How to find true happiness in a 'retail therapy' world

By Dr. Henry Wong Meng Yeong | Friday, June 7, 2013 at 7:08AM

Confucius asserts that the development of ethics begins at birth and necessitates the active participation of parents in instilling them in the upbringing of their children (discussed in an earlier post here).

That means greed is not innate, as illustrated by the following two images.

Every parent will remember their baby's first bath and the sheer joy expressed on their faces as they play with the bath water, naked. Picture the same teenage child, attired in the finest clothes wearing a snarl on her face, miserably unhappy because she is disallowed one more present that she wants. Paradoxically, greed like happiness is not dependent on what you have, as illustrated by these two examples.

Said another way, a baby can be without clothes and yet happy, conversely, the same child as a teenager can have everything and yet miserable. Somewhere along the process in the development of that child, material possessions have defined her happiness. This underscores the importance of full time parental nurturing in the formative years of the child to resist the lure of materialism and virtual values of our contemporary world.

Could there be a correlation between the slack or lack of child upbringing, the changing priorities of parents on upbringing of children, and the increasing reports of corruption and greed?

The second step is to demonetize success, redefining success not in terms of money but in terms of happiness and contentment. One's job was once called one's occupation but if getting rich is the goal, it becomes a preoccupation. Confucius declared that wealth is not worth keeping if it is not attained by honest means. We are reminded that "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matt 6:21). The relentless pursuit of money soon turns into an obsession displacing all other priorities in one's life. It is after all not money, but the love for money which is the root of all kinds of evil (I Tim 6:10).

On a macroeconomic level, demonetizing success would mean paying fair but not excessive wages and bonuses which in turn fuel greed. Restoring the mindset that job satisfaction comes from being honest, accountable and responsible. Prioritizing happiness and contentment is the goal as illustrated in the example of the baby and the teenager. The country which has taken happiness to heart is Bhutan, which instead of joining the race for the GDP, has embarked on a national goal of achieving a gross happiness index. It is therefore not surprising that Bhutan ranks high on the global anti-corruption scale, surpassing most Asian countries.

The third and final step is to develop interests which bring happiness, in order to redirect our focus from the worship of money. Many today resort to retail therapy (shopping for the sake of satisfying one’s insatiable desires) as an escape, when they are down or depressed. One’s possession of money only finds money possessing one's self. Developing interests which build on one’s gifts, brains or brawn is the key.

Confucius was a man of many talents, accomplished in music, literature, chariot riding, archery and mathematics. He was quoted that if he could not earn his wages in an honest manner, even if he were a common cart driver, he would rather devote his time on his other interests.