire from such activities is not the equivalent to that of other activities, but good luck proving that objectively. You'd need an entire philosophy to back that up, not one line axioms.

ted said...

seems that the arguements posited here are very similar to those of the arguments for and against utililarianism...

Anonymous said...

Are you suggesting that we are all hedonists?

Anonymous said...

I think the last sentence itself is flawed.

The happiest person ? Why would happiness be graded?
The winner ? There can be millions of winners not just one.

Stupid people can also be happy. Happiness is really really not abt having this or that. It is others who make us think so.

So and so has got this condo --> WOW! Isnt that happiness ? Answer is no.

As long as you know the meaning of happiness, even a birthday celebration in a 3 room HDB flat can be the happiest thing u experience.

In fact, the more redundant things u have, the more chances u are unhappy.

Mr Wang Says So said...

I think that a few readers are not quite seeing my points, but are projecting their own interpretations onto what I say.

But for a topic like this, I can't say that I'm surprised. :)

Mr Wang Says So said...

Anyway, I explain my post again. If:

(1) "success" means achieving your goals; and

(2) everyone has the same goal of happiness

then success simply means being happy.

I did not say anything about what you must do or what you must have, in order to be happy.

Some people here may have the impression that when I say "stupid" and "wise", I am referring to the more worldly senses of these words, eg "stupid" being people who do badly in school, or wise being people who are successful in their careers etc.

That is not what I meant. People who read my post in that sense are ... errr, somewhat challenged themselves.

I meant "wise" as in ultimately exemplified by, say, a Buddha or a Jesus.

And "foolish" as in foolish people who fail the most badly in seeing the bigger picture of their lives.

lobo said...

unfortunately, one's happiness may also be built upon another's unhappiness. Anon (July 12, 2009 6:47 PM)post is an example... i.e the rapists, the murders, etc.

Thus, the way to 'ultimate' happiness seem to be anarchy. A balance has to be stuck somewhere.

Anonymous said...

You write until so complicated. Let me explain in Singaporean terms.

People are kiasu. They want to have both Happiness and Wealth. However, both of them are very fickle partners. People are scared of the scenario where they end up with neither Happiness nor Wealth. In order to have some form of fallback, they do whatever they need to do to at least have some time with Wealth as Happiness can sometimes be very elusive, especially in Singapore if you don't have Wealth to help.

Note that sometimes, Happiness leaves you because of factors beyond your control, for example, when there is war in your country. In such circumstances, Wealth looks to be quite an attractive backup companion.

Mr Wang Says So said...

The Happiness vs Wealth dichotomy is a false one.

After all, a person can be unhappy and poor; or unhappy and rich; or happy and poor; or happy and rich.

All these permutations are possible. Which only tells you that happiness/unhappiness is quite a separate topic from wealth/poverty.

Mr Wang Says So said...

Lobo:

Errr, I actually think that that entire argument is ... garbage. Just my own view.

I could point out many flaws in that argument, but the nutshell version is that I don't think that there is any true happiness in hurting others. You may get some superficial thrills, but even those won't last. Because karma bites back.

(As I said, that's just my own view).

Mr Wang Says So said...

"Are you suggesting that we are all hedonists?"

That depends on what your idea of hedonism is, and whether you equate happiness with pleasure.

Anonymous said...

"To understand the topic of happiness, we must first understand an important point - happiness is the only thing that we ever really want."

Maybe this is not true. Maybe this is the fundamental flaw. Maybe there is more to life than mere happiness.

Why do I - and not Mr Wang - say so?

Because I have known a very happy person, who is happy regardless of any and every thing.

She is happy every moment of her life; like a child without the slightest hint or notion of anxiety at all.

She has Down's Syndrome.

Anonymous said...

hannibal lector (silence of the lamb) is perfectly happy eating grey mass. To me, he is the "wise" one, knowing what he wants (may not be most ppl cup of tea though), getting what he wants to make him happy and not accomodating to social norms.

the above is just to illustrate what ppl deem to be happiness.

Diggo

Anonymous said...

i think it is more accurate to say...people generally gravitates towards life. happiness is just an aspect of life.

the people most at PEACE with themselves are those who embrace...all aspects of life or what their humanity represents - the sad, the good and the ugly.

under your narrow definition, we may be led to conclude dictators and rulers are the happiest because, they basically define what happiness or fulfillment for all of us. if so, papians must be the happiest and most fulfilled people in sg?

Mr Wang Says So said...

If a dictator is happy, then he is happy.

If a child with Down's syndrome is happy, then she is happy.

If you are happy, then you are happy.

If a mass murderer is happy, then he is happy.

If a rich man is happy, then he is happy.

If a poor man is happy, then he is happy.

If a famous pop star is happy, then he is happy.

Whether you think that a person is happy or not,

or should be happy or not,

or deserves happiness or not,

or should or should not act or behave in a certain way

is quite a different story from whether the person is happy or not.

(Of course, I am not specifically saying here that anyone be rich or poor, or a dictator, or a mass murderer, or a famous pop star, or whatever.

I am after all discussing happiness, not jobs or occupations or whatever else.)

Mr Wang Says So said...

"the people most at PEACE with themselves are those who embrace...all aspects of life or what their humanity represents - the sad, the good and the ugly."


Yep ... They are happy.

Mr Wang Says So said...

"under your narrow definition, we may be led to conclude dictators and rulers are the happiest because, they basically define what happiness or fulfillment for all of us"


Really?

Funny, I never thought that they defined happiness for me. I never even thought that I defined happiness for myself.

Happiness is your own state of mind, your own emotional state. If you had to describe it, you might say that it includes, say, peace? love? contentment? bliss? joy? passion? serenity? excitement?

Beyond that, what's there to define? Do you not know how you feel? Does a feeling need a definition, before it is a feeling?
Do definers of X therefore become X?

Anonymous said...

you have kids right? do you not expect your kids to live by YOUR house rules? now if your kids failed to live by the standards impose on them by YOU, do you think your kids can be ... "happy"?

similarly, we need to conform to someone's idea of....a "proper code of conduct" which. failing to live by that code of conduct or route to "success"/"fulfillment" in life, you can be pressured to be..unhappy?

"If a mass murderer is happy, then he is happy."

but i suppose you are not trying to "moralize happiness" so in that case...

...according to your heading, the murderer must be "very wise"? :)

Christopher Ng Wai Chung said...

Hi Mr. Wang,

Congratulations on your latest book. I just want to add a few points to the food for thought that you raised.

A lot of Singaporeans are unhappy because of what other Singaporeans have and they don't. They are not unhappy because of something fundamental that they lack.

It's like being stuck in Primary school. Your classmate has 99% but you only have 92% for an exam.

Most of us are working adults who no longer need to conform to some KPI set by societies standards or that of the government.

Singaporeans can happily co-exist with each other if they learnt to create their own benchmarks for personal satisfaction.

Suppose I may hang out with a rich investment banker but I do contribute to the relationship because of my deeper insight into human relationships.

Attaining happiness is something Singaporeans should take responsibility for.

Regards

The Fool said...

"If a dictator is happy, then he is happy. .. etc"

So if you are happy you are happy; and happy is just what you make yourself to be regardless of everything and anything.

Everyone can be happy anytime, every time, all the time, in riches or poverty, in plenty or want, in sickness or in health, whatever!

You see the meaninglessnes?

It is like calling all colours red. And everything is red. Then, really,we have become colour blind and are no longer can seeing colour. There is no distinction, ie either you cant or wont see the distinction, and you really have lost the notion the colour, and whats left is an empty word.

So just to say if you are happy you are happy, you no longer understand nor see life anymore. You have failed or closed your eyes and mind to the various shades of life and all its pains, difficulties and questions, eg what is the meaning and purpose of life, etc.

You have, really, become a fool, like the girl with Down's Syndrome.

And just as anyone can be a fool, so anyone can be happy.

So I am happy but it dosen't change a thing. I am still in want or plenty, sickness or health, victorious or defeated.

I still ponder what's next; if tomorrow comes.

Life goes on.

But life is for life.

Mr Wang Says So said...

"you have kids right? do you not expect your kids to live by YOUR house rules? now if your kids failed to live by the standards impose on them by YOU, do you think your kids can be ... "happy"?"


LOL .... That is OF COURSE possible.

Or did you think that obeying your own parents in every instance is what would make you happy?

Mr Wang Says So said...

"Everyone can be happy anytime, every time, all the time, in riches or poverty, in plenty or want, in sickness or in health, whatever!"


I don't think so.

Are you, for instance, happy all the time, every time, etc etc?

I think such people would be quite rare/

Mr Wang Says So said...

"So just to say if you are happy you are happy, you no longer understand nor see life anymore. You have failed or closed your eyes and mind to the various shades of life and all its pains, difficulties and questions, eg what is the meaning and purpose of life, etc. ...."



LOL. That is your interpretation. Your view seems to be that for someone to be happy, he must fail or close his eyes or mind to this or that.

That's your view. Not mine. Where in my post did I ever suggest such a thing?

Mr Wang Says So said...

"So I am happy but it dosen't change a thing. I am still in want or plenty, sickness or health, victorious or defeated."

Not sure what your point is here? Are you saying that a person cannot be happy, if he is "in want", or "ill" or "defeated"?

Mr Wang Says So said...

"...according to your heading, the murderer must be "very wise"?"


Nope. See my comment at July 13, 2009 11:21 AM, about karma biting back. Also, see my comment at July 11, 2009 3:15 PM, about true happiness. I also think that murder is unwise.

Mr Wang Says So said...

"Attaining happiness is something Singaporeans should take responsibility for."


I agree with you, Chris. It's not limited to just "Singaporeans" though. It's people in general.

If you refer back to Anil Bhatia's post, the essential point which I disagree with is as follows. Anil suggests that basically, happiness is very difficult in Singapore because of a range of external factors, such as:

(1) young students being subject to stress in schools

(2) young adults being subject to work stress

(3) older adults being subject to fears about job insecurity

(4) the elderly being too poor

etc etc etc. In other words, he points to a whole range of different things in Singapore, and concludes, "See? See? See? That's why we cannot be happy in Singapore. We cannot be happy until our meritocratic system is changed."

I don't dispute that (1) to (4) are factually true. But I personally wouldn't subscribe to Anil's underlying philosophy - that your happiness is so dependent on all these external factors.

I don't think, for example, that I need to wait for the meritocratic system to be changed, before I can feel happy.

Do you?

It's prety

Anonymous said...

so now you are saying...happiness is subjected to certain "preconditions" or....your preferred choice of word - karma qualified.

but you also said..


"Funny, I never thought that they defined happiness for me. I never even thought that I defined happiness for myself.

Happiness is your own state of mind, your own emotional state. If you had to describe it, you might say that it includes, say, peace? love? contentment? bliss? joy? passion? serenity? excitement?

Beyond that, what's there to define? Do you not know how you feel? Does a feeling need a definition, before it is a feeling?
Do definers of X therefore become X?"

so do that statement( seems to be without preconditions since happiness is a state of mind) still hold true for a lawyer like you?

angela said...

"the people most at PEACE with themselves are those who embrace...all aspects of life or what their humanity represents - the sad, the good and the ugly."


Yep ... They are happy.

I fully agree on this.. And that's what I am trying to do and also nurture my kids.

Pls keep on writing. I enjoy reading every single bit!

Regards ;)

Anonymous said...

Hi Mr Wang

I've been reading your blog for awhile now but have not put any comments before.

Why is everyone on a quest to be happy. Is that the fundamentals of all living creatures. To be happy. To better themselves?

Just a thought.

Mr Wang Says So said...

"so do that statement( seems to be without preconditions since happiness is a state of mind) still hold true for a lawyer like you?"

----

LOL. What do you mean, there are no preconditions for happiness as a state of mind? I didn't say that. That's your view, not mine.

I said that the PAP does not define happiness for me. And that definitions are just that - definitions - and in themselves do not affect the nature of happiness. Eg maybe Oxford dictionary defines happiness like this; maybe Collins dictionary defines happiness like that, etc etc.

So? Do you need definitions to know what happiness is?

Mr Wang Says So said...

"Why is everyone on a quest to be happy. Is that the fundamentals of all living creatures. To be happy. To better themselves?"

Aha ... But why would you want to better yourself?

Because you would feel good about it? Satisfied? Happy, perhaps? ;)

You see ... you cannot escape! Happiness is always your motivation.

Christopher Ng Wai Chung said...

Mr. Wang,

Could it be possible that some readers disagree with you that happiness is the ultimate goal for everyone out there ?

I read about a sad account of South Koreans students preparing for examinations. In one particular interview, the student said that happiness is secondary to him in the pursuit for a seat in University. The most important matter to him is allowing his family to save 'face' when he gets that seat in a University.

We're still quite Asian-minded in Singapore so perhaps after trundling through the education system, people just can't accept that happiness is a choice and much of what we strived for is simply trying to gain "face" for our loved ones.

Regards

Mr Wang Says So said...

Ah, Chris.

This is the key. The deepest underlying motivation of everyone is always happiness. It is just that most people do not realise this, of if they do, they forget.

For example, the South Korean student is motivated to seek a place in university. Why?

Because he wants his family to have face. Why?

Because he feels that if his family does not have face, they will experience humiliation, shame etc.

Why does he want his family to avoid that experience? Because he would feel so bad about it.

In other words, he would suffer. He would not be happy.

So you see, his goal of seeking a place in university is still motivated by his desire to seek happiness and avoid suffering.

----

What we often forget is that whatever we do, the deepest underlying motivation is happiness.

And the forgetting is the danger. Because when we forget, we often would pursue that deepest motivation in stupid ways.

Eg a student may possibly endure years of great suffering and unhappiness to get into university;

and then endure years of great suffering and unhappiness to graduate from university;

and then endure years of great suffering and unhappiness in a job that he hates, etc etc ....

... which is all very stupid, because his deepest underlying motivation was never to seek suffering and unhappiness, but the opposite.

So if you define success by whether a person achieves his own goal, then this student is a failure. For years and years, he has consistently failed to achieve his only true goal.

Intrigue said...

The way I see it, it's actually very simple. Let me try to reframe the proposition for better clarity. I agree with MrWangSaysSo's assertions, but they need to be expanded to capture the essence of this discussion:

(1) "success" means achieving your goals;

(2) everyone has the same goal of happiness;

(3) happiness is a subjective concept, its definition is personal to the individual, and it is a state of mind;

(4) the pursuit of material wealth is ancillary, and irrelevant for the purposes of this discussion, to the goal of seeking happiness;

(5) nevertheless, all other things being equal, it cannot be disputed that when it comes to material wealth, more is better than less.

Therefore, everyone can be happy at all times, irrespective of one's level of material wealth, state of morality, or any other tangible barometers.

Those of us who continue with the incessant pursuit of material wealth do so for various reasons. To some, being rich equates to happiness (in their view). To others, it is just a pragmatic way of living life. There are people who may not even have a reason for accumulating wealth - they have just been conditioned to do so since young and have never considered any other alternatives. However, it doesn't really matter. Having more or less money should not in itself result in one being happier or less happy (unless that person's sole definition of happiness = more money, which is rare and, if that were the case, truly unfortunate).

Scroll through this entire page of comments and apply the above (no. (3) in particular), and you will find that this reconciles all the viewpoints and perspectives which have been put forward.

My own definition of happiness is "being able to do the things I would like to do". I suppose that could be extended to also include "being able to accept the inability to do the things I am not able to, and the ability to know the difference" which could arguably be summarised as "content ment", although I prefer to keep the two concepts separate.

Anonymous said...

The problem, Mr Wang, is that we do not live in a vacuum. Yes, we can make certain conscious choices to be happy. But there are also many many situations in which constraints are placed upon our lives.

I think it would be stupid to force yourself to think that you are happy when a certain event clearly makes you unhappy. Sure, there are things you can do to alleviate the unhappiness but that doesn't take away from the fact that the event is an unhappy one.

This is especially so in a small country in Singapore where it is hard to escape from the maddening crowd. If you are someone who has to take the crowded MRT for 2 hours everyday, you can try to find ways to be positive and maybe even find some insight from it but it still doesn't change the fact that the ride is not very enjoyable.

To deny the existence of unhappiness (or the absence of happiness if you want) in every situation is, to me, a denial of reality and a sign of immaturity because someone who believes this will never empathise with others who are suffering. Buddhism taught us that life is suffering. Christianity tells us we are all sinners.

The reason why I mention wealth is because during the periods of unhappiness, wealth may be a source of comfort. For example, you have a loved one who is very sick, if you are wealthy, at least you will have the means to alleviate his pain as much as possible or help him towards a quicker recovery.

To say that those who are struggling to survive are stupid because they are unhappy is callous indeed. Those who are poor but can survive by living off the land or some other means can certainly afford to be laid-back but in crowded Singapore, do you see that many options?

Of course, I am not advocating we all wallow in self-pity but too much happiness makes a person shallow. Remember the story of The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde?

Anonymous said...

Just an observation, many people seem to think that happiness is a destination or something that can be attained. However, true happiness is a journey. During the journey, you learn about the ups and downs of life. It is like the yin and the yang. Without the downs, you will never appreciate the ups.

Mr Wang Says So said...

Nope. I never read it. As for this statement of yours:

"Buddhism taught us that life is suffering"

.... I should also add that Buddhism explained why life is suffering. And that the explanation has nothing to do with whether the MRT train is crowded or not.

The Buddhist explanation, however, would go quite some way to support my blog title:

"The Very Wise are Happy, and the Stupid are very Sad".

Anonymous said...

I brought up Buddhism because there will always be unhappy (suffering) and happy (joy) situations. It is about how you deal with them that will bring you true happiness rather than thinking that happiness is something you can hold on to.

Happiness is not about reaching goals. It is about experiencing life while in pursuit of those goals. To that end, I disagree with you that happiness is an end-state that we are all trying to move to (I am not a Buddhist so I am not sure whether nirvana truly exists).

Faith Fool said...

Mr Wang,

I'm not familiar with Buddhist teachings, but I've always wondered whether it's the other way round?

That 'The Happy Are Very Wise, and The Sad are Very Stupid'?

After all, it's the Wise Ones who recognise right away that their ultimate goal in life is the pursuit of happiness. So they simply aim directly for whatever it is that brings them happiness.

The Stupid Ones (or Foolish Ones) are those who get distracted. They end up searching for happiness on a very circuitous route (like the Korean student mentioned earlier), and end up thinking they must go through a long arduous journey of doing what makes them very unhappy in order to achieve happiness in some distant future.

If things work out, and these Foolish Ones find happiness eventually then well and good. But sometimes the circuitous route takes them further and further away from their original goal of finding happiness...

I think the problem is that we don't always know what makes us happy. We spend tremendous amounts of effort striving for what we THINK will make us happy, but sometimes we can be way off the mark.

Anonymous said...

In Singapore, only those with the money can afford happiness. That, my friend, is a fact.

Anonymous said...

spoken like a true lawyer :)

Anonymous said...

Keep an open heart, and try out this book. Free your mind as a leaf on a flowing stream brings where forth...

The Art of Happiness (a Handbook for Living) (Paperback)

Mr Wang Says So said...

"Happiness is not about reaching goals. It is about experiencing life while in pursuit of those goals. To that end, I disagree with you that happiness is an end-state that we are all trying to move to (I am not a Buddhist so I am not sure whether nirvana truly exists)."


I didn't say that happiness is an "end-state". You did.

I also didn't say that our deepest underlying motivation SHOULD or should not be to move towards this or that.

I merely said that our deepest underlying motivation IS to move towards happiness and away from suffering.

And that this is related to everything we do .... whether we realise it or not.

Go think about it. Why did you brush your teeth today? Or take a pee? Or eat breakfast? Or go to work? Or read my blog? Or take a walk? Or stroke your pet cat? Or chat with your friend? Or sell your shares? Or buy a book? Or scowled at someone you disliked? Or smiled at someone you liked?

All these acts are ultimately motivated by your desire to move towards happiness or away from suffering, whether you realise it or not.

Eg you brush your teeth because you have made it a habit. You made it a habit because you understood that it would prevent tooth decay. You wanted to avoid tooth decay because it's painful. Thus the deepest underlying motivation of brushing your teeth is still to move away from suffering.

When you brushed your teeth this morning, you probably didn't think: "I am doing this to move away from suffering, towards happiness." But as usual it was still your deepest underlying motivation.

It doesn't matter how simple or complicated your action is, see? For example, you could have an angry argument with your husband / wife / boyfriend / girlfriend, and it could be some very long, messy matter that you are arguing about. Your argument could be long enough to last two hours, or five hours, or ten days. Maybe you want to prove that the other person is wrong or unreasonable; maybe you want the other person to understand you better; maybe you want the other person to change his or her behaviour in certain ways.

But in the end, if you trace it all down, the deepest underlying motivation is still what I said. Consciously or unconsciously, you believe that you would be happier, or would suffer less,

if the other person admitted he was wrong; or if he understood you better; or if he agreed to behave in the way you want him to behave.

So the deepest underlying motivation is the same.


-------------

Consider your own explanation here:

"Happiness is not about reaching goals. It is about experiencing life while in pursuit of those goals."

Then I might ask you - why should a person pursue those goals?

You would say, "It is for experiencing life".

Then I would ask you, "What is the purpose of experiencing life?".

And you would say, "It is for the sake for happiness."

There, thank you very much. Once again, the deepest underlying motivation is happiness.

Happiness is the only thing that has no further underlying motivation. Happiness is itself the reason for wanting happiness.

Anonymous said...

Lol, a very perplexing subject and many appears confuse. Kudos to those who may have got the idea and others who tries to explain it. Many cannot see the wood for the trees it seems.

Anon July 13, 2009 7:03 PM says:

"I think it would be stupid to force yourself to think that you are happy when a certain event clearly makes you unhappy. Sure, there are things you can do to alleviate the unhappiness but that doesn't take away from the fact that the event is an unhappy one.

This is especially so in a small country in Singapore where it is hard to escape from the maddening crowd. If you are someone who has to take the crowded MRT for 2 hours everyday, you can try to find ways to be positive and maybe even find some insight from it but it still doesn't change the fact that the ride is not very enjoyable."

Let us say you are a choice on 2 paths, one will take you through a beautiful garden fresh and sweet, but this path will lead you to a horrible death. The other is muddy, rocky and has a powerful stench, but at the end of it is a beautiful cottage next to a lake and your loved one waiting for you. Which one will you take? You have a choice and obviously you will take the path that leads you to your love.

The sickening 2 hour ride on the MRT is like that too. You take it because it leads you to your happiness. You don't take the MRT because it is leading you to your suffering. No one does something that makes them unhappy without a reason.

Happiness is a state of the mind, at best temporary because no one can be happy every minute every day of his life. It is the seeking of happiness that motivates people and what they want for themselves, but that does not mean everyone can achieve it. In fact I doubt anyone can ever achieve it because if you do, there is no reason to continue living. Being the creatures that we are, once there is no desire, no motivation then life itself is meaningless. I do however, believe many people live reasonably happy lives.

yamizi said...

anon @ July 13, 2009 7:03 PM,

"Buddhism taught us that life is suffering."

That's the introduction and somehow you'd conveniently missed the main gist in Buddism --- that is to bring ourselves away from sufferings and moving towards happiness =)

yamizi said...

And I guess everyone must be happy (or somehow trying to reach the level of happiness by) contributing to the increasing entries in this entry!

Amazing!

The said...

I think there are some confusion here, judging from some of posts. Most of the readers do agree with WSS, though some may not realise it - that ultimately, we seek to achieve happiness. That goal should not be too contentious. What differs, among people as shown in the posts here, is how and what makes them happy.

For the truly wise or worldly ones, simple pleasures like raising wholesome kids will make them happy. Simple meals of tofu and potato leaves will make them happy. In other words, they don't need much to be happy.

OTOH, there are those who can only be truly happy if they have 3 lamboghinis, 4 ferraris and 5 mansions. Some women need a 5-carat diamond ring every birthday to feel happy. And they can be happy with such material wealth.

And there are those who despite their billions, are very unhappy - broken home, broken marriages, etc.

So, we all want to be happy. There are many routes to happiness. How you find happiness may be peculiar to yourself. The wise ones will realise this, or remind themselves constantly of this fact, and adjust their lives to live life in the fullest in the present, instead of the past, or the future.

Anonymous said...

Always look forward to your new post every morning, before I start work proper. It never fails to give me food for thought for the day or the week.

The concept in this post is closely aligned with the buddhism teaching, of which I believed totally. Happiness is really a substainable state of mind, not "sudden or by accident". This reminds me of the books of Dalai Lama which stresses this repeatedly.

Thanks Mr Wang for bringing this up, offering a refreshed outlook again.:)

keisimone said...

Hi Mr Wang,

I havent checked back your reply for a while.

I thought in your article TITLE you are trying to convey the message that wise people are people who understood that being happy is the ultimate aim hence those who are happy are successful.

which of course you confirmed in one of the earlier comments.

Then your second use of the word wise, in equating a kind of material, conventional success as "wise" confused me. hence i asked if you were being ironic.

Maybe i am being pedantic.

Anyway i feel happy just commenting :)

so take pride that you have made a difference in someone else's life.


Have a happy day!~

Anonymous said...

all the comments in this post sounds very much like a discussion in a GP class :D

diggo

Mr Wang Says So said...

Aha ... But I didn't. I merely said that a tiny minority of people are more skilled and more efficient at moving towards happiness.

I didn't say anything about who they are; where they live; what careers they have etc etc.

Anonymous said...

You are the one who said we are all trying to move towards happiness.

I am saying that this endless seeking of happiness is a cause of unhappiness. I am not saying one should not aim to attain goals but one needs to realise that it is not you who find happiness but rather, it is happiness who finds you.

Happiness is not a permanent state. There will always be unhappy times in between happy ones (plus the neutral ones, of course).

The trick is to treat every event with a certain detachment. Understand that the state of mind is impermanent. Tempering happy and sad emotions is the key to true happiness.

The tone of your post seem to suggest that everyone who is unhappy is stupid but as I have said, the situation is most likely temporary. It may also be very probable that people experience more unhappy times than happy ones in Singapore (or at least, that is how they feel). Many events are outside of one's control and one may experience a whole string of unfortunate events at the same time. Calling unhappy people stupid is just downright superficial. Perhaps a better term should be contentment/satisfaction rather than happiness, as in "How contented/satisfied are you with your life overall?" I do agree that some people are more easily satisfied (or laid-back or relaxed) than others. It has nothing to do with how good they are at moving towards happiness but how they shape their attitudes on life.

Maybe you are trying to be controversial but I certainly don't agree with the insinuation that the unhappy must be stupid.

keisimone said...

haha you are right.

i must be blind :)

Anonymous said...

hmmm...why does this post gather more replies than those posts that deal with things like...

price hikes
recession
"asian values"
IR jobs?

btw, a crowded MRT trip can be enjoyable, even if the guy next to you stinks to the max. SMS or call your boy/girlfriend, think of the next day's schedule, beat the next level on your PSP game etc etc. The sky's the limit.

If the dominant thought in your mind is that the MRT trip totally sucks, that's it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mr Wang, I would like to challenge the following opinions:

(1) young students being subject to stress in schools

That is a sweeping statement, and simply not true. I teach in an average school, where for every one student who is stressed, at least four other students are not stressed. Usually, it's the teachers who are the most stressed and upset; that students don't show much interest in their coming exams, or that Sec 4 and Sec 5 students possess the Math ability of only Sec 1 standards.

And I been in a few average schools to testify that this is pretty common.


(2) young adults being subject to work stress

I think most young adults lack financial planning. Most young adults pile huge debt upon themselves within just a few years of working; expensive marriages, new car, home.

I think stress levels could be lowered if young adults didn't have so much debt hovering above their heads like a sword.


(4) the elderly being too poor

Please Lah said...

Happiness is a choice.

Choice in this case is not whether you do something or you do not do something, nor is it whether you possess something, or you do not possess something.

Choice is a matter of your perspective. Hence, Happiness is a matter of your perspective and your attitude to life.

It's all in your head. Not what you do, possess, see. It's what you perceive.

There is always time to smell the roses. You choose not to. You give the excuse that you are busy.

Cat said...

Happiness isn't something that everyone strives towards.

Perhaps for some it's the avoidance of unhappiness; some seek the inner peace and calm, which is not the same as happiness.

I would not presume that everyone seeks happiness unless 'preferred state' equates to 'happiness'.

May I suggest that we are in fact wired to feel pleasure when we achieve something we strive for. The pleasure or displeasure we feel, reinforces our belief depending on what we learn based on the outcome. I will not discuss the morality/ethics/correctness of our what we strive towards.

As we grow more distant from our aims, we feel 'unhappier', and if we get closer to our goals, we feel 'happier'.

Which means that 'happiness' is an emotion with functions as a natural indicator; it constantly aligns you towards where you prefer (or you think you prefer).

Understand that while states of 'happiness' may be prolonged, it is never constant unless we have reached all our goals in life, which is highly improbable if not impossible.

This impossible state may be somewhat akin to the Buddhist concept of Nirvana, but may I suggest that this is not the same.

I have not discussed the concept of winning, because this suggests competition, which may not be everyone's cup of tea.

Seek to understand the self instead, and act accordingly. Establish the balance, and perhaps you will be better positioned to live.

joe said...

Hi Mr Wang,

This comes a bit late, but thanks for this post. I have been thinking about this issue myself, and have always agreed that our ultimate motivation/purpose is happiness.

I think finding what would really make me/us happy is the difficult part. What I used to think would make me happy now seems much less important. A friend whom I was discussing this with commented that maybe ignorance is bliss when it comes to trying to find out what makes you happy. (but i disagree)

I find your blog very insightful and applaud your attempts in replying all comments and in trying your best to pass on your insights. After reading all the comments for this post, I was very surprised to see that not once you have said "enough about this" or something to that effect, which I probably would have done.

Just to end with a quick question, and maybe you have posted it before but i missed, what is it that makes you happy/will make you happy through your life?

Regards,
Joe