I made two discoveries in recent years. The first is that we could be successful and not be happy. Second, we could be happy without being successful. Given the opportunity to choose, which would you settle for?

In my experience, I have discovered that success exposes our human limitations: our flaws, our mistakes, our pains. It exposes the scars we sustained on the long and difficult road to success, making them septic and leaving us undesirable at times so much so that the joy of success becomes ruined.

I often wonder about the lives of great artists like Vincent van Gogh. For a man who was prodigiously talented, arguably the greatest painter that ever lived, one could say that his life contradicted his work. What madness caused him to sever his own ear and drove him to an asylum? His words: ‘canvases will tell you what I cannot say in words…’ Each time I grapple with the notions of success and happiness, I find some comfort in the profound words of the great artist. Nevertheless, his last words ‘The sadness will last forever’ often leave a hollow, haunting feeling in my heart. Perhaps the composition of his painting, Portrait of Dr. Gachet, melancholic and compassionate at once, reflected his own life far more than his self-portraits. The message of his work, Sorrow, can be peeled off layer by layer to reveal new and deeper meanings. I thought he gave The Church at Auvers a soft, beautiful touch that portrayed it to be much more than a place of worship or religious rituals. This is a work that can hardly be described with words, but on canvas it bared the innermost beauty of the artist’s mind.

Vincent van Gogh was truly a great artist. Only 37 when he took his own life, there must have been a thought on his mind at the moment he fired the shot that led to his death. I want to believe that that thought must have been as profound as the messages he left on canvas.

Sometimes I dwell on Rembrandt, wondering at the recklessness that made him live beyond his means. Often I ask myself: ‘Was that trait the secret of his great gift?’

‘Was that what made it possible for him to unleash such astounding imagination that grips the world till today?’ ‘Did he acquire that trait as a result of the tragedy of losing three infant children in succession, the eldest at only two months?’

I wonder about Kafka too. What could have driven him to want to commit suicide on at least one occasion? He died of illness at the unripe age of 40. Born 3 July, died 3 June (is this a mere coincidence?).

What is it that connects success and tragedy? Well, they may not be connected in all cases. Certainly, there must be people who are both successful and happy. And I know people who are very happy but not successful. Success minus Happiness. Happiness minus Success. Given the benefit of hindsight which would you choose?

Back to van Gogh and Rembrandt. Compared to van Gogh’s short life, Rembrandt enjoyed longevity. Both enjoyed great success as painters, just that one may have lived a life devoid of happiness. Or did van Gogh live a happy life? Indeed, did Rembrandt live an unhappy life?