There was this old man the other day. He was sitting on a bench in the park, enjoying the sunset.
Poorly clothed, several holes in his jacket, carrying nothing with him but himself. Isn’t that enough weight to carry, anyway?
He had a calm, sad smile on his face. A smile of a liberated man that regrets his love long gone.
His beard was white, contrasting with the blackened face and dirty, harsh hands. But his eyes, his eyes were like the ones of a child. Untamed, wild. Free.
His dried lips were stretched by the large smile, showing some white teeth, probably not the ones he was born with.
To his left and right, people were passing by without noticing him at all. Hurrying home for supper. Frowning. Busy in their mundane lives. Yet he was standing still. And smiling.
What is there to smile about? Is it so much happiness in the sunset? Or was he mocking everybody else, smiling in spite?
I approached him gently. A tap on the shoulder. The old man turned his eyes slowly towards me and asked: “Yes?”
“I wanted to know why are you smiling, mister?” I replied.
The old man started to laugh: “Ha ha, my young boy. Well, that’s because I found a map to the stars!”
I left the old man behind, confused by his answer, puzzled by what it could’ve meant.
Yet later in my own life, I started to understand. I started to uncover the mystery of his words.
Happiness is such a personal thing. It is a random state of a being, confined in a fixed time. There is no such thing as eternal happiness. You experience it only bit by bit. Split like drops of rain from a cloud in several moments of your life.
Happiness is not cumulative, even though you might say that having more things makes you more happy. Yet people with so little, get to be just as happy as those who have a lot more.
But what’s the most striking thing about happiness is that it can come from any small or big thing available on this world and beyond. A ray of sun in a cloudy day, the first leaf grown on a tree in the spring, a familiar sound heard on a lonely village road. They and many more can trigger this etheric thing we call happiness.
Some say happiness is a chemical reaction in our brains determined by a state of comfort or well being. And that the rest is just padding and preaching.
That could be true, since at the end of the day we are all flesh and blood. Yet one’s spirit makes a hole lot of a difference. Because all the mathematical equations in the world can’t explain why a particular person is happy in a particular moment. We could at least make an educated guess. Predict it, try to influence it. But never get the reason: why?
Because the “why?” is most important to human beings. It gives them reason. Yet I stress that happiness can also be irrational. While directly correlated with welfare, in some cases one can’t deny that he is happy just because. There’s no explanation, no rule, no insightful combination of reasons. It just is.
And the only one who has all the answers is the same one who gets the experience. The best way to find your happiness is to truly look at yourself.
Deep inside your being is the answer, ready to be discovered. You just need to take your time to dig deep and search high.
And then…then you’ll find a map to the stars.
Because for the fortunate, happiness can also represent a state of mind. A way of doing things. The road you take to reach your destination, not just the destination itself. It’s like drawing a map to the farthest corners of your being. Out of comfort, out of ordinary. Experience is the path towards happiness. Seeing the glow in gray and cleanliness in dirt.
So…that’s the answer. That’s why the old man was smiling that one time. On a bench in a park. Burdened by his life. By his age. By the weight of the world passing by.
Because he found his map to the stars. His silver lining.
In the setting sun.