An enjoyable pastime of mine is reading and hearing proverbs from different cultures around the world. There is a seemingly endless amount of wisdom available to be shared from those who came before us, and the internet has only increased our accessibility to them.
Recently, I came across a collection of Turkish Proverbs which contained a proverb that struck me:
“When God wants to please a poor man, He lets him lose his donkey and then helps him find it again.” 
This particular proverb struck me amongst the rest. For the next few days it simmered in my head, its obvious yet unexplainable correctness standing proudly. What was the underlying principle behind this proverb? How did it attempt to explain the human condition with regards to both happiness and human nature?
After a while, it hit me. This proverb talks not only about happiness and the fickle nature of man, but it also has a deeper lesson about how to overcome our base human nature and to achieve happiness in an easier way.
Taking this proverb and the example provided within literally, we see a poor man who owns a donkey and is otherwise indifferent to his situation. He has something, yet he isn’t described as being ‘happy’. So what may God do to make him feel happy and pleased? He makes him lose his donkey.
Why does this happen? We see the man is already poor and may have reason to feel unhappy with his life in the first place. What good will it be for him to lose his donkey?
The final part of this proverb includes the fact that God helps him to find it again, resulting in the happiness of the poor man – a marked changed in state from his initial condition of sadness/indifference.
When we take a step back and look at what actually happened however, we can notice something strange. There is no overall gain that the man experienced here.
Considering his possessions:
- He had a donkey and was in a neutral state
- He then lost his donkey and entered into a negative state
- Finally he found his donkey again and thereby returned to his initial neutral state
We can illustrate this change in state like this:
The poor man gained nothing overall, in fact he experienced loss and grief! But he experienced a state of happiness at the end.
So where did this happiness come from and what does it mean for our understanding of how to achieve it?
We see that the poor man became happy when he regained something he lost. In fact, when he gained it back, he was happy that he had the donkey. He was happy that he didn’t have to deal with the grief, difficulty and hardship that its absence may have otherwise caused him. This caused him to be overjoyed in his life. The underlying understanding here is that happiness does not necessarily require anything in addition to your life. It is possible to experience happiness and be happy without having anything new.
While it may work, going through the cycle of loss and regain to be happy isn’t something we would necessarily volunteer ourselves for if given the chance. The reward of happiness may be worth it, but we human beings have a natural aversion to feelings of loss, even if they are temporary.
By focusing on the the joy of regain, we can extract the element which spark the happiness itself to shortcut the entire process. This element is gratitude.
By being grateful for what we have, we are able to experience the joy of our situations and possessions without having had to lose them in the first place. We can skip the drama of loss and regain and cut straight to the joy of happiness.
The poor man in this analogy, by being grateful for his donkey and the sustenance it may provide him, will feel happy and content with what he has without experiencing the loss and regain of his donkey in the first place.
Therefore we can understand that if we wish to take the shortcut to happiness, we must be grateful for what we have. We must express gratitude to God, to our Parents, to our families, our friends and to all those who contribute to any successes and progression we may achieve.
Expressing gratitude for what you have is the ultimate shortcut to happiness.
The act of being grateful requires a refocusing of our vision from the long to short distance, from the far to the near.
In life, it may seem natural to keep our eyes on the horizon, always aiming at elusive long term goals. While no doubt noble in the spirit of continuous progression, we may as a result lose focus on the short-term and immediate situations we find ourselves in. Concentrating on the far can mean neglect on what we have. So make sure to refocus your vision and reflect on what and who you have around you today.
Take the time end effort to express gratitude for whoever and whatever you have in your life. Loss and regain is not the only path to happiness.
Appreciating your life is another path we can opt to take that is within our conscious control.