To be human is to be born with desires, to have wishes, and to experience longings. But not all wishes have the same quality, nature, or origin.
Some wishes assume the shape of daydreams or fantasies as utopian visions enter the mind and people imagine impossibilities.
Other wishes develop in the form of whims, ideas or suggestions from external influences that prompt persons into reactions that have no sound reasoning, for example, impulsive shopping and the purchase of unnecessary things.
Some wishes, however, belong in the rank of true wishes, the deepest desires of the human heart that resonate in the soul and come from the depths of human nature. The art of living consists of the ability to distinguish between these three kinds of wishes and to act in response to true wishes and not be deluded by fantasies and whims.
Daydreams and Delusions
King Midas daydreamed about the golden touch that would multiply his extraordinary wealth into even greater treasure. When a Greek god granted the king his foolish wish, he first reveled in its power to produce instant gold. All the things he touches that adorn his life with beauty, joy, and goodness—flowers, his daughter Marygold, the delicious food on the table—soon assume a metallic weight and taste that changes them into inanimate objects.
After the disappearance of fragrance from the flowers, savor from trout, eggs, and pancakes, and the smile from daughter’s face, Midas realizes the uselessness of the golden touch and learns to value the truly precious and priceless more than gold metal and lifeless objects: “He felt that his little daughter’s love was worth a thousand times more than he had gained by the Golden Touch.” His wish for gold did not proceed from a pure heart but from the sin of avarice.
Whims and Waste
In the Grimm folktale “The Fisherman’s Wife,” the woman’s wishes develop into whims with no rational basis or true need inspiring them. When she learns from her husband that he performed a simple favor for a flounder by throwing the fish back into the water, she reacts by demanding a favor: “What, did you wish for nothing?” The fisherman then asks for a cottage to rescue her from her dreary hovel—a request the flounder gladly grants. But the wife whimsically keeps sending her husband back to the flounder to demand more gifts, more lavish luxuries, and the world’s greatest forms of splendor: a castle, the palace of a king, the kingdom of an emperor, the treasures of the Pope, and the dominion of God.
The whimsy in these requests is the impulsiveness of the thought and the short-term pleasure the flounder’s gifts offer to the wife. One day after receiving the castle she wished, she wakes up the next morning and urges her husband to petition the flounder for the palace of a king, even though the fisherman pleaded, “We can live in this fine castle and be very well contented.” Like a fantasy, a whim is a wish that does not lead to happiness, answer a real need, fulfill the human heart, or offer an enduring source of contentment.
In Hans Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” the youngest of six sisters longs to leave the watery world of the sea and live a human life in the world above the ocean rather than continue a fish-like existence in the water. The human world offers the joy of married love and the gift of an immortal soul that the life of the sea does not give to the mermaids. This desire proceeds from a deep longing of the heart for the satisfaction of loving and being loved and the yearning of the soul for eternal life.
Heartfelt and Humble
The little mermaid does all in her power by way of effort and sacrifice to realize these wishes: “I would give all the hundreds of years I have to be a human girl for just one day and then to receive my part in the Kingdom of Heaven.” She drinks the witch’s bitter potion to transform her fish’s tail into human legs, she endures the pain of walking that is “like treading on a sharp sword that cuts you and makes your blood flow,” she sacrifices her beautiful singing voice by cutting her tongue as payment to the witch, and she enters a human world of suffering, injustice, and death in exchange for the mermaid’s paradise of perfect peace and beautiful sights in luxurious surroundings—an existence that grants three hundred years of bliss before mermaids turn to foam. The mermaid’s deepest wishes do come true.
Her wishes come true because they are the natural, heartfelt, deepest longings of the soul.
They come true because she wishes for the true goods of life, not more gold or larger houses. The wishes come true because they come from a pure, unspotted heart, not out of envy or greed. They come true because they are based on thought and reflection, not impulse or fantasy. They come true because the mermaid feels gratitude and finds lasting contentment in the gifts she receives, not passing pleasures.
The mermaid’s wishes are answered as a result of good deeds, noble intentions, heroic efforts, and great sacrifices. Her deepest wishes yearn for the most important things—love, marriage, joy, and immortality—not more material goods and luxurious comforts. She seeks to satisfy her deepest longings in honest ways, not by demanding favors or being greedy.
The mystery of wishes coming true, then, depends on what a person seeks, how pure the motive is, how much effort a person spends, how grateful the heart is, and how humble a person is.