1. THE PROBLEM or HAPPINESS By Lin Yutang(林语堂)
THE enjoyment of life covers many things: the enjoyment of ourselves, of home life,of trees, flowers, clouds, winding rivers and falling cataracts and the myriad things in Nature, and then the enjoyment of poetry, art, contemplation, friendship,conversation, and reading, which are all some form or other of the communion of spirits.
There are obvious things like the enjoyment of food, a gay parly or family reunion,an outing on a beautiful spring day; and less obvious things like the enjoyment of poetry, art and contemplation. I have found it impossible to call these two classes of enjoyment material and spiritual, first because I do not believe in this distinction, and secondly because I am puzzled whenever I proceed to make this classification.
How can I say, when I see a gay picnic party of men and women and old people and children, what part of their pleasures is material and what part spiritual? I see a child romping about on the grass plot, another child making daisy chains, their mother holding a piece of sandwich, the uncle of the family biting a juicy, red apple, the father sprawling on the ground looking at the sailing clouds,and the grandfather holding a pipe in his mouth.
Probably somebody is playing a gramophone, and from the distance there come the sound of music and the distant roar of the waves. Which of these pleasures is material and which spiritual? Is it so easy to draw a distinction between the enjoyment of a sandwich and the enjoyment of the surrounding landscape, which we call poetry?
Is it possible to regard the enjoyment of music which we call art, as decidedly a higher type of pleasure than the smoking of a pipe, which we call material?
This classification between material and spiritual pleasures is therefore contusing, unintelligible and untrue for me. It proceeds, I suspect, from a false philosophy, sharply dividing the spirit from the flesh, and not supported by a closer direct scrutiny of our real pleasures.
Or have I perhaps assumed too much and begged the question of the proper end of human life? I have always assumed that the end of living is the true enjoyment of it. It is so simply because it is so. I rather hesitate at the word "end" or "purpose. "
Such an end or purpose of life, consisting in its true enjoyment, is not so much a conscious purpose, as a natural attitude toward human life. The word "purpose" suggests too much contriving and endeavor.
The question that faces every man born into this world is not what should be his purpose, which he should set about to achieve,but just what to do with life, a life which is given him for a period of on the average fifty or sixty years?
The answer that he should order his life so that he can find the greatest happiness in it is more a practical question, similar to that of how a man should spend his weekend, than a metaphysical proposition as to what is the mystic purpose of his life in the scheme of the universe.
On the contrary, I rather think that philosophers who start out to solve the problem of the purpose of life beg the question by assuming that life must have a purpose.This question, so much pushed to the fore among Western thinkers, is undoubtedly given that importance through the influence of theology. I think we assume too much design and purpose altogether.
And the very fact that people try to answer this question and quarrel over it and are puzzled by it serves to show it up as quite vain and uncalled for. Had there been a purpose or design in life, it should not have been so puzzling and vague and difficult to find out.
The question may be divided into two: either that of a divine purpose, which God has set for humanity, or that of a human purpose, a purpose that mankind should set for itself.
As far as the first is concerned, I do not propose to enter into the question,because everything that we think God has in mind necessarily proceeds from our own mind; it is what we imagine to be in God''s mind, and it is really difficult for human intelligence to guess at a divine intelligence.
What we usually end up with by this sort of reasoning is to make God the color-sergeant of our army and to make Him as chauvinistic as ourselves; He cannot, so we conceive, possibly have a "divine purpose" and "destiny" for the world, or for Europe, but only for our beloved Fatherland.
I am quite sure the Nazis can''t conceive of God without a swastika arm-band. This Gott is always mil uns and cannot possibly be rnit ihnen . But the Germans are not the only people who think this way.
As far as the second question is concerned, the point of dispute is not what is, but what should be, the purpose of human life, and it is therefore a practical, and not a metaphysical question. Into this question of what should be the purpose of human life, every man projects his own conceptions and his own scale of values.
It is for this reason that we quarrel over the question, because our scales of values differ from one another. For myself, I am content to be less philosophical and more practical.
I should not presume that there must be necessarily a purpose, a meaning of human existence. As Walt Whitman says, "I am sufficient as I am. " It is sufficient that I live and am probably going to live for another few decades and that human life exists.
Viewed that way, the problem becomes amazingly simple and admits of no two answers.What can be the end of human life except the enjoyment of it?
It is strange that this problem of happiness, which is the great question occupying the minds of all pagan philosophers, has been entirely neglected by Christian thinkers.
The great question that bothers theological minds is not human happiness, but human"salvation" a tragic word. The word has a bad flavor for me, because in China I hear everyday some one talking about our "national salvation. "
Everybody is trying to "save" China. It suggests the feeling of people on a sinking ship, a feeling of ultimate doom and the best method of getting away alive.
Christianity, which has been described as " the last sigh of two expiring worlds" (Greek and Roman), still retains something of that characteristic today in its preoccupation with the question of salvation. The question of living is forgotten in the question of getting away alive from this world.
Why should man bother himself so much about salvation, unless he has a feeling of being doomed? Theological minds are so much occupied with salvation,and so little with happiness, that all -they can tell us about the future is that there will be a vague heaven, and when questioned about what we are going to do there and how we are going to be happy in heaven, they have only ideas of the vaguest sort,such as singing hymns and wearing white robes.
Mohammed at least painted a picture of future happiness with rich wine and juicy fruits and black-haired, big-eyed,passionate maidens that we laymen can understand. Unless heaven is made much more vivid and convincing for us, there is no reason why one should strive to go there,at the cost of neglecting this earthly existence.
As some one says, " An egg today is better than a hen tomorrow. " At least, when we''re planning a summer vacation,we take the trouble to find out some details about the place we are going to.
If the tourist bureau is entirely vague on the question, I am not interested; I remain where I am.
Are we going to strive and endeavor in heaven, as I am quite sure the believers n progress and endeavor must assume? But how can we strive and make progress when we are already perfect? Or are we going merely to loaf and do nothing and not worry?
In that case, would it not be better for us to learn to loaf while on this earth as a preparation for our eternal life?
If we must have a view of the universe, let us forget ourselves and not confine it to human life. Let us stretch it a little and include in our view the purpose of the entire creation the rocks, the trees and the animals.
There is a scheme of things (although "scheme" is another word, like "end" and "purpose", which I strongly distrust) I mean there is a pattern of things in the creation, and we can arrive at some sort of opinion, however lacking in finality, about this entire u-niverse, and then take our place in it.
This view of nature and our place in it must be natural,since we are a vital part of it in our life and go back to it when we die.
Astronomy,geology, biology and history all provide pretty good material to help us form a fairly good view if we don''t attempt too much and jump at conclusions.
It doesn''t matter if, in this bigger view of the purpose of the creation, man''s place recedes a little in importance. It is enough that he has a place, and by living in harmony with nature around him, he will be able to form a workable and reasonable outlook on human life itself.
2. Life is as easy as you live it By Cai Shangyao(蔡尚耀）
How do you cope when things are not going so well? When you are facing an impossible situation that human strength alone cannot overcome, you''d better face up to it and accept the world as it is. Instead of blaming fate or other people, make the best use of the situation which you find yourself in and get more fun out of life with the strength of your wisdom.
I saw a couple of lovers who wanted to get married but couldn''t. Their hearts were full of incomprehensible bitterness. By and by they realized that their sufferings were of no avail. They broke up cheerfully and happily, giving each other all sorts of friendly advice on living a respectable life.
Of course not everyone is capable of such sublime love, but there is something admirable about their wisdom in ridding themselves of that frustration in the pursuit of happiness and peace .
Let me tell you a thought-provoking adult fable. A man was roaming in the wilderness of a forest when all of a sudden he came across a hungry tiger. As the tiger started to pounce on him, the man scampered off as fast as he could run. But the tiger gave him no quarter. The man kept running until he came to a cliff edge. Standing near the cliff edge, the man said to himself: "Better to jump off the cliff than be mauled to death by the tiger. There might still be a chance of survival."
He plunged off the cliff and was lucky enough to be caught by a plum tree growing out of the rock face. He was thankful for his luck. Presently a loud roar came from deep within the cliff. It was a fierce lion looking up at him from the bottom of the cliff. The terrifying sound of the lion''s roar made his heart beat with fright. What was worse, he turned his head and found a black rat and a white rat biting energetically into the trunk of the plum tree.
He was dismayed for a moment, but then he willed himself not to panic. "Better fall to my death when the trunk is gnawed off by the rats than be killed by the lion." So he decided to brush aside the immediate danger he was in. Seeing that the plums grew very well, he plucked a few and started to eat. He thought those plums were the best he had ever tasted. He thought to himself: "If I have to die sooner or later, why not have a good sleep before death?" He found himself a fork in the tree and went to sleep immediately.
He awoke to find that both the black rat and the white rat had vanished, and so had the tiger and the lion. He climbed cautiously up the tree branches and scrambled onto the top of the cliff, escaping the peril.
It turned out that the hungry tiger, unable to restrain itself, had leapt down the cliff as he fell fast asleep. The black rat and the white rat heard the tiger''s roar and ran away in panic. Having jumped down the cliff, the tiger fought a fierce battle with the lion, and they both went away wounded.
The moral of the story is: Since the time of our birth, tribulation has been chasing us like a hungry tiger and death has been waiting like a fierce lion at the bottom of a cliff. And the alternation of day and night is like a black rat and a white rat who keep biting into the tree of our lives. One day, we''ll fall into the lion''s mouth.
Knowing that death is the worst thing that can happen, the best choice we can make is to enjoy comfortably the sweet fruits of our lives and go to sleep with ease of mind - with fewer desires and with a child''s heart.
Shanghai Star. 2004-04-29
3. Happiness, money and giving it away by Peter Singer (彼得·辛格)
WOULD you be happier if you were richer? Many people believe that they would be. But research conducted over many years suggests that greater wealth implies greater happiness only at quite low levels of income.
People in the United States, for example, are, on average, richer than New Zealanders, but they are not happier.
More dramatically, people in Austria, France, Japan and Germany appear to be no happier than people in much poorer countries like Brazil, Colombia and the Philippines.
Comparisons between countries with different cultures are difficult, but the same effect appears within countries, except at very low income levels, such as below US$12,000 (RM44,400) annually for the US.
Beyond that point, an increase in income doesn’t make a lot of difference to people’s happiness. Americans are richer than they were in the 1950s, but they are not happier. Americans in the middle-income range today — that is, a family income of US$50,000-$90,000 — have a level of happiness that is almost identical to well-off Americans, with a family income of more than US$90,000.
Most surveys of happiness simply ask people how satisfied they are with their lives. We cannot place great confidence in such studies because this kind of overall "life satisfaction" judgment may not reflect how much people really enjoy the way they spend their time.
My Princeton University colleague Daniel Kahneman and several co-researchers tried to measure people’s subjective well-being by asking them about their mood at frequent intervals during a day. In an article published in Science on June 30, they report that their data confirm that there is little correlation between income and happiness.
On the contrary, Kahneman and his colleagues found that people with higher incomes spent more time in activities that are associated with negative feelings, such as tension and stress. Instead of having more time for leisure, they spent more time at and commuting to work. They were more often in moods that they described as hostile, angry, anxious and tense.
Of course, there is nothing new in the idea that money does not buy happiness. Many religions instruct us that attachment to material possessions makes us unhappy.
The Beatles reminded us that money can’t buy us love. Even Adam Smith, who told us that it is not from the butcher’s benevolence that we get our dinner, but from his regard for his self-interest, described the imagined pleasures of wealth as "a deception" (though one that "rouses and keeps in continual motion the industry of mankind").
Nevertheless, there is something paradoxical about this. Why do governments all focus on increasing per capita national income? Why do so many of us strive to obtain more money, if it won’t make us happier?
Perhaps the answer lies in our nature as purposive beings. We evolved from beings who had to work hard to feed themselves, find a mate and raise children. For nomadic societies, there was no point in owning anything that one could not carry, but once humans settled down and developed a system of money, that limit to acquisition disappeared. Accumulating money up to a certain amount provides a safeguard against lean times, but today, it has become an end in itself, a way of measuring one’s status or success, and a goal to fall back on when we can think of no other reason for doing anything, but would be bored doing nothing. Making money gives us something to do that feels worthwhile, as long as we do not reflect too much on why we are doing it.
Consider, in this light, the life of the American investor Warren Buffett. For 50 years, Buffett, now 75, has worked at accumulating a vast fortune. According to Forbes magazine, he is the second wealthiest person in the world, after Bill Gates, with assets of US$42 billion. Yet his frugal lifestyle shows that he does not particularly enjoy spending large amounts of money. Even if his tastes were more lavish, he would be hard-pressed to spend more than a tiny fraction of his wealth.
From this perspective, once Buffett earned his first few millions in the 1960s, his efforts to accumulate more money can easily seem completely pointless. Is Buffett a victim of the "deception" that Adam Smith described, and that Kahneman and his colleagues have studied in more depth? Coincidentally, Kahneman’s article appeared the same week that Buffett announced the largest philanthropic donation in US history — US$30 billion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and another US$7 billion to other charitable foundations. Even when the donations made by Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller are adjusted for inflation, Buffett’s is greater. At a single stroke, Buffett has given purpose to his life. Since he is an agnostic, his gift is not motivated by any belief that it will benefit him in an afterlife. What, then, does Buffett’s life tell us about the nature of happiness?
Perhaps, as Kahneman’s research would lead us to expect, Buffett spent less of his life in a positive mood than he would have if, at some point in the 1960s, he had quit working, lived on his assets and played a lot more bridge. But, in that case, he surely would not have experienced the satisfaction that he can now rightly feel at the thought that his hard work and remarkable investment skills will, through the Gates Foundation, help to cure diseases that cause death and disability to billions of the world’s poorest people. Buffett reminds us that there is more to happiness than being in a good mood.
— Project Syndicate