The essentials of a contented life

by Henrylito D. Tacio 

You may have heard this story from someone before. Or you may have read it from somewhere. To drive a certain point, allow me to share the story (whose author I really don’t know) with you again.

On the first day, God created the dog and said: “Sit all day by the door of your house and bark at anyone who comes in or walks past. For this, I will give you a life span of twenty years.” The dog said: “That’s a long time to be barking. How about only ten years and I’ll give back the other ten?” So God agreed.

On the second day, God created the monkey and said: “Entertain people, do tricks, and make them laugh. For this, I will give you twenty years.” The monkey complained: “Monkey tricks for twenty years? That’s a pretty long time to perform. How about I give you back ten like the dog did?” And God agreed.

On the third day, God created the cow and said: “You must go into the field with the farmer all day long and suffer under the sun, have calves and give milk to support the farmer’s family. For this, I will give you a life span of sixty years.” The cow said: “That’s kind of a tough life you want me to live for sixty years. How about twenty years and I’ll give you back the other forty?” And God agreed again.

On the fourth day, God created man and said: “Eat, sleep, play, and enjoy your life. For this, I will give you twenty years.” But man said, “Only twenty years? Could you possibly give me my twenty years plus the forty years the cow gave back, the ten years the monkey returned, and the ten years the dog likewise gave back? That makes eighty, all in all.” “Since you asked for it,” God said, “I will give what you want.”

The author ends this story with this note: “And so this is the reason why human beings eat, sleep, play and enjoy themselves for the first twenty years. For the next forty years, they slave in the sun to support their family. For the next ten years, they do monkey tricks to entertain the grandchildren. And for the last ten years, they sit on the front porch and bark at everyone.”

Life is what we make it, so goes a popular saying. But why some people live miserably while others don’t? Life has been described as wonderful or beautiful. “I have found life an enjoyable, enchanting, active, and sometimes terrifying experience, and I’ve enjoyed it completely,” Sean O’Casey pointed out. “A lament in one ear, maybe, but always a song in the other.”

Live a contented life. But how? In the past, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe had given nine requisites for contented living. His list is still valid as ever and applicable even today. These are: On top of the list is health “to make work a pleasure.” Charles Caleb Colton reminds, “It is only when the rich are sick that they fully feel the impotence of wealth.”

The old story that it would take a kilometer walk to use up the calories supplied by one peanut is not the whole story. Exercise is important not so much for the calories it burns but for its effect in avoiding a high cholesterol level and diseases. Or, as Dr. Rafael R. Castillo, one of the country’s top medical columnists, puts it: “If you want to age gracefully and cope with life’s stresses, one effective way would be to shake a leg and exercise regularly.”

Theodore Klumpp agrees: “One who just sits and waits for death to come along will not have so long to wait. We don’t wear out; we rust out.”

Next is wealth, which would support all our needs. We can only have wealth if we work. And whatever you do in life, do your best. Martin Luther King, Jr. penned: “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

The Holy Bible states, “Wealth acquired by vanity shall be diminished; but he that gathers it by labor shall increase.” But don’t wealth the power over you. Remember the words of Edmund Burke? He said, “If we command our wealth, we shall be rich and free. If our wealth commands us, we are poor indeed.”

The third basic need is strength “to battle with difficulties of life and overcome them.” Only once in the history of Scotland was the Old Edinburgh castle captured. This is how it happened. The castle had a weak spot which defenders guarded. But it was thought the steepness of the castle made in inaccessible, impregnable. No sentries were put there. And attacking party crept up that unguarded slope and surprised the garrison into surrender. Where the castle was strong, there it was weak. “That is so often the story of human life,” Harold Phillips said. “Whenever a man falls, it is usually at the point where he thinks he is strong.” In other words, knowing your strength makes you confident; forgetting your weakness makes you vulnerable.

After strength, the next essential is grace in order for us “to confess our sins and forsake them.” But what is grace in the first place? Jay Kesler explains, “I’m more aware of my need of grace. I’m afraid that I once wanted to arrive at the gate of heaven with no need of it because of my personal piety and perfection. I’ve given up on that. To be involved means failure, misunderstanding, and sin as well as victorious and accomplishment. Grace is not the enemy, but a friend for which I am grateful.”

Grace is followed by patience. Why do we need this? “To toil until some good is accomplished,” Goethe said. Patience comes from two Greek words, meaning “stay under,” not always bobbing up. A poor housewife had to do her laundry by hand. After washing them, she hung the clothes on the line to dry. The line broke and the clean clothes fell in the mud. She washed the clothes again, and a second time the line broke. This time, however, a dog came along and walked over the clothes. When she saw them she didn’t cry. All she said was, “Isn’t it funny, that dog didn’t miss a single one.”

That was true patience. “They key to everything is patience,” said Arnold Glasow. “You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it open.”

This brings us to charity “to see some good in our neighbors.” I Corinthians 13:13 points out: “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” In most instances, charity is equated with giving. And this is what Aristotle said, “To give away money is an easy matter and in any man’s power. But to decide to whom to give it, and how large, and when, and for what purpose and how, is neither in every man’s power nor an easy matter.”

Charity may also mean love, the seventh requisite in Goethe’s list. He included it “to move us to be useful and helpful to others.” But the need for love is more than that. “Love is the thing that makes life possible or, indeed, tolerable,” Arnold Toynbee said. A noted doctor has listed several emotions which produce disease in human beings. Heading the list is fear, followed by frustration, rage, resentment, hatred, jealousy, envy, self-centeredness, and ambition. The one and only antidote that can save human beings from these, he said, is love. “Love life and life will love you back. Love people and they will love you back,” reminds Arthur Rubeinstein.

The last two requisites are faith (“to make real the things of God”) and hope (“to remove all anxious fears concerning the future”). On faith, Norman Vincent Peale wrote, “What seems impossible one minute becomes, through faith, possible the next.” Here’s what Norman Cousins said of hope: “The human body experiences a powerful gravitational pull in the direction of hope. That is why the patient’s hopes are the physician’s secret weapon. They are the hidden ingredients in any prescription.” Now, you have known the secrets of a contended life! — ###

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