Happiness and Wisdom

Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

After a break of a few weeks, I resumed my walk at Trou-O-Cerfs yesterday morning. The island has been having some rain in the past few days, and it was au rendez-vous at the crater in the form of a slight drizzle. I learnt that some walkers had already come and gone, neither the heavier rain around five o’clock nor the darkness being able to dissuade them from breaking with the routine. As a matter of fact, some people prefer to come when it is still dark, and they are on their way back shortly after sunrise. Others avoid to start their walk when it is still dark, and join the cohorts that present themselves as daylight breaks or shortly afterwards. Whatever it be, the important thing is that they are doing something they like: regular physical activity, and yesterday good old Ton Maurice and some others around the same age as him, mid-eighties, were also doing their daily trek.

I joined a couple of friends and was warmly welcomed back, and I told them about the books that I had read while I was away. One of them was about a Russian doctor, who subsequently left medicine to pursue a career as a writer. The book that I bought was titled ‘A doctor’s notebook,’ and the interesting part of it for me was that it was about his experience during the period of the Russian revolution, in 1917 for about a year.

He had just graduated from Moscow, at the age of 24, and was posted to a small town away from Moscow, without having undergone the customary practical training of one year. He was in charge of a small hospital of about 40 beds, and as staff he had two nurses and one male assistant. He had to face all kinds of emergencies, and he kept extensive records of how he had coped with them in what he considered to be a reasonably well-equipped hospital. These notes formed the basis of his book, which gives insights too about the people of that region and their lives.

Since I have read some biographies and autobiographies of medical men from other parts of the world, I found that there was a common pattern underlying their professional experiences under more or less comparable circumstances. Despite the difficulties, though, they all expressed a sense of fulfillment in their tasks, and it was enhanced by the gratitude of patients in the days when this was so natural a custom. They felt happy to have coped and served as best they could, saving lives and limbs, relieving suffering, performing operations, doing difficult deliveries, and all this often under dire conditions.

One of the friends said that the weather was better the day before, because it was not raining when he was walking. The other one replied that ‘no, today also the weather is good. Mo bien content sa la pluie la. En somme, n’importe ki letan nou bizin content meme!’ One was not happy with rain, the other was only too content. The same object, rain, had made one happy and another one well, let us say not too happy.

Many a time we have heard it being said that happiness is a state of mind. We may not be able to give a precise definition of happiness, but we know when we are happy – and would wish to remain so always. But then we come face to face with the hard reality that has also been expressed variously, namely that happiness for some reason or the other always seems to be short-lived. We may go from one happy moment or happy event – obtaining something we want, passing an examination, meeting someone dear and so on – to another at unpredictable intervals, and in between there are so many other preoccupations that do not add up to making us happy.

When Osama Bin Laden was killed, there were jubilations and many people felt happy – so it was reported. He also, again as was reported, felt very happy when the attack on the Twin Towers was carried out, killing so many people. But then his happiness came to such an abrupt end. As for those who have felt happy at his demise, there was a reminder that the battle is not over yet: there are still his followers out there who are waging the war in his name, and so the battle has to continue. The question then arises: will there ever be permanent happiness amongst those who seem to be engaged in a non-ending war?

After this war is over, surely there will another, or other wars, if we are to go by the history of humanity? Means that we can never hope to have permanent happiness in our lives? Difficult question indeed.

A speaker at an international seminar narrated the story of an investment banker from the rich world who goes to a poor country, and comes across a farmer with a small holding. He advises the latter about how to become more efficient, acquire more land and then sell it all at a profit in the rich world and come back to do what he likes best, which will make him happy. The reply of the farmer is that this is exactly what he is doing: he likes farming best and is very happy doing it.

The speaker drew two lessons from the story: do not forget to do the obvious, and pursue with passion what you like doing best. That will keep you happy. And instead of concluding the usual ‘wish you fruitful deliberation,’ he wished the participants ‘happiness and wisdom.’ I thought that was a… wise thing to do, a very nice change from the usual format. Let’s all look forward to happiness and wisdom, both very important for us in these troubled times, by doing the thing(s) that we are passionate about. Good prescription from a farmer. 

* Published in print edition on 17 June 2011

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