A brigadier friend of mine was reflecting on life the other day. Both his children, a son and a daughter, have lucrative jobs in the USA. He said that in comparison to his children's salaries, his own was a pittance when he was in service. Despite that, he felt he was far happier than his progeny. His reasoning and insight both told him it was because most of us make the mistake of measuring happiness in terms of money. He was not triumphant or gloating, indeed he regretted, like any father would, that his children were under so much stress and could not get to enjoy their hard-earned income.
This made me recall another meaningful instance. A group of highly successful professionals who were visiting their old teacher complained to him that life had become very stressful. The teacher listened to them patiently. He then went to the kitchen, brought out a large pot of coffee and laid out an assortment of cups made of plastic, porcelain and glass. Some were costly, some very ordinary. The teacher asked them to help themselves to hot coffee.
When all the students had a cup of coffee in hand, the teacher said, "If you notice, all the nice-looking, expensive cups have been picked up by you. Only the ordinary ones are left. Obviously everyone wants the best for himself and this is the source of your stress. You wanted coffee, not the cup, but you picked the better cups and now you are eyeing each other's cup."
"Now, if life is coffee, then jobs, money and your position in society are the cups. They are just tools to hold and contain life, but the quality of life itself will not change, unless you do. Sometimes, by concentrating only on the cup we fail to enjoy the coffee in it. Content, not container, is the real thing."
My brigadier friend chuckled heartily at the story. "Perhaps I'll e-mail it to my children," he said, but added soberly, "I must do it without upsetting them."