Once upon a time, there was a class of grade 3 students. They were talking about future aspirations, and the teacher assigned everyone some homework: To interview their parents and ask them three aspirations that they have for their kid.
One student, Joe, was very excited about this homework. That night, after dinner, he eagerly went up to his dad and explained the homework. His dad was happy to help.
Joe looked at his dad intently and asked, "Dad, what is your first wish for me?"
The father replied, "I hope you have enough appetite to eat every day."
Joe was shocked and said, "Dad! What kind of wish is that? Don't you have any grander hopes for me?"
The father said, "Joe, if I remember correctly, your homework is to be the interviewer. You can't argue my answers. You can only record them."
Joe begrudgingly yielded and said, "OK fine."
The father said, "Well, you still have two more questions, right?"
Joe regained some hope and said, "Oh yes. OK dad, so what's your second wish for me?"
The father said, "I hope you can sleep well every day."
Joe replied, "Dad! Can you not give such lame answers? All my classmates will laugh at me! I bet their fathers gave them more exciting aspirations."
The father said, "Remember, your job is to be the interviewer. No arguing."
Joe helplessly recorded the second answer, then asked, "OK dad, so what's your final wish for me?"
The father said, "I hope you can smile every day."
Joe replied, "What! Dad, these three aspirations are so ordinary! I'm going to get a horrible grade!"
The father said, "Well, I'm not going to change my answers. If you're really dissatisfied with them, you can try interviewing your mother."
Joe's eyes lit up and quickly went to his mother. Shortly after, he came back to his father with a dejected look on his face. His father asked, "What happened?"
Joe said, "Mother said she agrees with you."
His dad laughed and said, "Well then, there you have it. Why don't you trust me and see what happens?"
The next day, Joe came home all excited. His father asked him, "So how did your presentation go?"
Joe said, "I can't believe it! I got the highest score in the class! 98%!"
His dad said, "Oh? Why did the teacher give you such a high grade?"
Joe said, "Well, the teacher said that her husband is a very successful person who has a lot of wealth and prestige, but because he has so much stress from work, he often has little appetite to eat. He also worries a lot, so he has trouble sleeping, and he frowns a lot more than he smiles. Although these three wishes seem ordinary, they are key to a good life, and everyone ought to remember them."
A healthy appetite, sound sleep, and a happy mind. These sound simple, but how many people nowadays actually have all three? Being physically and mentally healthy is key to a good life, so these three seemingly simple wishes actually have deep wisdom.
Most of us have been taught to chase wealth, prestige, power, and pleasure in life, as if these are the standards for a good life. The problem with these things is that they are like salt water: the more you drink, the thirstier you get.
The three wishes that the father had for his child are like plain water: sounds boring, but truly nourishing!
For many of us who are stressed and overworked due to "salt water" goals, perhaps switching to "plain water" goals would be a wise move. Laozi said,
"There is no greater misfortune than discontentment, and no greater fault than insatiable greed."
(Original Text: 祸莫大于不知足；咎莫大于欲得。)
In other words, misfortune is not just something that comes from the outside. When we cannot be contented with what we already have, that mindset itself is misfortune because it causes suffering for us. Even more serious than discontentment is insatiable greed, which causes people to commit all sorts of sins, eventually leading to painful consequences.
On the other hand, we can become happy by simply being contented and grateful for what we already have. Changing our mindset is much easier than changing external circumstances. As Seneca said,
"No person has the power to have everything they want, but it is in their power not to want what they don’t have, and to cheerfully put to good use what they do have."
In my own experience, if a person can cultivate this kind of mindset, then they would be happy and productive every day regardless of their external circumstances! It's something anyone and everyone can do. This isn't to say that we can't have aspirations or desires, but we should be thoughtful and wise about them.
Here are some questions we can ask ourselves to make a wise decision:
What do I want and why? Is this a positive or negative reason?
Is it a must-have or a nice-to-have?
What price do I need to pay to obtain it? Is it worth it?
What will happen after I get it? Would I just start wanting more things? Or perhaps worry about losing what I have? Again, is it worth it?
When we temper our desires with wisdom, we will surely be able to have a healthy appetite, sound sleep, a happy mind, and more.
Weekly Wisdom #253