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Several days ago, I found an interesting Instagram post featuring a young woman speaking her mind. She says she is not asking for much — just wishing that her family members are happy, her health good, her mind not troubled, her finances flowing and no drama in her life.

I was astounded by the fact that she does not realize that she is asking for a lot. In fact, she is asking for the impossible! If such a person actually exists, she must have led a very sheltered life. Just like Siddhartha, the young prince before he became the enlightened one.

How many family members do you have? Can you expect everyone to be happy? Even if you live alone, it is too much to expect that you will be happy all the time. How about good health? Is it too much to ask for? Yes, if you are young, it is relatively easier to stay healthy. But staying healthy will become more and more difficult as you age. Even for relatively young people, the ease to maintain a healthy body depends on your socioeconomic class. Poor people have a tendency to be obese. How many corporate executives have you seen who are overweight? Going to the gymnasium takes most money and time. Most gym membership is not all that expensive, but many members of the working poor work several jobs. The last thing they have is time. In addition, healthy food is much more expensive than junk food or fast food. About the wish to have one’s finances flowing. That again is a matter of socioeconomic status. Recent research found that the majority of Americans live from paycheck to paycheck, and this is before the COVID-19 crisis. Most of them do not have an extra $500-$1000 to meet emergency needs. Finally, no drama? Whose life does not have drama? I see plenty of drama in the lives of the British royalties. To expect no drama is probably a reflection of one’s immaturity and lack of life experience. We all go through ups and downs of life. The First Noble Truth in Buddhism states that all lives contain dissatisfaction.

We often are unaware of the blessings we have. Two years ago, I posted something on Facebook that quality in life is free. I am almost always happy, partially because my hobbies and interests don’t cost much money. I like to read and write. I also like photography. Writing and taking pictures make me happy. I don’t even need to watch TV or movies. I don’t need any special entertainment or expensive vacation. My brain is my entertainment center. Then, some Facebook friend pointed out that I can enjoy these inexpensive hobbies because I have free time. Having free time reflects a certain socioeconomic class in itself. Most people don’t have free time. They need to work most of the time just to survive. “Free time” is a luxury.

So, I have been living in “luxury” without knowing it. I must be thankful for what I have. The young woman in this story is not asking for just little things. What she personifies is what Karl Marx would call a petite bourgeoisie mindset. She needs to go out more and see how “real people” actually live.

Paradoxically, the expectation of happiness often makes us unhappy. Perpetual happiness is a myth and a fantasy. If we take a closer look at how people actually live, we can ground ourselves with a healthy dose of realism. This does not mean that life is all about suffering. There are moments of joy and small pleasures. We just have to be mindful so that we won’t miss them.

Published author, Zen teacher, professor, scientist, philosopher, social commentator, socially-engaged human

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