The Happy Fisherman

happy fisherman

There once was a successful business man who vacationed in a small village in South America. He happened to meet a fisherman at a local cantina and they struck up a conversation. The businessman was intrigued by the fisherman’s little fishing business. He shared how he took his boat out a few days a week and then sold his catch to the local market.

The businessman’s wheels began turning as he thought of the possibilities this man had. He explained how he could invest in the fisherman’s business and help him expand. Then he could buy another boat and hire friends or family members to work that boat. He could continue to buy additional boats with his profits and eventually get a contract with a much larger market or retailer in the city.

He explained how that, for his business to be successful, he would need to put in a lot of hours to make sure everything was running smoothly, but eventually, the business would run smoothly and the fisherman wouldn’t have to work so hard.

The fisherman looked a little confused by all this. He asked the businessman, “Why would I want to do all of that? What would be the reason?” The businessman told him that he would then have the freedom to fish for fun a few days a week, and spend time with his wife, children and extended family.

The fisherman’s eyes lit up. He finally understood!

Then he turned to the businessman and said, “That is what I ALREADY do! Why would it be necessary to go through all that work and expense, if I am already doing what makes me happy in my life?”

The businessman opened his mouth to speak, and realized he did not have an answer for the man. He shook the fisherman’s hand and left the cantina, and actually began contemplating his own life and why he was working so hard…

Living happily just as you are

Which brings me to my question for contemplating:

Where is the balance between being perfectly content with who you are and where you are at in your life AND striving to achieve to be your best, to reach for achieving more, doing more than where you are?

Think of the many people who are completely happy with where they are in life. They are happy enough with their 9-5, their handful of friends, a few hobbies, their small, yet sufficient home. They are happy with who THEY are as a person. They feel no desire for growth or change other than maybe improving their bowling score. Their world seems to be very small. Maybe like the fisherman in the story above?

And then there is the person who is constantly seeking growth and change, never really content with the level or place they are, because they are always striving forward. Never content with the current situation. And maybe this is where the businessman above falls. And to be honest, this is where I find myself a lot of the time.

Where is the happy medium? Is there a happy medium?

What does it look like? How does it feel?

Is it possible to be content with your current situation, yet be striving for personal growth?

Can you live happily being who you are, and yet be striving to change?

Is it possible to be content, yet motivated to change a habit or circumstance, without becoming obsessed over the desire to improve?

I would love to hear your take on this. I don’t have the answers here and would love input and perspective!

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35 comments to The Happy Fisherman

  • Ann

    That fisherman story has always been one of my favorites – I used to have a version of it on my office wall. Great reminder.

    It is certainly a tough thing to balance. I think one of the keys is to pay attention to your deepest desires, wants and needs rather than be influenced by others. I can fall into the trap of “want, want, want” when I see or hear other people talking about what they have or want.

    If I pay attention to my own voice,I know that freedom and stress-free living are more important than how many figures there are in my annual income. The challenge for me is to make sure I strike the balance to have enough money to feel free.

    - Ann
    Ann recently posted..Asking For HelpMy Profile

    bernicewood Reply:

    I think what you said about paying attention to your own voice, and not to those around you, is a real key in finding that balance.

    Janine Lattimore Reply:

    I agree. I read a post about minimalism the other day and the message that came through was that ‘stuff is bad’, ‘we should all be happy living with bare essentials’. While I’m a ‘greeny’ and believe we should live consciously, I also believe that we a here to experience all that life has to offer and that the more abundance we experience the more we are able to bless others. I can’t give what I don’t have.

    I think it’s about attitude and intention – the ‘why’ of what you are doing. As you have said, our foundation always has to be listening to our own voice, the voice of Spirit within us. I also think it is important to live in gratitude and contentment with all that we currently have. For me the balance is to be happy where I’m at, but also open to the flow of more. Not striving for more in the belief that it will make me happy. Rather being happy now and enjoying the adventure of having new desires become physical reality and increase my experience of life.

  • Sarah

    The night my son was born, I told him that we would always try to stay in the moment. We wouldn’t worry about when he was going to be able to do something, or what he was going to be, we would take every stage as it came. We would love him as he was. I realized that his growth and the future years would come anyway, and that it served him best to enjoy the present.

    I realized recently that while I do that with my kids (now 5 & 2), I don’t let myself be. Thank you for the story and questions, they have been on my mind a lot lately.

    bernicewood Reply:

    With little ones, it is so difficult to stay in the moment as you are always thinking about what you need to do next. Good for you that you have worked hard to do so! Now for YOU!

  • Mandi @ Life...Your Way

    In love this topic, Bernice! Someone recently posed the same sort of question to me – if striving for more, for goals, etc. is a sign of discontent. I don’t believe they are, but I didn’t really have a reason to back that up until now. I think you CAN be content and striving, if you’re content in the striving. So, for example, building a business makes me happy. I’m not working hard to get to Place Y where suddenly I’ll be happy. I’m working hard because I love what I do and hard work is what makes it possible for me to do what I do.

    Thanks for the thout-provoking post!
    Mandi @ Life…Your Way recently posted..9 Ideas for Using Mason or Repurposed Jars When You EntertainMy Profile

    bernicewood Reply:

    Thanks Mandi for your input! Be sure to come back and read the follow-up post as I quote you in it!

  • Mandi @ Life...Your Way

    Thought-provoking* <- Typing on the iPad always makes me feel like a dummy!
    Mandi @ Life…Your Way recently posted..9 Ideas for Using Mason or Repurposed Jars When You EntertainMy Profile

  • cyndi stallings

    About 10 yrs ago when we were both killing ourselves working to save up for our “dream house” One day we sat down and talked about what the “dream” was: is it a 4 bedroom house in a ritzy neighborhood with a mortgage that will take every cent we had for the next 30 years or can we go with a smaller house nearer to where he works, with a manageable mortgage we’ ll have paid off in 10 yrs. so we took the smaller house, I could stop working, and we are so happy we had that talk! we see our friends struggling with those monster mortgages, electric bills and all the other toys they “had to have”. our kids have left home, the house is paid off ( and the perfect size without kids) and he only drive 3 miles, and 10 min. to work.

    Alot of people are searching for the “American Dream” and dont realize that they already have it: friends, family, and a “little”piece of the pie! ( @mandy, I also am using an ipad and i have to proofread 3times!)

    bernicewood Reply:

    We have lived in the same house for 22 years. It is midsized and almost paid off (well it has been paid off but then we borrowed and added on!). About 4 years ago when I was working in a corporate position, I got the bug for a bigger house. We finally found one too, and I wanted it REAL bad. Note this was before the economy tanked! Hubby did not feel right about it and would not make an offer. We decided to sit it out in our house a little longer. 3 months later the market crashed and I lost my job. We would’ve had 2 houses with full mortgages and what a mess! SO glad we didn’t do it! I am very happy now in my house, and that it will be paid off in a few years!
    Here’s to living small! (as opposed to LARGE!)

  • This is such a great question Bernice. I wonder about this all the time.

    I feel as though I swing back and forth between the fisherman and the business man. To me, it’s important that I grow and challenge myself as long as I’m happy and enjoying the ride. Then I may coast on the wave of contentment for a while until I get the urge to expand a little more.

    Of course, sometimes I expand too far too fast and end of receding for awhile.

    I guess what I’m saying is, I don’t think I would ever be happy only staying on one side of the table (expansion versus contentment). It’s enjoyable for me to experience both sides.
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    bernicewood Reply:

    I’d have to say that I would like to be this way, able to swing back and forth and balance it out. I think though that my tendency is to be more driven. And a little drive isn’t bad, as it is what gets stuff done. However, I am still learning when to turn it off. Getting better at it though!

  • Hi Bernice. That’s so funny that we wrote on the same topic on the same day. Great minds, right? :-)

    The hardest thing I struggle with right now, is that I don’t think any of the things I’m pursuing are wrong (more family time, grow my online pursuits so I can get rid of my yucky job, etc.)…BUT I still question if I’m making the right choices.

    I know I’m not where I want to ultimately end up so in that sense you could say I’m not content. I guess what I really want to do is become more purposeful to enjoy where I already am (have fun being a homeschool mom instead of feeling crazy and busy, enjoy the vacation we have coming instead of wishing we could travel more often). It’s very similar to being content with fewer possessions and less money.

    So much comes back to raising a sense of awareness so we don’t take things for granted. I find I question my life choices so much more than when I was “trying to decide what I wanted to be when I grew up” and sometimes it’s just darn right exhausting! :-)
    Faith | Minimalist at Home recently posted..Contentment- Resentment- and Yearning for MoreMy Profile

  • I love this story….I think it is so important to be true to yourself. I’m going to share this on my FB page @Gtdbizmom

  • I have never heard this story but I loved it. It is so important in business to be true to yourself and what you want.

  • Thanks so much for this post! I also love this story of the fisherman. It illustrates well the point you make that you do not need to make a lot of money to live a rich life, you just need meaningful and satisfying work.

  • This post really made me think. I would love to consider myself the small fisherman, but I think I am the business man. Not in terms of always needing more, but more in terms of always needing to change. I find that I am hardly ever satisfied for long periods of time and then I up and change (usually involves changing where I am geographically). My family is constantly asking me why and tell me that I should “stick it out” with something. I started to get a little worried when one of my good friends told me that, too. So, I wonder, is there something wrong with always changing and gaining more experiences, is there some bigger “issue” going on or is just the way some people are?
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    Tanja from Minimalist Packrat Reply:

    Hey Julia,

    I am a constant changer too. I love new experiences and seem to get the itch to move frequently (I blame it on my aries nature). The comfortable place I’ve finally settled into is that change is lovely, I embrace it! But I choose the actual goals that I strive towards very carefully. Less changing of goals and more changing of my outer life works wonderfully for me.
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  • liz

    I think the only way the fisherman could be happy but strive for change if he stuck with the idea of working a few days a week and spending the rest of the time with his family, but became a carpenter instead. :)

    I guess I kinda feel one or the other has to give. You can’t stay the same yet improve all at the same time.
    liz recently posted..Pause Life for a MomentMy Profile

  • It’s a very inspiring post. I’ve learned that money is not the greatest thing in the world. My grandfather is a carpenter. He doesn’t have a large amount of money but he is always cheerful everyday.
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  • This is the first time I have heard about this inspiring story and I love it so much.I can’t wait to share this with my friends.Thanks for your sharing
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  • Wow,

    This seems like the topic of the week Bernice! I just read Francine’s latest and it’s on the same subject too. And what a balance to achieve, between striving towards dreams and enjoying the present moment. I’m doing a lot better with this over the past few months… as witnessed by my middle of the week do nothing day yesterday!

    I love the story of the fisherman. I’d heard it before but the other version didn’t include how the fisherman affected the businessman to contemplate change. That, for me, is the key to the magic in your version.

    Hope your vacation was marvelous and it’s wonderful to have you back!

    Take care,
    Tanja from Minimalist Packrat recently posted..A Guide to Instant SimplifyingMy Profile

  • Love this topic. It is a tough balance as we are called to be content with our external circumstances but always spriving to be be better in our spirit and relationships. I spent many years in the villages in Africa where people were completely satisfied with what they had but always strived to know God better and become more like Him. I think our culture makes this hard.

  • There is no happy medium, just happy – nothing medium about it. And thanks for the reminder that bigger is not always or even usually better. We need this paradigm shift now to save ourselves from ourselves.
    I am trying to -change that to I am influencing the big leadership thinkers about where to turn for this paradigm shift.
    You can help by going to

    and rating the importance of this message.

    Thanks – Together we can do this
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  • The Happy Fisherman via @womanonajourney #inspire

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  • [...] post is a follow-up from a post I wrote earlier this week about the Happy Fisherman. Many thanks to everyone who commented and contributed to this [...]