Learning to be Content, a Secret of Life

BeachIf you are reading this then you very likely own a phone and computer, have somewhere to live, and are in the top 10% of global income and more likely top 1%, details on income here.  Despite all our good fortune, we still find plenty to complain about and we get stressed.

So let me share a parable I read years ago that provides lots to think about.

Once there was an American investment banker on a much-needed vacation.  He was standing on 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.”


What I take from this story is don’t blindly chase money, know your dreams and what you get enjoyment from.  If you can learn to enjoy what you have and the simple pleasures you simplify your life and will likely be more content.  I’m not saying to take a vow of poverty, but rather to think critically about what will bring you more happiness.  Being content does not mean you have to lose all ambition and settle with your current situation or be happy in a toxic environment.  What I want you to see is what you have and think independently.  Do not allow other’s ideas or advertisements set your standard of living or dictate your path.

Asia lifestyle

Being in Asia has been great in building contentedness in my life. I live out of a suitcase.  I walk 30 minutes to school in the scorching heat.  I spend $5 a day on food.  And I don’t miss anything, alright, maybe Mexican food.  I had $100 Staples credit from my ink cartridge recycling and I couldn’t think of anything I needed or even wanted.  I cancelled Netflix because I’m busy learning Chinese and working.  I also found VidAngel more cost effective if I want to watch something.  When I return to America I will try to maintain a simple lifestyle, but not sure what to do with the $2000 rent yet.

Conclusion and challenge

We love to make our lives more and more comfortable rather than being content with our abundance.  It is much easier for us to spend our raises than to save more and retire earlier.  My $621 standard of living was great and I only know this because I lived it.  I challenge you to remove things from your comfy lifestyle and see how you fare without.  You may find you have more free time or don’t have to worry as much.  I don’t worry about my stuff because I sold much of it and what remains isn’t very expensive, aside from a MacBook and a car, but who knows, I may get rid of that too.

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