“Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” The usual source of this idea is Ben Franklin. I remember pondering over that sentiment when young, along the lines that the ultimate goal was happiness, thinking that if one has all the other things but wasn’t happy then one doesn’t have a pleasant life. And then, if one doesn’t have a healthy body, then having wealth and wisdom aren’t very satisfying either. Then came the question, having happiness and health, is it better to have wealth or wisdom? The answer pivoted on the definition of wealth, for if one defines wealth as having money enough to purchase anything needed, then wealth was a good thing, but if wealth meant having a superabundance of money, to the point one could purchase anything whatsoever, then it was potentially a bad thing. Many things can be purchased which will lead to misery. Wisdom is “common sense to an uncommon degree,” according to Coleridge, and the application of that kind of wisdom will consistently lead one to a happy, healthy and wealthy life (in the good sense) and to an increase of all of these, including wisdom. Thus it is that all of these goals are worthy to be valued, but the chief among them is wisdom.
I have been wondering about this line of analysis, wondering if there aren’t some qualities that rise above those ideas in power and in ease of acquisition. Happiness is common enough a feeling and an aspiration, but it seems an elusive thing, and certainly not available quickly or on demand. Even happiness derived from being in a good situation among happy people usually results only in temporary and fleeting positive feelings and those are generated by the company and not by oneself.
What about joy as an easily available state that can be self-generated? Joy is usually thought of as an emotional state briefly experienced after overcoming some problem and reaching a goal. It is occasionally seen on TV when golfers sink a long putt on a final hole. Or, more commonly at a football game when “our” team makes a score. Does one need to strive for hours to achieve that moment of joy? Perhaps not, as all one needs to do is think about important things for a moment, like meeting some person whom you know and like. Typically, we just smile and say hello, and ask how they are, but one might just as well and just as easily reflect on the astonishing thing that you are both alive and are here at all. It really is amazing, and when you think on that it is very easy to feel joy. I have in mind a photograph of my grandmother at about age eighty greeting my grandfather just inside their home’s front door. He was just returning from a week in the hospital having had a throat cancer polyp removed. Her daughter in law had gone into the hospital at the same time, to have a optional operation and to keep my grandfather company for a few days while they both recuperated. She died. All of these people were very close and had seen each other daily for decades. It was devastating! The absolute joy in my grandmother’s whole being was profound.
Another moment of joy I witnessed in 1959 was mistaken for happiness until writing this post. It was meeting my great uncle Charles Pearly Scamahorn’s wife. She and my great uncle were both in a hospice in Olney, Illinois, and weeks from death. I had never met them, and barely knew of their existence except for occasional mentions by my father’s mother. Anyway, I talked with this bedridden ancient lady about people she knew from many decades ago, who had moved away from Illinois to Washington in 1910, and she was filled with joy hearing about their lives and success.
Joy need not be difficult to experience if you ponder for a moment when about to meet a friend just how wonderful an event that is. Perhaps it is a little joy, but it could be, and should be, a frequent experiencing of joy. Let it happen.
Cultivating a healthy body is a reasonable goal too, and much ink has been used trying to encourage everyone to do the right things, and I have little to add except – get up and take a short walk at least once an hour and do a little exercise.
On wealth it would seem the best advice is to own the place you live, no matter how modest, and avoid all debt. Rent and debt will eat your money up like a drug habit and a few years spent setting yourself up to be debt free will set you free for life.
Get wisdom and then, with all thy getting get understanding.