Material success and career advancement need not necessarily bring happiness. Genuine happiness radiates from the core of one’s heart. It implies that one should discover it at the core of one’s heart. Possessions and achievements have little to do with real contentment. They remain at the superficial level of existence. They boost the ego.
Pip, Charles Dickens’ protagonist in the novel Great Expectations (1861), is an example of this great lesson in happiness. Pip is born in a poor family in the English countryside and he soon loses his parents. His sister, married to Joe, looks after Pip. Joe becomes Pip’s foster father. As a young boy Pip is sent to the house of Miss Havisham to carry out certain works and he is enchanted by the beauty of Estella whom he meets there. Miss Havisham is an eccentric woman who has c called a halt on her life because the man whom she had loved ditcher her. She continues to wear her bridal dress, has stopped all the clocks in the house, and is living a life-in-death. She has adopted Estella with the explicit intention of wreaking revenge on men by making them fall in love with her and then ditching them: a reversal of what had happened to Miss Havisham. And Pip will be the first victim.
Pip is stung by the contempt that Estella showers on him. The beautiful girl without a heart (Miss Havisham had replaced her heart with ice, as the novel says) makes Pip acutely aware of his inferiority. He is an illiterate, rustic boy. He has to become a gentleman with a decent career if he is to win over Estella. Great expectations are born in Pip’s small heart.
When Pip gets a scholarship to study in London, he thinks the generosity comes from Miss Havisham. He adds another illusion to it by imagining that Miss Havisham intends him to marry Estella. As Pip acquires education and the manners and mannerisms of a gentleman, he becomes a snob. People like Joe and the poor people in the countryside are looked down upon by him.
The further away we go from the core of our hearts, the greater the charm of the self-destructive ways of life. The less we are in touch with our real ‘self’, the more we seek happiness in external sources. Analyse any addict and you will see an individual discontented with him-/herself.
Pip is discontented with the inferiority of his status. He thinks becoming a gentleman is the remedy. In the process he cuts off people who are or should be close to his heart. He shuts out from his heart the refreshing showers of love and care. Consequently he gets into evil ways and runs up debts.
Ego is the realm of illusions. Pip lives with his illusions until they are broken one by one with the return of Abel Magwitch to his life. Magwitch is an escaped convict. As a little boy, Pip had helped him with food. Now, years later, Magwitch returns to Pip’s life with the shattering information that it was he, and not Miss Havisham, who had been Pip’s benefactor. Magwitch was paying out his gratitude for the kindness which Pip had shown him years ago. Pip realises that he had become a gentleman with the kindness of a convict. It shatters some of his illusions.
Pip begins an inward journey. Circumstances conspire to make that journey as deep as possible. He becomes penniless and falls ill. He would soon be arrested for his debts. But Joe comes all the way from the countryside to look after him during his illness and also to pay up all his debts.
Pip realises that a great career or social advancement or wealth or fine dress does not make one a contented human being. Contentment comes from the great depths of the heart. Contentment lies in one’s ability to feel love and compassion, gratitude and generosity... Contentment lies within, and not out there.