Hundreds of disciples of a certain master had gathered in a monastery. They were there to catch a glimpse of him, to hear his words of wisdom, to learn meditation and so on.
In particular, they wanted to know how to be happy in this ever stressful world, was there any way even to lasting happiness?
The master listened to their questions patiently and quietly began his discourse on happiness. He stopped in the middle of his sermon and handed a balloon to each one of the five hundred attendees.
“This is the balloon of happiness,” he said. “Inflate it and scribble your name on it.”
A few markers were passed around so the job could be completed.
“Once done,” the master added, “go and place your balloon in the empty room next door.”
“I know what this is about,” a pupil remarked, “sooner or later the balloon will burst or shrink on its own and that’s how happiness is. It won’t last. The more inflated it is, the quicker it pops. We have to protect it carefully.”
The master smiled at the eager disciple and gesticulated at him to follow the instructions. One by one they placed their balloons in the next room, came back, and took their seats.
“Now,” the master spoke when all were settled, “go fetch the balloon with your name and bring it back here.”
Everyone got up and rushed to the other room to grab their balloon. It was a balloon of happiness, after all. Soon, sounds of bursting balloons, arguments and collisions could be heard as everyone was busy frantically searching for the balloon with their name on it. Five minutes later, only a handful had managed to find their balloon. More by chance than order.
The master asked them to stop and take any balloon regardless of the name on it and bring it back. In no time, everyone was back in the room with a balloon in their hands.
“Just call out the name on the balloon,” the master said, “and, give it to the person to whom it belongs.”
Soon everyone was holding their balloon, except the ones whose had burst in the frenzy.
“In a world where each one of us searching for happiness,” the master continued, “the easiest way is to hand others theirs and someone will give you yours.”
“But, what to do if my balloon is popped by the other person?” one of them asked. “I don’t have one.”
“Inflate a new one,” the master replied giving him a new balloon.
There is perhaps not a better anecdote out there that sums up the essence of happiness. No matter how much we may want to believe that we can be happy even at the cost of others’ happiness, the truth is that we can never be happy by giving others grief. Perhaps, you can prove that you are right, maybe you can subdue the other person, but can you be happy by doing that? I don’t think so.
You just give them their balloon of happiness and someone will return you yours. The other person may not reciprocate, but Nature will. The same person may not give you back your balloon, but someone else will. And, what if, you may ask, no one hands you your balloon? What if even when you give them theirs, no one cares to give you back yours?
In that case, just do your good karma and wait and wait patiently. There will come a moment when everyone will have their balloon and the one left behind will be yours. There is no stress, no rush if you are not out there to win some race. If you can accept that some will get their balloons before others, it won’t bother you then whether you get yours now or a bit later.
Here’s something important to think about regarding the anecdote: the students could only hope to find their balloon if they had pumped one at the first place. We too are responsible for creating our own balloons. Others can’t create happiness for you. You have to create it yourself. They can, at the most, give it to you when they find it. But, if you haven’t got balloon out there, something that makes you happy, how can anyone give it to you then? The other person is only returning the happiness you already identify with. Please let this sink in: they are not creating but returning our balloons of happiness.
And what if someone else has pricked your balloon? Go find a new one. Simple. There is no point shouting at them or holding any grudges. Even if they want, they can’t repair your balloon, it won’t be the same. You shouldn’t punish yourself by remaining depressed or unhappy. No point in bursting over a popped balloon (pun intended). Enjoy the explosion. Step out and see the world. Plenty of balloons to choose from.
There is absolutely no lack of opportunities, avenues and sources of happiness. There is so much you can do in this world and with your life. You just have to begin somewhere, anywhere, here, now.
This life is going by too fast. One day you may wake up and realize that you’ve already lived through many decades of your life. Why waste our time in piercing others’ balloons or picking a bone with them for bursting ours? Let’s just get on with it and walk the path of good karma. At every step of the way, you’ll find a balloon of happiness.
Keep giving them their balloons and you’ll be left with yours and some unclaimed ones. At any rate, it’s better to inflate the balloon of happiness before the balloon of life pops. It will eventually.