The Secret to Happiness

Courtney Carver is author of the blog Be More with Less, and describes herself with “I have been too busy, too tired, too full, too stressed and too overworked for too long and I am changing my ways.” Courtney also runs the One Million for Good site, selling limited edition fine art prints in support of good causes.

I’d like to tell you a story…

A certain shopkeeper sent his son to learn about the secret of happiness from the wisest man in the world.

The lad wandered through the desert for forty days, and finally came upon a beautiful castle, high atop a mountain. It was there that the wise man lived.

Rather than finding a saintly man though, our hero, on entering the main room of the castle, saw a hive of activity: tradesmen came and went, people were conversing in the corners, a small orchestra was playing soft music, and there was a table covered with platters of the most delicious food in that part of the world.

The wise man conversed with everyone, and the boy had to wait for two hours before it was his turn to be given the man’s attention. The wise man listened attentively to the boy’s explanation of why he had come, but told him that he didn’t time just then to explain the secret of happiness.

He suggested that the boy look around the palace and return in two hours. “Meanwhile I want to ask you do do something,” said the wise man, handing the boy a teaspoon that held two drops of oil. “As you wander around, carry this spoon with you without allowing the oil to spill.”

The boy began climbing and descending the many stairways of the palace, keeping his eyes fixed on the spoon. After two hours, he returned to the room where the wise man was. “Well,” asked the wise man, “did you see the Persian tapestries that are hanging in my dining hall? Did you see the garden that it took the master gardener ten years to create? Did you notice the beautiful parchments in my library?”

The boy was embarrassed, and confessed that he had observed nothing. His only concern had been not to spill the oil that the wise man had entrusted to him.

“Then go back and observe the marvels of my world,” said the wise man.

Relieved, the boy picked up the spoon and returned to his exploration of the palace, this time observing all of the works of art on the ceilings and the walls. He saw the gardens, the mountains all around him, the beauty of the flowers, and the tasted with which everything had been selected. Upon returning to the wise man, he related in detail everything he had seen.

“But where are the drops of oil I entrusted to you?” asked the wise man. Looking down at the spoon he held, the boy saw that the oil was gone.

“Well, there is only one piece of advice I can give you.” said the wisest of wise men. “The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon”

The Alchemistby Paulo Coelho

This little story with a very big message from one of my favorite books begs the question, “Can we appreciate the beauty that surrounds us while staying focused on what is most important.”

Simplicity answers the question with a resounding “Yes!”

When life isn’t simple and you have to constantly think about

  • debt
  • shopping
  • catching up
  • spending
  • competing
  • appointments
  • health issues
  • falling behind
  • family conflict
  • clutter
  • stuff

then there is no time to appreciate the beauty or protect what is most important to you. There is no time to be happy.

Imagine dumping everything in your life that is meaningless. Everything that you don’t do for love. What would be leftover? It’s time to prioritize the “leftover”. Somehow those most important things, those things (which usually aren’t actual things) get shoved back behind all of the things we are “supposed” to be doing, buying, reading, worrying about.

This isn’t permission to shirk your obligations, but an invitation to put the most important thing in your life today at the top of your never ending to-do list. While everyone will have a different thing at the top of the list, clearing out, or making a plan to begin clearing out clutter/debt/meaningless stuff should be close to the top until it’s gone.

That said, even before you are debt free, clutter free, or free of whatever stands in the way of you and a happier life, prioritize the precioius oil in your life and start living, start enjoying immediately.

There is no doubt that clearing clutter will give you the time and space you need to fully embrace life, but you don’t have to wait for an empty drawer to get started. I know you think you will be happy when you are debt free, or happy when you fit into your skinny jeans, but I can tell you with great conviction that it’s time to be happy right now. You can be happy anytime.

You know me better to think that I am suggesting that you run around with a crazy smile on your face and rainbows shooting out of your pockets, but once you believe that happiness is possible, regardless of your current circumstances, things will start to change.

You will change.

Your life will change.

You will be happy.

Happy reading recommendations

What makes you happy right now?

Photo by Jonathon Benson via Flickr

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  1. The Steppenwolf says:

    People who prioritize their one true have to do legend in my own mind follow my dream yada yada bullshit over washing, brushing their teeth, paying the bills and acting like a civilized human being by showing up on time and not keeping everyone else waiting for them to get there sorry act together are a mess.
    You watch the damn spoon, every several steps you stop and take a gander at the scenery around you. Why is that so difficult? Who’s cooking dinner, cleaning up your mess, bringing home the bacon, … while you are on this self imposed pilgrimage to your own ADD personality?
    Sorry, the blank box invited me to speak my mind. The alchemist is a fun read, but it is light, don’t stop and think about it or you’ll spoil the fun, nonintellectual fluff. Now excuse me, I have to go serve tea in some crystal glasses to some New Age Lola Granola’s who just made it to the top of the hill sweating rather profusely.

  2. It is great to see that so many people are understanding how important it is to be happy and why people arent happy. The trick in life is to be able to manage all those worries without losing focus on what is really important in life. So often, we see people getting caught up in their daily routines they forget to check up on their “happiness” levels. I am happy I found this post because without it I wouldn’t understand how many people are actually focusing on this issue.

    There are a few other places where you can learn about this issue of “UN”happiness.


  3. Gareth Richards says:

    Paul Coelho is defiantly one of the most annoying authors I’ve read, his novels are easy to read, generally short and undemanding on the reader, but the message in his books seems to be that if your in tune with the spirit of the universe that happiness and riches will come your way. Our hero in the end of the The Alchemist gets the girl and his treasure.

    This is of course not how the universe works. Unfortunately everyone needs to do things they don’t want to do, or don’t like doing.

    In true Nextstarfish style here is a youtube video explaining why you need to read Paul Coelho with a little more of your grey matter engaged.

    • I’m rather fond of the Alchemist too actually Gareth, though I’m not such a big fan of some of Paulo’s later books.

      As with most things, it often comes down to simply liking or not liking something, for whatever reason, but it does seem a little harsh to criticise a novel (which describes itself as a fable) on the basis that it’s not acurate in depicting the ‘way the world works’ !

      I’m afraid the girl in the video you linked to was a little too angry for my tastes, but look forward to similarly ‘reality’ based reviews of Harry Potter, the Lord of the Rings, the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy and Doctor Who :)

      • Gareth Richards says:

        I have to admit to liking the Alchemist when I read it to. But the philosophy espoused in the book and subsequent works is not in my opinion a particularly a good one.

        Your a little harsh calling The Human Fiction angry?

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