Contentment a part of happiness

In her commentary ("More to life than the pursuit of happiness"; last Sunday), Dr Lee Wei Ling says that all she asks for "is calmness and contentment".

To me, contentment is part of happiness.

I remember a conversation I had with an elderly man at a Sydney flea market many years ago.

He told me that all his life, he had never sought happiness.

I commented that in that case, he must have been seeking unhappiness, to which he replied in the affirmative.

I asked him whether he would be unhappy if he found out that he had lost his wallet.

He replied: "No".

I next asked whether he would be unhappy if he returned home to find that his house had been burgled. He hesitated.

Before he could reply, I asked the third question.

I asked whether he would be unhappy if he returned home to find that his house had been burned to ashes.

He kept silent and was visibly stunned.

After a few minutes of deep thought and silence, he turned around, tapped my shoulder before I could walk off and said: "Well, young man, I owe you a drink. You got me there."

I clarified my point to him, which was that when one could feel unhappiness about a loss, like one's house being burned to the ground, it proved that the person had unknowingly been seeking happiness, not unhappiness.

It is concrete proof that all of us have been seeking happiness secretly, as it is etched deep inside our being, deeper than the mind.

It is a mental deception for us to think or believe otherwise.

All humans seek happiness, comfort and contentment from the minute we are born, and will continue to do so until our last breath. No one can deny this.

Tan Kok Tim

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 28, 2016, with the headline 'Contentment a part of happiness'. Print Edition | Subscribe