What we should compare is not ourselves against others. We should compare who we are today against who we were yesterday, who we are today against who we will be tomorrow. While this may seem simple and obvious, true happiness is found in a life of constant advancement. And, the same worries that could have made us miserable, can actually be a source of growth when we approach them with courage and wisdom.
One friend whose dramatic life proved this was Natalia Sats, who founded the first children’s theater in Moscow. In the 1930s, she and her husband were marked by the Soviet Union’s secret police. Even though they were guilty of no crime, her husband was arrested and executed and she was sent to a prison camp in the frozen depths of Siberia.
After she recovered from the initial shock, she started looking at her situation, not with despair, but for opportunity. She realized that many of her fellow prisoners had special skills and talents. She began organizing a “university,” encouraging the prisoners to share their knowledge. “You. You are a scientist. Teach us about science. You are an artist. Talk to us about art.”
In this way, the boredom and terror of the prison camp were transformed into the joy of learning and teaching. Eventually, Mrs. Sats even made use of her own unique talents to organize a theater group. She survived the five-year prison sentence, and dedicated the rest of her long life to creating children’s theater. When we met for the first time in Moscow in 1981, she was already in her eighties. She was as radiant and buoyant as a young girl. Her smile was the smile of someone who has triumphed over the hardships of life. Hers is the kind of spirit I had in mind when I wrote the following poem on haappiness:
A person with a vast heart is happy.
Such a person lives each day with a broad and embracing spirit.
A person with a strong will is happy.
Such a person can confidently enjoy life, never defeated by suffering.
A person with a profound spirit is happy.
Such a person can savor life’s depths
while creating meaning and value that will last for eternity.
A person with a pure mind is happy.
Such a person is always surrounded by refreshing breezes of joy.