Short and Sweet: Getting From Here to Happiness

Chidambaram_Nataraja_temple_bell

Here is something to think about if you plan to turn over a new leaf in the New Year; try a different road on your search for happiness. It comes from a 1967 interview with the movie director Ingmar Bergman for Swedish TV. He told this brief story in response to a question concerning the extent to which he thought about his potential audience as he wrote and directed his movies:

It seems that some time in the Middle Ages a Chinese wood-carver obtained the assignment of making a stand for the temple bells. He was ambitious and talented, so he set about his work. As he began to carve, his mind turned to the idea of all the money he would make for performing his craft. When he was done, however, the wood-carver realized that the stand he had produced was poor. He therefore began again. His head was soon filled with thoughts of how his completed carving would win him everyone’s love. Unfortunately, the second effort also went badly and he again destroyed his sculpture.

While making a third attempt at the wooden stand, the artisan imagined that the finished product would be so fine as to win him immortality. Furious and frustrated when he again failed to do a good job, the wood-carver started over once more. On this fourth occasion he had only a single thought in his head: making the bell stand; and in so doing, he gained love, money, and immortality.

The photo is a Temple bell of the Nataraja Temple in Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu, India, taken by Flickr user 3eyedmonsta, sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

6 thoughts on “Short and Sweet: Getting From Here to Happiness

  1. But did he find happiness? Did he find true satisfaction in the love, money, and immortality that he received?

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  2. drgeraldstein

    While the story doesn’t tell us that, I think we are to assume he did. The tale suggests he was happy with his creation (finally) and that while he was creating it, he was properly “in the moment” and focused on the task because that is all he was thinking about. My interpretation only. Thanks for your question. If you think he wasn’t happy, then I’d certainly enjoy any further thoughts you have on the subject. All the best.

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  3. I agree, it does seem that he was happy in the sense that he finished his product. Those things that he initially pursued then came as additional byproducts after the fact. He might not have even cared about those things anymore.

    For me, I guess I make sense of the story by understanding the man found happiness and fulfillment only when he started doing what he as a person was meant to do, ie by going back to his roots. So his source of happiness was inside of him, the thing inside him that stirred when he was making a sculpture.

    This is what makes happiness so hard to find – it is extremely hard, near impossible, to know and accept oneself deeply enough to get to know what can be stirred inside one’s soul.

    And it’s even so much more difficult for a depressed person, since even things one used to be passionate about becomes dull, one’s soul almost refuses to be stirred.

    Sorry for my long and perhaps nonsensical response…

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  4. drgeraldstein

    Not at all nonsensical, your thoughts are worthy. When you wrote, “the thing inside him that stirred when he was making a sculpture,” I think you were absolutely on target. In all of the three failed attempts the artist was focused on a possible future event rather than the act of “making” the sculpture. At best, he would then have achieved some temporary happiness in the finished product. But, it was not until his focus was on “making,” did he become happy in the act of sculpting. Too often, I think, we imagine that we will achieve happiness only at the end of a long process (when I get rich, when I graduate, when I get a raise, when I find love). While those end points can be great, mostly we live our lives in less dramatic moments. Thus, if we are to achieve as much happiness as possible, we must find a way to be satisfied in the in-between times. Many thanks, Ri, for the chance to have this little conversation. Perhaps this, too, was a small example of an unremarkable happiness!

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  5. Thank you very much!

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