“Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” – Lao Tzu
I am sure you have heard the story (who the original author is, I have no idea) below but I am sharing this because of the words of wisdom from Dale Carnegie, the man who wrote How to Win Friends and Influence People.
“It isn’t what you have or who you are or where you are or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about it,” penned the American inspirational author.
There was this American tourist who saw a boat that was docked in a tiny village. He complimented the local fishermen on the quality of their fish and asked how long it took to catch the fish. “Not very long,” they answered in unison.
The tourist was baffled why the fishermen didn’t stay longer to catch more fish. They explained that their small catches were sufficient to meet their needs and those of their families.
“But what do you do with the rest of your time?” the tourist inquired. “We sleep late, fish a little, play with our children, and take naps with our wives,” they replied. “In the evenings, we go into the village to see our friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs. We have a full life.”
The tourist interrupted. “I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you,” he said. “You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat.”
“And after that?” the fishermen asked. The tourist went on: “With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers. Instead of selling your fish to a middle man, you can then negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can then leave this little village and move to a city. From there, you can direct your huge new enterprise.”
“How long would that take?” the fishermen asked again.
When the tourist answered twenty years, the fishermen asked, “What happens next?”
“Well, my friend, that’s when it gets really interesting,” he told them while smiling. “When your business gets really big, you can start buying and selling stocks and make millions!”
“Millions? Really? And after that?” asked the fishermen.
“After that, you’ll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your children, catch a few fish, take a nap with your wife and spend your evenings drinking and enjoying your friends.”
The fishermen chorused: “With all due respect, sir, but that’s exactly what we are doing now. So, what’s the point of wasting twenty years?”
Ah, to live life to its fullest. That’s what contentment is all about. “Contentment isn’t a matter of being contented with your situation in life and never trying to improve it. It’s a matter of being content with what you have,” wrote Leo Babauta in The Incredible Power of Contentment.
American television host and Oscar-nominated Oprah Winfrey says, “Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.”
People have different ways of looking at contentment. “Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life,” wrote American humourist and novelist Mark Twain.
Leo Tolstoy in Family Happiness offers this glimpse: “A quiet secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to have it done to them; then work which one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books, music, love for one’s neighbour – such is my idea of happiness.”
So, it came to pass that the Lord was so tired of a certain man’s prayers that He appeared to him one day and said, “I have decided to grant you any three things you ask for. After that, I shall give you nothing more.”
The man delightedly made his first petition at once. He asked that his wife should die so he could marry a better woman. His first petition was granted.
But when friends and relatives gathered for the funeral and started to recall all the good qualities of his wife, the man realized that he had been hasty. He now realized that he had been quite blind to all her virtues. Was he likely to find another woman quite as good?
So, the man asked the Lord to bring her back to life. It was his second petition and the Lord did!
That left him with just one petition. And he was determined not to make a mistake this time, for he would have no chance to correct it. He consulted widely. Some of his friends advised him to ask for immortality. But what good was immortality, said others, if he did not have good health? And what use was good health if he had no money? And of what use was money if he had no friends?
Years passed and he could not make up his mind what to ask for: life or health or wealth or power or love. Finally, he said to the Lord, “Please advise me on what to ask for?”
The Lord laughed when he saw the man’s predicament, and said, “Ask to be contented no matter what life brings you.”