Please note: Speeches appear in the language in which they were delivered.You are at a turning point of your life, your graduation from college, and most of you are truly happy right now.
What is happiness and how can you remain happy for the rest of your lives? After receiving my BSc in 1945, I worked for a year in Montreal and took an extramural course in Canadian and American history at Queen’s. Then was the first time I had read the American Declaration of Independence and I was astounded to read in its second sentence that Americans have the right – the right, not the hope – to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. Life and liberty are obvious, but what is pursuit of happiness? As a boy in Vienna, and again as a prisoner of war in Canada, pursuit of liberty was my first concern, followed by pursuit of a good education and, once I was freed, pursuit of sufficient income to live comfortably. As a student at Queen’s I began thinking of pursuit of a girl here in Ottawa, but the idea of the pursuit of happiness seemed too nebulous even to consider.
Years later, a chemist friend in Zürich, the Nobel Laureate Vladimir Prelog, asked Isabel and me during lunch one day, “What makes you two so happy?” And then he quoted an old Chinese proverb: If you want to be happy for a day, drink a bottle of wine. If for a week, kill a pig; if for a year, get married; if for a lifetime, enjoy your work. Well, the wine and the pig are a matter of taste. I disagree completely with the third. Isabel and I have been married for many years and are still so happy, but the fourth, happiness for life through enjoyment of work, is dead on.
I do not think that there is any point in pursuing happiness. As an able geneticist, David Lykken has concluded: “trying to be happier is like trying to be taller.” Rather, pursue the three essentials for happiness.
First, good health. Smoke and ruin your lungs. Drink a bottle of wine every day and you may ruin your kidneys.
Second, find a great partner. Lonely people are often unhappy. I remember being really unhappy only once, when Isabel stopped writing to me in 1950. Of course I was not happy under Hitler or in the prisoner-of-war camp in Quebec, but in Vienna I had my mother’s love and in the camp many friends.
Third, truly enjoy your work.
Do not make two serious mistakes many people make. One is thinking that the richer you get, the happier you will be. Of course you need enough to live comfortably. Beyond that the only real happiness more money provides me is through being able to use it to help others. The second mistake is to believe in the old American saying “Time is money”. This is nonsense. Time is life, and no amount of money can buy time. Hence enjoy your life, your good health, your partner, your work!
Quand j’étais un garçon à peu près de quatre ans à Vienne, ma mère a employé une gouvernante m’apprendre le français. Ma mère avait fait ses études au Sacré Coeur à Paris et croyait que le français était la langue la plus importante du monde. Malheureusement, à la suite de l’inflation terrible en Autriche, on était au bout des fonds et la gouvernante ne restait avec moi que quelques semaines. Je ne me souviens que de deux choses: des fables de La Fontaine et du fait que j’aimais la langue française. Après, au lycée j’ai étudié le latin pendant quatre ans et l’anglais pendant deux ans mais tragiquement, aucun français. Mais l’amour pour la langue me reste au sein du coeur.
Et le bonheur, c’est pouvoir comprendre un peu le français – quelle belle langue alors – et même de parler un tout petit peu le français.
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