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  • Writer's picture山水闲人Jane

The Paradox of Modern People: Happy Yet Pitiful



Contradictions abound among modern individuals who, despite seeking happiness, find themselves in a paradoxical state.


"Do you truly want to live a happy and fulfilled life?" This question would likely elicit a unanimous response: "Why wouldn't I want to be happy? Of course, I desire a life filled with joy and happiness." What constitutes happiness and fulfillment? Is it a psychological state or a physical sensation? Each person has their own criteria, but the fundamental principle remains unchanged—both psychological and physical needs must be met for one to feel genuinely happy and fulfilled.

Psychological satisfaction is termed "joy," while physical well-being is described as "pleasure." In simpler terms, it means being comfortable and free from pain. The mind and body are interconnected, and changes in consciousness can have a profound impact on the body. This concept is easily understood, much like how the sight of delicious food can make one salivate or witnessing a sorrowful event can bring tears.


According to ancient beliefs, what constitutes a happy life? It begins with the love and care of parents during childhood, a worry-free upbringing, and later, establishing a family and career. In old age, one enjoys the company of children and grandchildren, leading to a contented retirement and a peaceful end. While this life seems fulfilling, the reality is that life is often unpredictable, and few are fortunate enough to experience such abundant blessings. Ancient wisdom suggests embracing imperfection, advocating contentment through modest desires, and finding a balance in life to achieve inner satisfaction and happiness.


So, who are considered pitiful in the eyes of ancient wisdom? The answer lies in the terms "widowhood," "loneliness," and "orphanhood."


According to the "Book of Rites," being young and without a father is called "orphan," being old without offspring is "loneliness," being old without a spouse is "widowhood," and being old without both a spouse and offspring is a combination of these terms. Mencius further categorizes these individuals as the "poor" or those who are suffering: "These four, the impoverished without recourse, are the most pitiable in the world."


The Qing Dynasty's "Motto Couplet" also describes this situation: "The most respectable in the world are the loyal and filial. The most pitiable are widows and orphans."


Throughout history, the general perception has been that individuals facing such loneliness and widowhood are to be pitied. Those without parents or partners are seen to endure psychological pain. Except for revered sages and those on the path to enlightenment, who may find joy in solitude, ordinary people generally prefer companionship and affection.


In modern society, peculiar shifts in lifestyle and interests have occurred, especially since the 21st century. Surprisingly, contemporary individuals increasingly embrace solitary lives, viewing them as unique and self-expressive. Many people live in loneliness and isolation, having children outside of marriage, and these children grow up without experiencing the happiness of having both parents. Married couples easily divorce, preventing them from growing old together. Elderly individuals move to nursing homes, where they lack the familial joy of their twilight years. Many people become "lonely and widowed," accompanied only by phones and computers, seemingly embracing a self-centered life. While some may express it as "living life to the fullest," there is a growing spiritual impoverishment and emptiness. Why is there an increase in depression and insomnia? Why do psychological pain and distress continue to rise, despite the material and lifestyle comforts being perceived as markers of modern happiness? We have inadvertently become the "pitiful individuals" described by our ancestors.


We need to ask ourselves whether this feeling of solitude and loneliness is genuinely the life we desire. Regardless of the chosen lifestyle, consistency is key. If one appreciates solitude, the ability to find joy in being alone is crucial—avoid complaining about the lack of care from others. Conversely, if one prefers a lively environment, living harmoniously with family and friends is essential. Human beings are inherently social creatures, and harmony is valued above all else.


Life is, in essence, straightforward: refrain from causing trouble for others and, more importantly, avoid creating problems for oneself.

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