There is an old fable I grew up with called the Lion and the Sheep. There was once a lion’s baby growing up with a herd of sheep. It was by accident that the predator had become family to the preys. The baby cub grew up to think he was one of the sheep until one fine day they all went on a picnic to the Riverside. There in the silently flowing waters of the stream, the lion saw his reflection for the very first time. He also saw the sheep in the mirror and realised for the first time that he was something different. Even though all this while he grew up thinking himself sheep and fleeing the lions, he was a lion himself.
Chris Gardner always found himself better than the surrounding he was put into. He was smart, hard working and loyal. He was a sensitive man, a rare breed to be found in the echelons of his time. Nevertheless he remained persistent in his pursuit of the world where he would finally at home with himself. Pursuit, it was the second most important word in his dictionary. He never made it to college but he could definitely learn. So when the first Declaration of Independence was made in his country by Thomas Jefferson, he made sure to read it. That was where he found the word Pursuit. Mr Jefferson considered it a basic right to be able to have pursuits, the will to look for things you did not already have. Having a pursuit meant you were dreaming of having more, doing more, becoming more. That was declared an attribute of an independent man by Mr Jefferson.
Happyness with a ‘y’ was another very important word in Chris’s life. Although he knew the word as kid, it was only when he saw it splashed across a wall graffiti outside his son’s creche that the word became so special. It was obvious that the person who had tattooed the word across the street wall did not know the word happiness literature-ly, but he definitely knew the word literal-ly. Even though it was only the wrong spelling that bothered Chris, it is wonderful how the anecdote connects all his life into a string of ‘happyness’ beyond languages and definitions.
Based on the life story of the real Chris Gardner, the movie is but a compressed version of all the anecdotes in Chris’s extraordinary life. Like a lion amongst sheep, he would always surprise his peers and himself with his abilities. The story begins when Chris finds himself stuck in a dying job of a salesman even though he had put in all his life savings into getting the job. He believed in the power of technology but was thoroughly disappointed when he found it to be too expensive and almost a luxury. It became difficult to make ends meet and soon the problems of the real world began to pour down on him and his family of three. His wife was the first to break. She decided to leave Chris for the simple reason that she was no longer happy with him. Hearing these words, he simply asks her to go be happy wherever she can be happy. He sets her free to go pursue her own happiness. But he keeps their son with himself. He asks his son if he is happy and the boy reassures him back that he was happy with his father. This keeps Chris going.
Chris is a dreamer. Chris is also hard working. That combination is difficult to break. He proves it right every time he gets a chance to do so. A seemingly ordinary, homeless, single parent without a paying job is still not broken. He dares to dream of becoming something more in his life. He dares ask for more from his life. When he wants to solve a puzzle his son cannot solve, he dreams to be able to solve. Even though the puzzle is something the whole country is struggling with at the time. And he solves it. When he wants Happyness, he finds it outside a stock brokerage firm, in the eyes and smiles of the people walking out of the building. Ever since he single mindedly pursues that happyness despite all the obstacles that come in his way. Once again it is a problem the whole country is struggling with – joblessness. But he gets it and without a college degree. After all, till when can the lion be scared of another lion thinking it is sheep?
“If you have a dream, you gotta protect it. When people cannot do something, they tell you that you cannot do it either. You want something, you go get it. Period.”
Very often some of the simplest lessons in life are the ones we overlook. The fact that these lesson are so simple make them elusive as well. We take them for granted until a story comes along which rediscovers the beautiful spirit of the same old morals. And we are forced to understand its importance again. When Chris Gardner teaches his 4 year old son these words that may seem cliched and obvious, he is actually sharing the sole principle he has followed all his life. These simple lessons that are so obvious need to become a habit that does not need to be remembered, like in the life of Chris Gardner. Going after everything that one wants should not be thought about but should become habit, like breathing air. Breathing air is a basic existential right and you are not reminded of it everyday. Similarly this will to pursue everything that one wants should become habit. Simplest lessons are easy to ignore because of their simplicity.
The heart warming life lesson he teaches us is that we are in control of our lives. Difficulties are not meant to bind us and tell us that we are victims. He refuses to accept that he is a victim of anything – be it the shady past or apparently hopeless present. He teaches us to take charge whenever the inspiration strikes and work hard – work really hard to achieve it. He teaches to work hard against all the prejudices and injustice around us and achieve what is desired. In a more sublime manner, a river always flows from heights to bottoms. When plunged in the river, to achieve heights you have to swim against the flow. The resistance is mandatory and absolutely valid. It is a test of the will and not a divine will to break your will. And they are meant to be handled like tests are handled – with preparation, lots and lots of preparation.
One may think happiness has been associated to money and financial security in this story. That the need to be in the 1% of the league wherever Chris is defines his definition of happiness. Well, that is true. The fact that he is biased for excellence is the reason he tops the History class in school, solves the Rubik’s cube on his own when it was the unsolved mystery in the country, works in the army saving lives and becomes a stock broker without a college degree. The fact that it is an individual story set in a modern day San Francisco has its own limitations to it. There is money, poverty, homelessness and racism. But why should that mean that the story in itself cannot has to be limited. It is up to us to recognize the spirit of this man who wanted more fom his life and take only the spirit. We may or may not want money in our lives, that is up to us to decide. But why does that have to mean we cannot pursue a happiness of our own choice inspired by him. I think the problem is because Chris Gardner has been depicted as a regular guy stuck in the social and economic conditions around him and who is trying to be happy. While I believe the truth is that it is the story of a man who build for himself an empire after he had to go through a lot of hardships. He was a lion all along and had to be happy being a lion. He could not be looking for happiness like a sheep. He was simply fulfilling his destiny, achieving what he was capable of. We could be capable of other things and be inspired to achieve them. This does not mean that happiness is to be associated with money or financial security. It is to be associated with stepping out of your cocoon of comfort built around you and do whatever it is you wish to do – become financially independent, get healthy and fit, have a loving relationship, fight against injustice or go out into space. Take the inspiration and mold it for yourself!
Chris Gardner is the author of his book of memoirs – Pursuit of Happyness. He is today the founder and CEO of Gardner Rich, a stock brokerage firm. The film with the same name was released in the year 2006 after Gardner finished the book in the same year. He is featured briefly in the movie when the Chris gardner in the movie passes by the real Chris Gardner in the last scene. The actor playing Gardner is Will Smith who walks by listening to his son’s Knock Knock! Jokes.