Confucius was travelling once over Mount T’ai when he caught sight of an aged man roaming in the wilds. He was clothed in a deerskin, girded with a rope, and was singing as he played on a lute.
‘My friend,’ said Confucius, ‘what is it that makes you so happy?’
The old man replied: ‘I have a great deal to make me happy. God created all things, and of all His creations man is the noblest. It has fallen to my lot to be a man: that is my first ground for happiness. Then, there is a distinction between male and female, the former being rated more highly than the latter. Therefore it is better to be a male; and since I am one, I have a second ground for happiness. Furthermore, some are born who never behold the sun or the moon, and who never emerge from their swaddling-clothes. But I have already walked the earth for the space of ninety years. That is my third ground for happiness. Poverty is the normal lot of the scholar, death the appointed end for all human beings. Abiding in the normal state, and reaching at last the appointed end, what is there that should make me unhappy? ‘
‘What an excellent thing it is,’ cried Confucius, ‘to be able to find a source of consolation in oneself!’