When will we ever be happy? Every morning we get up from bed, clean ourselves up and go to school or work and return home with family to have a warm meal. We eat well, travel well and for most of us, sleep well. When will that be enough?
It is said that we have progressed into the 1st World economy with one of the highest per capita nominal GDPs at $53k (US is $56k and China only $8.3k), and with all the creature comforts we can ever imagine, yet we are living through one of the most unhappy, emotionally unsatisfied period of our times.
Is this the age of great wealth as well as the age of restless discontentment? The age of abundance as well as the age of abandon?
The Straits Times a few weeks ago was a juxtaposition of two news: War-torn Syria (by Janice di Giovanni) and a local report entitled "Couple living in lorry finally move into flat" (by Teo Sam Jo). Both news reminded me about finding contentment in the simplest joys in life.
The first article entitled "Frozen life in wartime Syria" is a sad tale of absolute deprivation, sheer disappointment and lost hope. One suffered said: "I have not seen or eaten a tomato in a year." And he continued that "there are children who have been born in these five years who don't know the taste of fruit."
Thus far, in these five years, 470,000 have died and "nearly five million refugees; some six million displaced inside the battered country." That's about the size of our little red dot.
The writer reports that there is "hardly any vegetables, or flour to make bread. Some people make thin, tasteless soup from parsley, watercress and lettuce."
She continued with this depressing soliloquy: "After a while, you forget the book you were reading when the war started, or the love affair you had just ended. Your life is out on hold. With a terrible nonchalance, you get used to the sound of bombs falling. This is the background music in which we live our lives...Something else happens, as well, when wars continued for too long. The rest of the world grows tired of the photographs of the dead, the smashed hospitals and destroyed schools, tired of statistics on hunger and rape and how many shells have landed in civilian areas. Five years deadens compassion."
The second tale is about contentment personified in a couple who have spent nearly two years living in the back of a lorry. The husband is a rice deliver man and his wife a Vietnamese. They are expecting a child this August and they have just successfully applied for a rented two-room HDB flat. He said, "We were really happy when we got the keys."
They were tender and loving to each other and he was caressing her belly during the interview. Although he had no savings and some have offered to help, he nevertheless said: "We appreciate the thought. But there will still be expenses like milk powder after the baby is born. We can't keep taking money from others."
All they want now is a healthy baby and a permanent roof over their head. He said, "We want to buy a three-room flat, so he (baby) can have his own room. But for now, this is more than enough for both of us."
Lesson? I recall yesterday evening. I recall fetching my 6-year-old from childcare. She bounced into the car and rushed up to me shouting, "Daddy, daddy, look, look, I made this...look!" I paid scant attention, forced out a smile and muttered, "good, nice."
I admit that I was a bit annoyed that she had distracted my train of thought. I was on a one-track mind worrying about my children's future. How will they cope in this world? Will they do well in school? Will they be happy?
Then, this morning, after reading the news, I realised I have missed the moment, or the many moments even unknowingly. I have missed the simplest joys of life. It is ironic that I worry about whether they will be happy when I myself am struggling with it while they are just happy regardless.
In fact, if anything, my children and many others who have little and own nothing that they can boast about have taught me what enduring contentment means. It is definitely not a means to an end. Contentment is not a goal to be achieved at the end of a frantic race-rat like happiness is not a search or pursuit till we are spent, jaded or exhausted.
Contentment is not the security that comes with a show of who is richer, we owns more, who is smarter, who is humbler, who is more right (or righteous), and who is more successful. All that have its place (except for "righteous") but they cannot and ought never to take the place of the simplest joys in life that no money can ever hope to buy.
These joys are in the ordinary moments we slog all day to preserve only to offer the sun-set of our energy and passion to them when they avail themselves to us. The moments are captured in the faces of our kid, the time spent with them, the bedroom tickles, the kiss we plant on our spouse, the holding of hands, the whispers of sweet-nothings, and the silly jokes we share and laughing together not because they are silly, but because we are together.
Let me end by saying that contentment is not about how much we do, how much we make or how much we achieve. It is simply about how much we love, how much we pay attention, and how much we care. They are easily affordable and accessible. Alas, we always mistake what is free to worth little or nothing. But for those who offer such priceless moments to us, it means everything to them. And whether we know it or not, it is everything we will ever need and that should be more than enough for us. Cheerz.