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Is happiness all it’s cracked up to be?

Happiness Books
Happiness Books


Given the number of books, programs, websites, courses and other material that abound for the sole purpose of helping people find happiness, I figure there must be a lot of unhappy people about. It raises a lot of questions:

What is happiness?

Do we have a correct understanding of happiness?

Is it right to look for happiness?

Are we looking for happiness in the wrong place?

Should we be searching for it?

Do we have a right to happiness?

We seem to treat happiness as a commodity – as something one can possess – but it has conditions attached to it. So, when I have such and such, I’ll be happy. If only such and such, I’d be happy.

I suspect that unhappiness has a lot to do with false or unrealistic expectations or a degree of dissatisfaction or disappointment but I really believe that so-called unhappiness is down to something quite simple: lack of meaning or purpose in one’s life. This has nothing to do with money, possessions, relationships, health, status, power or anything else that we cling to but that has a habit of sifting through our hands faster than sand.

It’s about who we are and what drives us.

If we have meaning and purpose, we have a reason to get out of bed every morning; we have a reason to work hard, to take risks, to go the extra mile, to make sacrifices. We have hope, confidence, energy. We’re happy in spite of anything else that might be happening to us at the time.

Some of the unhappiest people on earth are also the richest.

Some of the happiest people on earth are the have nots, the infirm, the destitute, the oppressed.

What’s the difference? Well, those who are looking for happiness are not likely to find it, whereas those who have happiness have it simply because they gave it away.

Make room for coffee with a friend

The Professor and the Mayonnaise Ja
The Professor and the Mayonnaise Ja



The following is another popular anecdotal story that circulates the internet. Like the story of the Mexican Fisherman in my previous post, the message behind this one is also powerful and timely as we approach a new year. It is recounted in full from and is a version I particularly like as it uses coffee as an analogy: I always make time for coffee! I am also taken by the image used: that in itself speaks volumes.


The Professor and the Mayonnaise Jar

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with an unanimous “yes.”

The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

“Now,” said the professor as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things–your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions–and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car.

The sand is everything else–the small stuff. “If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you.

“Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first–the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”

One of the students raised her hand and enquired what the coffee represented. The professor smiled.

“I’m glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend.”


The danger of waiting to live the life that you really want to live

Fishing Boat by Markuso
Fishing Boat by Markuso

Image: markuso /

The following anecdotal story has done the rounds on the internet for some years now. Even if you have come across the story before, it bears repeating because of the intensity and power of its message, which I feel is a relevant one as we approach a new year.

Although versions differ slightly, the compelling nature of the story is the same. The following version is adapted from


The Story of the Businessman and the Mexican Fisherman

(author unknown)

The businessman 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 businessman 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 businessman then asked why he didn’t stay out longer and catch more fish? The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs. The businessman then asked, but what do you do with the rest of your time?

The Mexican fisherman replied, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta 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, señor.”

The businessman scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and I 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 and eventually open 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 would run your expanding enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But señor, how long will this all take?” To which the businessman replied, “15-20 years.”

“But what then, señor?”

The businessman 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, señor? Then what?”

The businessman responded, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”

The fisherman, still smiling, looked up and said, “Isn’t that what I’m doing right now?”



The story does, of course, beg the question of what defines ‘life’, ‘success’ and ‘happiness’. It reminded me of Bishop Oscar Romero’s exhortation:

Aspire not to have more but to be more.


At a more fundamental level, recall that well-known childhood adage:

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.


Why does living the life you really want to live have to wait until you think you can afford it, by which time it may be too late?