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A Happy World Starts With My Happy Parents

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We all want to live in a happy, peaceful, and prosperous world. In advanced countries, people are materially wealthy. We have good living standards, advanced technology, and easy access to food, education, and healthcare. But our world is facing many severe problems too.

Part 1: Our Currrent World

In recent years, there’s been the war in Ukraine, COVID-19, and severe wildfires and earthquakes across the world. On a micro scale, people are struggling with their health and mental health despite increasing material wealth.

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According to a 2016 study by the University of North Carolina, only 1 in 8 Americans were achieving optimal metabolic health. And according to the UK Office for National Statistics, almost half of the UK population reported having a long-standing health problem in 2020.


In terms of mental health, stress has become a serious issue. In fact, stress  has been dubbed the “Health Epidemic of the 21st Century” by the World Health Organization (this was before COVID happened) and is estimated to cost American businesses up to $300 billion a year. What are people stressed about? Probably too many things to list, but we can look at some major ones. According to a 2017 study of adults in American cities:

  • 65% are stressed about their own health

  • 69% about the health of family members

  • 36% about coworker conflict

  • 31% about gossip

  • 70% about irritable or angry children

  • 54% about arguments with children

One might think that advancement in technology and increases in material wealth would lead to a happier and healthier world, but clearly that isn't the case. So what can we do to improve our world?

Part 2: Finding A Solution

If we want to solve a problem, we should seek advice from those who have solved this kind of problem before. If we want a peaceful and prosperous world, we should study past eras of peace and prosperity on Earth. One great country to study is China because China has the longest recorded history (3000 years!) with many many golden eras.

Moreover, Chinese ancestors recorded how these golden eras were achieved in many books, one of which is The Classic of Filial Piety. This article will focus on this book's proposed solution. The translations are by myself, but I consulted the translations from Henry Rosemont Jr. and Roger T. Ames.


The book says:

“Our former kings had the consummate virtue and vital way that brought the empire into accord, harmonized the people, and left no resentment between those above and below…Hence, the empire was peaceful, natural disasters did not arise, and people didn’t stir trouble. In this way, the enlightened kings used filial piety to govern the empire.”

(Original text:  先王有至德要道,以順天下,民用和睦,上下無怨......是以天下和平,災害不生,禍亂不作。)

In other words, the key to a prosperous happy world is filial piety. So what is filial piety? Essentially, filial piety means having a heart of gratitude, love, and respect towards our parents. After all, our parents gave life to us, raised us, and gave us lots of love. It's only natural that children love and respect parents in return.

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A truly filial person would take good care of their health, be happy, and have good relationships with all people. When everyone is filial, all the problems mentioned before can be solved. That might sound like a bold statement, but let me explain.

2.1: Health

First is health. The Classic of Filial Piety states:

“Our body, from hair to skin, are bestowed by our parents. To not dare to harm this body is the beginning of filial piety.”

(Original Text:  身體髮膚,受之父母,不敢毀傷,孝之始也。)

Parents most easily worry about their children’s health. Thus, if we truly love our parents, we wouldn’t let them worry about our health. Earlier, I mentioned that many people in the US and UK have long-standing health problems. Since these are wealthy countries, these health problems are probably not due to a lack of healthcare access, but rather related to unhealthy habits, such as eating junk food, sleeping late, and not exercising.

When our parents see our body unhealthy, they will worry about us. If we have deep filial piety, we would be motivated to stop our bad habits, and we would listen to our doctor’s advice seriously. We would even take initiative to learn basic health knowledge in our free time to improve our health and our parents’ health. Thus, filial piety can make the world healthier. 

2.2: Happiness and Relationships

Next is happiness and relationships. These two factors are heavily related. Happiness expert Gretchen Rubin said,

“Ancient philosophers and contemporary scientists agree that a key—maybe the key—to a happy life is strong relationships.”


The Harvard Study of Adult Development is the longest study on happiness, and the director Robert Waldinger said,

"The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period…The people who were most satisfied with their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80."


Earlier, we saw that many people are stressed about their health and conflict with family and coworkers. When we are filial, we will take care of our health and have happy relationships with family and all people. Of all our relationships, the most important one is with our parents. After all, our first human relationship is with our parents, so it serves as the foundation for our other relationships. When we have a filial heart towards our parents, we benefit the most because we are happy.


The English commentary on The Classic Of Filial Piety by Rosemont and Ames says,

“[Family] Reverence is much more than proffered respect; it is the JOY that one finds in such deference.”

For example, one of my friends said that when she respected her father more, she felt happier around her father and wanted to cook more dishes for him. And in my own experience, having good relationships with parents is a great source of joy.

One of the most insightful things I learned from the Classic Of Filial Piety is this:

“To not love one’s parents yet love others violates morality.”

(Original Text: 不愛其親而愛他人者,謂之悖德。)

That’s because for most of us, we owe the most gratitude to our parents. After all, they gave birth to us, raised us, took care of us when we were sick, and always did their best to give us the best. If we cannot appreciate and love our parents, then how can we appreciate and love other people who provided less gratitude towards us?


I used to think, "I have great relationships with most people. It's just my mother that is always so demanding and picky. Therefore, the problem is my mother, not me." Later, I realized I was wrong. We all try to put on a good image in front of others, but we are our true selves in front of our family.

Side note:  I often advise young people who are just starting to date to observe how the other person treats their parents. If they treat their parents with love and respect, then they will treat you that way too in the long run (after the honeymoon period is over). If they disrespect their parents but "love" you, then they will also disrespect you after the honeymoon period is over.


It’s because so many people have relationship problems with their parents that they then have problems with other people, whether it be classmates, colleagues, or spouses. If we can cultivate our heart of gratitude, love, and respect towards parents first, and this is the easiest and best place to do so, then we can naturally expand our filial heart towards others, and then we will have harmonious and happy relationships with others too.


2.3: Extending Filial Piety

The Classic Of Filial Piety states:

“Those who love their parents wouldn’t dare to hate others. Those who respect their parents wouldn’t dare to disrespect others.”

(Original Text: 愛親者,不敢惡於人;敬親者,不敢慢於人。)

Why? Because if we hate and disrespect others their parents would be sad. Just like we wouldn’t want to make our beloved parents sad, we wouldn’t want to make other parents sad either. Just like we can focus on our parents’ gratitude and tolerate their shortcomings, we can do so for other people too.

When we extend our filial heart broader, we resolve all the problems mentioned earlier. We would have a lot less stress and conflict with people, and we wouldn’t gossip about our colleagues. We wouldn’t dare to start wars and kill people. We would take good care of our health and the health of those around us.

When we extend our filial heart to Mother Earth and Father Sky, we would do our best to restore the environment and save other animal species, just like taking care of our own mother and siblings. In this way, the empire is peaceful, natural disasters do not arise, and people don't stir trouble.

Part 3: How To Cultivate Filial Piety

From the above analysis, we can see the importance of filial piety for our individual happiness and health, as well as for world peace and prosperity. The next question is: how can we practice filial piety in our daily lives?


Filial piety is an attitude, not an action. We need to cultivate an attitude of gratitude towards our parents. First, feel parents’ love and contemplate parents’ gratitude.

For example, when parents ask "How have you been recently?", they aren't just being polite, they really mean it. When parents go shopping, they always think about buying things for us. When something good happens to us, our parents are even happier than us. And let's not forget all the hardship and trouble that parents willingly shouldered for us, from the pain of giving birth, to the sleepless nights caring for an infant, to the worry when we were ill, to the headaches of planning for our future.

If we feel gratitude and love towards our parents, then we will naturally want to return our parents’ love and gratitude. When we do so, we make our parents happy, and we feel happy too. When we have great relationships with our parents and family, we can naturally extend our filial heart towards others.


A lot of us lack respect and love towards parents because we take them for granted. In other words, we don't feel grateful towards our parents. Imagine if our parents suddenly died after we were born. Would we still be here today? Would we still have the life that we have now? Thus, we should really appreciate all that our parents have done for us. Once we truly feel deep gratitude towards our parents, we will naturally love and respect them, and we would feel ashamed for making our parents worried or upset.

An excellent book on filial piety is Guide To A Happy Life, which I summarized here. This book teaches daily actions that we can practice to cultivate an attitude of love and respect towards parents and all people. Here are some examples:

  • When my parents call me, I will reply promptly. (How many of us get upset when others don't reply us right away?)

  • When my parents criticize me, I will listen respectfully. (How many of us argue with others when they criticize us?)

  • What my parents like, I will try to provide. What my parents dislike, I will try to keep away. (If we do this with anyone, we would have a great relationship with them)

  • When I leave the house, I will let my parents know. When I return, I will let them know. (How many of us get upset at others because they don't communicate with us in a timely manner?)

  • No matter if a matter is small, I shouldn't do whatever I want. (How many of us get upset when others do things their way without checking with us first?)

  • Do not be picky with food, and do not overeat. (If we prioritize health over taste, our parents would be a lot less worried.)

  • If I get close to good people, the benefit is limitless. If I get close to bad people, the harm is limitless. (Parents often worry about us making bad friends. Indeed, we get heavily influenced by the people around us.)

If we meet someone who can actually do all of this towards their parents, we can be confident that they will treat other people the same way. And if we want to attract a filial partner or friends, we need to improve our filial piety first.

Part 4: Be The Change

Unfortunately, most people were not taught the importance of filial piety or how to practice filial piety in modern western society. Thus, when we see others not being filial, we shouldn’t blame them. Instead, we need to set a good role model for others. As the common saying goes,

“Be the change you want to see.”


And we must not underestimate the impact that one person can have. I’ll share one last quote from The Classic Of Filial Piety:

“When one person has great virtues, the whole population will look up to his or her example.”

(Original Text:  一人有慶,兆民賴之。)

For example, there is a TV show in China called “Finding the Most Filial Youth” that showcases real stories of filial piety to the whole country.

These people are ordinary people just like us. In fact, they are just kids. But their great filial piety attracted the attention of national TV, thereby influencing the whole nation. When people hear these filial stories, they are naturally inspired to be filial too. If these kids can influence others, so can we. Let’s all contribute to a happy world by cultivating our filial piety and making our parents happy first.


Weekly Wisdom #268

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