Ultimately, all things in life are chasing happiness. Any action you take is either for present happiness or for future happiness, and actions for the sake of neither are to be regretted.
However, each person needs to find their own measure of happiness, since true joy never lasts more than a few moments. When people talk of finding happiness, they don’t mean that spontaneous type. They talk of a long-term sense of fulfillment, a spread-out feeling of calm over time. Most people imagine that they must work for this, and that everything they do now is for the sake of the future: how happy they’ll be later on.
And so, when people are born, they work. Adults are never as happy as children, despite all the work they’ve put into their lives. And when people reach the destination, the place they wished to be at, why do they still look back fondly at all the times behind them? Why are the good old days good if they were only for the sake of the future?
The old man struck his cane into the soft earth path as he came off of the stairs. The door shut behind him and he heard the cheerful cries of joy from inside the house. Shaking his head, he continued off the small stone stairs and walked away from the building and onto the main road. It was only noon, and the sun shone brightly above in the sky.
The road was almost empty, if not for some men sitting on the side of the road here and there, their eyes empty and gazing at nothing. The old man laughed to himself, and began to sing in a raspy, yet melodic whisper:
Oh, how men long to be immortal!
Yet they never would forget fame!
See all of the leaders of history
Graves overgrown with weeds.
Men long to be immortal!
Yet they would never forget wealth!
Although you seek money everyday of your life,
Your eyes will be closed when you have enough.
Yes, men long to be immortal!
And yet what of your worried wife?
She talks every day of her undying love for you
And upon your death she loves someone else.
Ha! Yes, men long to be immortal!
Yet what about your sons?
You may be a devoted parent,
But there has never been a good child.
The old man chuckled to himself, and stopped in the middle of the road. There was a man sitting on the side of the road on a small stool, who looked annoyingly at him. The old man looked back. None of the other men stirred.
“What are you singing, you old man? ‘It’s all fine… good, grand?’ What are you going on about?” The young person spoke up.
With a smile, the old man made a gesture and the younger one stood up and walked over. The old man met him halfway. The cane made a bell-like sound when it fell upon the stones of the road.
“You’ve done well to hear even that much, my boy!” The man smiled, and the younger one’s eyes widened.
As the sun shone high in the sky, and men sat hunched over at the sides of the road, the boy followed the old man away into the horizon. Perhaps only they could see the sun.
So why are children so happy? Because they enjoy the moment more than adults ever could.
The excerpt is an extremely loose translation of Dream of the Red Chamber or The Story of the Stone, written by Cao Xueqin. It was written sometime during the Qing dynasty and is known as one of China’s 4 great classical novels. This isn’t a recommendation of the book, since I don’t actually know how good it is. This passage that my dad told me was very thought-provoking, however, which is the excerpt you find in this article.
Citation of a version: Hawkes, David. “Introduction.” In The Story of the Stone. Vol. 1. By Cao Xueqin. Translated by David Hawkes and John Minford, 15–46. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1973.