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Just a Symbol

We live in the world of the symbols. For example, the road signs are the symbols. All letter in the English and the Ukrainian alphabet were originally the symbols. Trademarks are the symbols. Themis with scales and a sword is a symbol of law justice... The symbols are everywhere.

My friend collects the symbols. He makes tattoos on his body. As for me, some of them look odd but as he explains they represent the particular symbols of something.

I would like to ask you. What are the symbols of happiness for you? A smiley face or sunflowers like on Vincent van Gogh's pictures, or a statuette from sacred place, or anything else?

Let me share with you a folk tale about the symbol of happiness. This folk tale has been retold in writing by Leo Tolstoy, by the way.

Many years ago, in a land very far away, a king suddenly became weak with illness.

"I will give half my kingdom to the man who can cure me," he said.

All his wise men, doctors, advisors gathered together to decide how the king could be cured. But no one knew. For a long time, they stood and thought in silence. Then one of the wise men said: "If you can find a happy man, take his shirt, put in on the king - and the king will be cured."

"So be it," whispered the king. He sent his servants to search for a happy man. They traveled far and wide throughout his whole kingdom, but they could not find a happy man. There was no one who was completely satisfied: if a man was rich, he was ill; if he was healthy, he was poor; if he was rich and healthy, he had a bad wife; or if he had children they were bad - everyone had something to complain of.

Late one night, the king's son was passing by a miserable hut and he heard someone speak: "God be praised. I have finished my work. I have nourished my body. Now I can relax and enjoy the quiet at the end of the day. What more could I want?"

The king's son ordered that the man's shirt be taken and carried to the king. "Give the man as much money as he wants," said the king's son.

The servants came into the hut to take off the man's shirt, but this happy man - the only happy man in the entire kingdom - had almost nothing he could call his own. Not even a shirt.

As far as I'm concerned, this folk tale is mostly about having and being. The king was used to have many things in the outside world. He had all symbols of authority: a crown, a scepter, a throne, a castle, the titles, the bodyguards, and an army. His wise men and advisors lived in this way also. They believed that happiness was something that could be taken and possessed. They were not able to understand that true happiness couldn't come from having something in the outside world.

To have or to be? It sounds familiar, doesn't it? Nowadays we tend to have more things that represent happiness rather than to be happy. We tend to chase happiness. Although people are as happy as they choose to be.

My friend made a new tattoo on his hand recently. I've already seen a dragon tattoo on his chest. I've seen a broken heart on his one shoulder and a scull on his another one. There were Chinese hieroglyphs this time. I thought he started to practice martial art. I was wrong. It was the symbol of happiness. Does this guy speak Mandarin? No, he doesn't. He just believed that these hieroglyphs mean happiness. Is he happy? That is the question.