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The student who taught Confucius about happiness

By Dr. Henry Wong Meng Yeong | Thursday, May 30, 2013 at 11:28AM

We've been talking about integrity, and the dangers of selfish ambition and greed. There's more to say on that topic. But first, let's take a quick look at a student of Confucius who taught the master much.

Confucius had over 3000 students and of those, 72 were his close disciples.

Of the 72, his favorite student was a young man named Yan Hui who became a student of Confucius in his youth. Confucius paid tribute to Yan Hui’s upbringing as he was extremely poor, with barely enough to eat and drink and lived in a derelict abode, and yet he was happy and did not let his deprivation dampen his honest and lofty aspirations. Confucius quipped that none of his other students would be able to endure such hardship and still remain upright, happy and contented.

When Yan Hui died at the young age of 32, Confucius was reported to be in deep mourning for the loss of this student.

The first lesson here is that one should not let creature comforts determine our happiness. That is a stark contrast to children today who often take what they have for granted, as they are accustomed to the comfortable lives provided by their parents.

Another lesson is that Yan Hui was not ashamed of being poor, a sentiment shared by Benjamin Franklin, who said that being poor is no shame but being ashamed of it is.

"Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants," Epictetus, a former slave, reminded us.

And it was Thomas Jefferson who said, "It is neither wealth nor splendor; but tranquility and occupation which give you happiness."

In the next post, we'll look into ways to instill in today's students the same contentment and happiness that Confucius admired in Yan Hui.