I’d like to share a quick story about happiness with you.
It’s a story about a Mexican Fisherman and an Investment Banker.
It goes something like this…
“An American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.
The Mexican replied, “only a little while. The American then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish? The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs. The American then asked, “but what do you do with the rest of your time?”
The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siestas with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine, and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life.”
The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats, eventually, you would have a fleet of fishing boats.
Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually New York City, where you will run your expanding enterprise.”
The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?”
To which the American replied, “15 – 20 years.”
“But what then?” Asked the Mexican.
The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions!”
“Millions – then what?”
The American said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siestas with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”
The Happiness Trap
“The future is still not here, and cannot become a part of experienced reality until it is present…..To pursue it is to pursue a constantly retreating phantom, and the faster you chase it, the faster it runs ahead. This is why all the affairs of civilisation are rushed, why hardly anyone enjoys what he has, and is forever seeking more and more.” – Alan Watts
The first time I read through this parable, it didn’t really make sense to me.
At the time, my takeaway from this parable was that happiness and self-improvement were in direct conflict with each other.
The Mexican Fisherman was content with little but didn’t aspire to make progress or grow as much as the Investment Banker did.
In other words, if you’re happy right now, why would you strive to make progress and achieve mastery in your craft?
But, then I soon realized that I’d missed the point completely.
Our happiness and self-improvement are not in conflict at all.
The Mexican Fisherman had the foresight to see what was truly important to him—his family, friends, and hobbies.
Most importantly, he made the decision to be happy right now.
You see from childhood, we’ve been taught to defer our happiness into the future.
In high school, you’re told that it’s only after you graduate with the best grades and get accepted by a prestigious university, then you’ll finally be happy.
Once you get these grades and enroll in University, you’re told that it’s really only after you graduate with the best University degree and get a high paying job from a top Corporate company, then you’ll finally be happy.
After you get this job, you’re told once again that after you reach the top of the career ladder and make 6 figures a year, then you’ll finally be happy.
Once you start building financial security, you’re told that actually it’s only after you get married, have kids, buy a house and a fancy car, then you’ll be happy.
The more we chase happiness and acquire more stuff, the more unhappy we become—it’s the happiness trap.
The single person chases marriage to finally be happy, whilst unhappy married people chase singleness again to be happy.
The unknown musician chases fame and attention to finally be happy, whilst the popular celebrity chases obscurity to be happy again.
One man chases wealth and money to find happiness, another extremely wealthy man sells his possessions to the poor to be happy again.
Ironically, we continue to defer our happiness until we retire at an old age and finally realize that we were capable of being happy all this time.
Happiness is Right Here. Right Now.
If a formula for unhappiness existed, it’ll probably look something like this…
“Once I get [Fill in the blank], then I’ll finally be happy.”
But, what if you already have enough to be happy right now?
If you truly want to be happy again, the only thing you should give up is trying to get something in the future to make you happy.
Just look at how little children interact with the world.
They don’t dwell on the past or worry about the future. They don’t really care what people think about them or even what they think of themselves.
They live life in this moment right here and now, even though they don’t have money, a fancy job, house, car or a spouse.
You can tap into this freedom because you’ve been there before.
Let go of trying to control the future and embrace the happiness that’s already available to you right now.