Thu 22 Nov 2007
By Khalid Kishtainy
Translated by Ramsis Amun
My first intellectual foray as a child was an attempt to discover what happiness was and how I could find it. I was thirteen years old when I borrowed “The Story of Greek Thought”, hoping to find answers to this question from Greek philosophers. I was sorely disappointed. All I found were a few short paragraphs on the subject and I discovered that these philosophers only tasted misery in their lives and that one of them – I think his name was Socrates – ended his life by drinking a cup of hemlock. I closed the pages of the book and spent the next three months suffering from headaches. I still suffer from headaches and, of course, from that sickness called the search for happiness.
In my intellectual journey I came across many further speculations on the subject, of course. The English said that the happy man is one married to a Japanese woman, and who lives with her on the French Riviera, and employs a Chinese cook. I am still uncertain of the third stipulate. Do they mean to cook Chinese meals or to fulfill the needs of the Japanese woman? The Chinese themselves have their own view of happiness. Why not? Are we not enjoined as Muslims to “seek knowledge even in China”? The Chinese say that if you wish to be happy for an hour you need to drink a glass of fruit juice, and if you wish to be happy for three days, get married, and if you wish to be happy for eight days, slaughter a sheep and eat it, and if you wish to be happy for a lifetime, become a gardener!
This is of course a free translation of the Chinese saying. The Chinese didn’t say “drink a glass of juice”. They said “drink a glass of wine”. They never said “slaughter a sheep” but actually said “slaughter a pig”. But as a Muslim of course I may not utter such profanities in public.
Others have taken Chinese sayings and developed them according to their own understanding of happiness. In Britain, for example, Lord Mason (sp?) adapted the same Chinese saying and said “If you wish to be happy for a day, go fishing, and if you wish to be happy for a week, get married, and if you wish to be happy for a month, slaughter a sheep (actually a pig, once again), and eat it. And if you wish to be happy for a lifetime, smoke a pipe!
The reader will without a doubt wish to know the secret of Lord Mason’s passion for pipe-smoking. He was the President of the Pipe Smokers’ Society in Britain. He became its president because he owned a factory which produced smokers’ pipes.
This is an excellent opportunity to draw a comparison between the English and the Chinese. The Chinese can tolerate the institution of marriage for three days, whereas the English can tolerate it for a week. This is a clear indication of the coldness of the English and their great patience. The Chinese can consume a pig in a week whereas the English takes a month to consume it. This is a clear explanation of the thinness of the latter, and his blandness.
How can we adapt the Chinese saying to Arab society? I think we should adapt it thus: If you wish to be happy for a day, slaughter a sheep and eat it. If you wish to be happy for a week, get married. If you wish to be happy for a month, get divorced. If you wish to be happy for a lifetime, don’t listen to the news.
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