The Last 3 Percent
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The Last Three Percent<br> By Marc Porter Zasada <p> I don't know about you, but I often fall prey to chance remarks. People say things I just can't get out of my head. The other day my friend David cornered me at a Westside party. We were standing next to a table laid with vast and highly imaginative varieties of food, and everyone around us seemed plenty cheerful -- but David started telling me how the only real happiness he had ever observed was in the remote villages of southeast Asia or maybe the Jungles of Peru. <p> David does travel frequently to third world countries, and he said that in his experience, only men and women in primitive, hardscrabble places truly relish the food they eat or the small victories they achieve. <p> He said: "The happiness you find there may be brief; it may come with plenty of suffering, but it's the genuine article." <p> I had my doubts, and I swear I was about to argue. But suddenly, the Urban Man found he was no longer standing in the pleasant buzz of the party. No, in my mind I was again hiking in the Hindu Kush mountains near the border between China and Pakistan, where I had traveled almost 25 years ago, wandering with a backpack through mammoth landscapes littered with grey rock and sparse grass. <p> Here and there I'd run across a village of 4 or 5 huts where people were tending potatoes in small stony plots or herding a few sheep. Like now, various wars were underway, somewhere just over the next set of peaks. <p> Friends had told me I should carry small gifts, and on their suggestion, I had stocked up with bottles of aspirin and a bag of cheap digital watches, purchased at a dollar apiece. It was all I could afford in those days. <p> When I entered a village, the whole tiny population would come running. To my astonishment, I found I could thrill each villager with one or two aspirin tablets, which they considered a panacea for their many ailments. And then, lo, I would hand out some plastic watches to their kids. A shout would go up. They'd leap with joy. Tears would be shed. <p> And yes, just as David said, those kids showed me a purer happiness than I have since witnessed on the face of any child seated in front of any 64-bit Nintendo console plugged into any 42-inch, high-definition plasma TV here in the fourth wealthiest city on earth. <p> Back at the party, my friend now made the remark I can't get out of my head. "You know," he smiled, "sometimes I wonder if a person can only experience real happiness through hardship. If you have 97% of the good things in this world, you end up worrying about that last 3% you don't have, and you can't be completely happy. But if you start out miserable, you really enjoy that first 3% of good stuff. Like the first car you bought with the money you earned from that awful summer job, or the first campfire dinner you cooked at the end of a tough hike. Really, it's a strange joke on all of us..." <p> Like I said, I have fallen prey to my friend's comment, and for a couple months I admit that here in The Land of the Last Three Percent, the Urban Man has been secretly scrutinizing people's faces as they shop the long aisles of Target or wander boutiques at the Grove. I'm doing a little study to prove David wrong, so I'm recording each leap of joy, each shout of pleasure, and every rare tear of pure happiness. <p> Copyright - 2005 Marc Porter Zasada. All rights reserved. <p>
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