Why a Chinese Proverb Turned Out to Be My All-Time Favourite Quote…

[ Reading time ~ 4 minutes. ]


Whatever it is that you think you’re looking for in life – whether you think it’s more confidence, more success, more happiness, a deeper understanding of life, or even spiritual enlightenment – your quest really boils down this: you want less tension in your life, and more relaxation.

Paradoxically, however, relaxation comes from not resisting the tension when it comes (and it always comes) – from not making the tension any worse. That’s what I think, anyway…

Why Tension and Relaxation are What It’s ALL About

It’s funny. I must’ve been aware of this Chinese Proverb for probably 10 years or so. I know I started carefully compiling inspirational quotes in 2008, for my guru-free self-help site SelfHelpCollective.com. Somewhere in that time, these easily ignored inspirational words will have crossed my path.

I say easily ignored, as it’s only in the last few years that I’ve come to see the deep wisdom behind these ancient words, especially when it comes to the human condition.

Indeed, I updated my SMNash.com blog in early 2021 to include this proverb, by way of highlighting the simplicity of the human struggle.

Now SMNash.com is a blog dedicated to freely sharing the Inside-Out Understanding with anyone that’s interested, and on the surface this proverb has nothing to do with that understanding.

The thing is, though, human beings are not really interested in understanding, for its own sake; essentially, they either want to know how to move away from suffering or move towards happiness. (That’s how I see things, anyway.)

The struggle we all face, then – whatever our gender or sexuality, whatever has happened to us in childhood or afterwards, however old we are – is to suffer less and be happy more.

And what is suffering? What is happiness? Well, the 2021 update on my SMNash.com blog homepage goes something like this:

    Suffering goes by many names, names like: anger, anxiety, depression, frustration, overwhelm, stress and unease. Suffering is not getting what you want; is not being in control; is not being okay with your present experience.

    Happiness that has conditions – e.g. achieve success, be in a great relationship, be spiritually enlightened even – is not happiness.  Unconditional happiness is an embodied understanding that you don’t need to get what you want; you don’t need to be in control; that your experience of life is never wrong.

Which means suffering comes from believing things SHOULD be different from what they are – things like your behaviour, your situation, your appearance, the world you live in, etc.

Which means happiness comes from accepting things as they ARE, and making the best of things as they are until those things change (and they always change).

Do you get me?

Do you see why I love this Chinese Proverb so?

Tension is SHOULD; Relaxation is IS.

So if I’m angry, I’m angry; if I’m sad, I’m sad; If I make a mistake, I make a mistake. Wanting how I am in any given moment to be different really is a waste of energy, and usually only makes things worse.

Dancing between tension and relaxation is what life is all about, then. That, and dancing the Hokey Cokey!


It seems that we believe that tension is how things get done, how things get changed, how we make the world a better place – that without tension we can never relax. Like fighting for peace, however, I think using tension to relax is an oxymoron (a contradiction in terms). And so, too, does whoever wrote that Chinese Proverb.

Fact is: relaxation is the best way to do anything!

But that’s what I think, how I see things. I also think that YOU need to see this for yourself, and not just take my word for it.

What Do You Think?

This is definitely one of those times when I really don’t want you to take my word for it. Please conduct your own experiments.

Check for yourself what really makes you happy, and what really causes you to suffer? Check for yourself those times when you’ve handled a bad situation as well as you possibly could, and the mountain returned to being a molehill once more.

What I’m sharing only makes sense to you, if it makes sense to you. Otherwise, they’re just empty words, illuminating an empty quote. And the world is far too full of empty words and empty quotes – in my humble opinion.

Me? I really like this inspirational quote. So much so, that I made some digital prints of it for sale on Etsy…

Chinese Proverb digital print product image - product available now at Etsy!

Chinese Proverb digital print @ Etsy – available now!