A learned society of our day, no doubt with the loftiest of intentions, has proposed the question, Which people, in history, might have been the happiest? If I properly understand the question and if it is not altogether beyond the scope of a human answer, I can think of nothing to say except that at a certain time and under certain circumstances every people must have experienced such a moment or else it never was [a people]. Then again, human nature is no vessel for an absolute, independent, immutable happiness, as defined by the philosopher; rather, she everywhere draws as much happiness towards herself as she can: a supple clay that will conform to the most different situations, needs and depressions. Even the image of happiness changes with every condition and location (for what is it ever but the sum of the satisfaction of desire, the fulfillment of purpose and the gentle overcoming of needs, all of which are shaped by land, time and place?). Basically, then, all comparison becomes futile. As soon as the inner meaning of happiness, the inclination has changed; as soon as external opportunities and needs develop and solidify the other meaning—who could compare the different satisfaction of different meanings in different worlds? Who could compare the shepherd and father of the Orient, the ploughman and the artisan, the seaman, runner, conqueror of the world? It is not the laurel wreath that matters, nor the sight of the blessed flock, neither the merchant vessels nor the conquered armies’ standards—but the soul that needed this, strove for it, finally attained it and wanted to attain nothing else. Every nation has its center of happiness within itself, as every ball has its center of gravity!
Johann Gottfried Herder
My mother believed in God's will for many years. It was af if she had turned on a celestial faucet and goodness kept pouring out. She said it was faith that kept all these good things coming our way, only I thought she said fate because she couldn't pronounce the th sound in faith. And later I discovered that maybe it was fate all along, that faith was just an illusion that somehow you're in control. I found out the most I could have was hope and with that I wasn't denying any possibility, good or bad. I was just saying, If there is a choice, dear God or whatever you are, here's where the odds should be placed.I remember the day I started thinking this, it was such a revelation to me. It was the day my mother lost her faith in God. She found that things of unquestioned certainty could never be trusted again.We had gone to the beach, to a secluded spot south of the city near Devil's Slide. My father had read in Sunset magazine that this was a good place to catch ocean perch. And although my father was not a fisherman but a pharmacist's assistant who had once been a doctor in China, he believed in his nenkan, his ability to do anything he put his mind to. My mother believed she had nenkan to cook anything my father had a mind to catch. It was this belief in their nenkan that had brought my parents to America. It had enabled them to have seven children and buy a house in Sunset district with very little money. It had given them the confidence to believe their luck would never run out, that God was on their side, that house gods had only benevolent things to report and our ancestors were pleased, that lifetime warranties meant our lucky streak would never break, that all the elements were now in balance, the right amount of wind and water.
Amy Tan