Happiness is a sense of well-being, contentment, and satisfaction. It is a kind of feeling. Happiness is subjective and difficult to measure. The interpretation of happiness varies from person to person. There are many factors that can affect one’s happiness. For example, our thoughts, health, environment and living conditions, family harmony, social relationship, etc.
This paper aims to explore whether the environment and living conditions are the major factors to affect one’s happiness. From the three selected stories (a.
‘A Hunger Artist’ by Franz Kafka b. ‘The Boy who Drew Cats’ (A Japanese folktale) c. ‘The Standard of Living’ by Dorothy Parker), it illustrates that money cannot buy happiness as happiness comes from the satisfaction of our ability to be content with life. Therefore, we should stay persistent and keep moving towards our dreams even though we are in poor environments and living conditions. Achievement and success can bring us happiness and satisfaction than materialistic conditions.
The theme of the story of ‘The Standard of Living’ is the conflicts between illusion and reality.
Through the two young girls in the story, Annabel and Midge, it demonstrates the lifestyles of materialism. Annabel and Midge were close friends. They worked in the same office in America as a stenographer. Annabel had invented a new game. The game provided them a million dollars and they wanted to buy a string of pearls that costs two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. They tended to do something like what the rich people do. The two girls were obsessed with money.
Their dream was not only to be a millionaire but also to climb up to the upper level of social classes. Unfortunately, it was only an illusion.
The story of ‘The Boy who Drew Cats’ talked about a boy, who was the son of a poor farmer. His parents decided to send him to the village temple to be trained as a priest. The boy learned quickly and was very obedient in most things except one – drawing cats whenever and wherever he can. The old priest finally sent the boy away with the advice to encourage him to become an artist instead of a priest. The boy, instead of going back home, went to the next village where there was a big temple. He did not know that the temple was closed up due to a goblin-rat appeared there. He saw a large white screen and started to draw cats. Finally, his cats killed the goblin-rat. Afterward, the boy became a famous artist.
Although the story of ‘The Boy who Drew Cats’ is a folktale that is fictitious, it illustrates a concept that poor environment and living conditions cannot stop one’s dream. The little boy kept pursuing his dream even under a poor environment. His dream came true. He became a famous artist. Happiness comes from the satisfaction of his ability to become an artist. On the contrary, the two young girls in the story of ‘The Standard of Living’ lived in imagination only and they believe that materialism will bring them happiness. The girls could not achieve what they want if they kept imagining and without putting effort into changing their lives. In the contemporary world, some students, who come from vulnerable families, do not have extra money or resources to learn or to attend the tutorial classes. Despite poor environment and living conditions, they stay persistent and study hard, they finally get good results in the public examination. They endeavor to change their fate. It reflects that accomplishment can bring them happiness and satisfaction than materialistic conditions.
Another story ‘A Hunger Artist’ talked about an artist who regards fasting as an art. He sat in a cage from day to night and ate nothing. He aspired to be a great artist with perseverance. He got fame through this marathon fasting exhibition. But he was not happy as his manager restricted his fasting to forty days only. However, people are not as interested as they were in watching the hunger artist in the past. He decided to join a circus and planned to set a fasting record beyond forty days. Although the hunger artist continued to fast, no one showed interest in him and kept track of the days. In the end, the hunger artist died. But he was proud that he never gave up his fast. He kept pursuing his dream. He persisted and struggled for recognition. Different from the story of ‘The Standard of Living’, this story illustrates that an adverse environment cannot stop one’s dream. The hunger artist got satisfaction and wish-fulfillment through the fasting although nobody understands his art.
As I mentioned before, happiness is subjective and difficult to measure. Some people believe that a good environment and a good quality of life can bring us happiness. Just like the comments from one of my groupmates, Wong Hing Lung, who mentions that we can perceive happiness from an environment that close to green areas or wildlife. We will feel happier when we are located in natural environments every day. A simple life is happy. Of course, back to nature can bring good health to people. Healthy people feel happier. But I think happiness comes from, not only the environmental conditions but also life satisfaction in different areas such as work, family, friendship, achievement, and success. In some poor countries, people do not aspire to materialistic satisfaction. They seek the basic necessity and feel happy even in a simple life. Moreover, like the Hunger Artist and the boy who drew cats, despite an adverse environment and living conditions, they can still fulfill their dreams which bring them happiness. On the contrary, the two young girls in the story of ‘The Standard of Living’ are too obsessed with money and materialistic conditions. They will not feel happy if their ambition cannot be achieved.
In conclusion, the interpretation of happiness varies from person to person depends on one’s values. Money cannot buy happiness. The accomplishment of our dreams or achieving our goals can bring us happiness and satisfaction than materialistic conditions. We should stay persistent and keep moving towards our dreams even though we are in a poor environments and living conditions.