Years ago, I attended the opening night of a photographer’s exhibition. For an ordinary folk like me, it was an extraordinary evening – a rare brush with contemporary aristocracy like the glamorous Joan Chen, looking as beautiful and graceful as she was the Empress of China.
During the party the emcee announced special prizes for the guests but most people (including me) were too busy talking and not really paying attention to what was said. Someone shouted that I had won a Cartier ring. It sounded like a joke and I did not bother to check.
Did I win a prize? Apparently I did.
I was ecstatic and secretly congratulated myself on my good luck. However the joy lasted for less than one minute. The presenter told me that I was supposed to get a Cartier watch worth three times more but the emcee made a mistake and the watch went to someone else.
Suddenly I was no longer happy. The wonderful emotions I had earlier turned to anger, disappointment and betrayal. The staff must have noticed the change in mood and awkwardly apologized. “At least you won something,” she said and turned away leaving me dejected while holding on to my prize.
I am not a greedy person but I admitted there was greed in this particular instance. There I was, in an enviable situation, having received a gift when I was not expecting anything at all, and yet feeling resentment for not getting more.
In fact my mood for the evening was ruined because of this. For several days, I kept thinking of the watch which was ‘rightfully mine’ and did not even bother to try on the ring.
A week later a friend called to say she was happy for me to have won something, that it was an enjoyable party and a memorable evening. How true! Many people did not win any prizes and left the party empty-handed but happy, like my friend.
This reminds me of something I read.
In The Art of Happiness, Dalai Lama explained the right to happiness is the ability to control the comparing mind.
“What shapes our perception and level of satisfaction? Our feelings of contentment are strongly influenced by our tendency to compare. When we compare our current situation to our past and find that we’re better off, we feel happy.”
On the opposite side, if we compare our current situation and find that we’re worse off, we feel unhappy.
The ring incident brought me back to the basics of how I want to live my life and what makes me happy. For a long time, I have conscientiously stayed close to what is important to me – my loved ones, health, happiness and contributions to society
Upon reflection, I confessed it was a moment of weakness when I allowed myself to be drawn into a state of comparison, when I allowed my state of happiness to flip-flop as it did on the night of the party.
In the end I collected the golden ring but had never worn it. I simply kept it as a reminder to stay contended with what I have. It seems I have won a valuable prize after all – a lesson on happiness.