In the US the stories of Cinderella, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the Princess and the Pea, among others, have been very popular to generations of children. Many of these stories deal with the issue of finding happiness. The search for happiness can be life-long and, in some cases, the sought for happiness may never be found.
Most children would be familiar with Rapunzel and the other German fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm. The Ugly Duckling and the various other tales of Hans Christian Andersen would likewise be known to children throughout the world. These various tales often have a “happily ever after” quality about them. Some of these stories end with the princess riding off with the prince or some other happy ending.
There is a medieval epic story with a fairy tale quality from Russia entitled “Sadko” (Садко) which deals with this theme quite directly. Sadko played the gusli (a stringed instrument similar to a lyre) on the shores of a lake. The Sea King enjoyed his music, and offered to help him. Sadko was instructed to make a bet with the local merchants about catching a certain fish in the lake; when he caught it (as provided by the Sea King), the merchants had to pay the wager, making Sadko a rich merchant.
Sadko wants to be of help to the peasants of his home city of Novgorod and informs them of the fact that he had heard of a ‘bird of happiness’ which exists somewhere across the sea. He uses the wealth provided by the local merchants to build a series of ships and begins a journey to find this ‘bird of happiness’.
After searching to the various corners of the world, he finally ends up in India. One of his men finds out that there is a ‘bird of happiness’ owned by the local prince. Sadko agrees to play a game of chess with the prince. If he wins, he can have this bird, a phoenix, which has risen to life from its own ashes. If he loses, the prince wins Sadko’s horse, which he brought with him.
Sadko is a dreamer. His girlfriend’s mother tells her to avoid him because he had no prospects and was a “good for nothing”. He tells his girlfriend, Lyubava, of his desire to find ‘the bird of happiness’ and she tells him that he must do what is in his heart, but that she will wait for him until he returns. Lyubava does not hear from Sadko for two years, but she thinks about him every day.
Sadko wins his chess match with the Indian prince. He is granted permission to take the ‘bird of happiness’, but he soon realizes that this bird does not bring him happiness at all. He is homesick and tells his men that they will be returning to Novgorod.
He had made an agreement to the Sea King that he would offer tribute to the king in return for his wealth, but Sadko never kept his end of the agreement. On their return trip, a storm comes upon the water and the ships are in danger of capsizing. He and his sailors tried to appease the Sea King with gold, but to no avail. Sadko's crew forced him to jump into the sea. There, he played the gusli for the Sea King, who offered him a new bride. On advice, he took the last maiden in a long line, and lay down beside her. 1
He awakes on the shore of Novgorod and returns to the arms of Lyubava. Perhaps the happiness which he sought for elsewhere could only be found in his own city? Lyubava is an example of the Russian soul who pines for her beloved and will not give up on him no matter how long he is aware. Such love and devotion are among the things which can bring happiness to another.
What does it mean to “find happiness”? The answer to this question is neither simple nor straightforward. Happiness means different things to different people. One thing is clear. It is difficult to find happiness outside of yourself, if you are not happy within. Relying upon another person or some object to bring them happiness can have disastrous results. If one relies upon another person to bring them happiness they run the risk of treating the other person as an object instead of a human being. Without a sense of internal happiness is in inevitable that one will become unhappy with the “object” of their happiness and will likely begin to search for another to bring them the happiness that they so desire.
Fairy tales such as Sadko make an important point about the value of love and devotion in the search for happiness, but the journey must be an interior one, not to some far off land searching for an elusive bird. The journey must be into one’s own heart. It is there that happiness must be found before it can be found anywhere else. Sadko seemed to have found this out upon his return to Lyubava. Hopefully this truth will also be discovered by all those who search for happiness in their own lives as well.
1) “Sadko” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sadko