One day a fisherman was sitting on the beautiful beach, with the fishing rod by his side, enjoying the warmth of the setting sun. About the same time, a businessman walked onto the beach after a stressful day at work. He noticed the fisherman looking at the setting sun and wondered why he wasn’t working harder to make a living for himself?
“You aren’t going to catch many fish this way. You should be working harder and not sitting on the beach,” said the businessman to the fisherman.
The fisherman looked up at the businessman standing near him and asked, “And what will that get me?”
“Well, you can catch more fish and buy bigger nets,” said the businessman.
Watch this article in a video format:
The fisherman thought for a moment and asked, “And what will that get me?”
“You will catch even more fish,” said the businessman. “You could sell the catch to earn more money and buy a bigger boat.”
“And what will I get if I do that?” asked the fisherman.
The businessman was agitated at this point and said, “Don’t you see? With a bigger boat and net, you can catch even more fish. You can get a fleet of boats and hire people to work for you.”
“And why will I do that?” asked the fisherman.
“Don’t you understand? You can become so rich that you will never have to work a day in your life again! You can spend your days sitting on a beach enjoying the sunset,” said the businessman
The fisherman smiled at the businessman and said, “And what do you think I am doing now?”
The story of the fisherman and the businessman is originally attributed to German writer and Nobel laureate Heinrich Böll, but the story has appeared in various guises in our recent past from unknown sources. What it teaches us cannot be overlooked.
We are a species that is deluded by the notion of having a happy future. We are anxiously searching for stability in a world that is vulnerable yet filled with adventure.
In your mission to become happy in the future, you sell your life to gather material possessions that you think will bring you joy. You think of happiness as this idea that lies in the future. You think you will be happy if you work up the corporate ladder or if you have more disposable money, many friends, high social status among your peers, or a comfortable life. These goals are always in the future, and once you achieve them, you set out to achieve your next goal. As a result, you are always stuck in a battling mode to work towards a future, a future that never arrives. You become like Alice in Wonderland, tumbling down the hole in an attempt to chase an illusion.
Desiring happiness through security is another way of desiring complete control in life and wanting things to never change… and by desiring things to never change, you resist the only permanent thing. Suffering is caused when you resist the flow of the Universe. You will realise, that the more secure you try to get in life, the less secure you become.
When you make it your life’s mission to get that promotion or get that car or get that girl or achieve something you label as success, you realise that you are in a race to become your future self. But that race never ends because the finishing line is merely an illusion.
You are perpetually stuck in the future, a future that will never arrive; and this is the root cause for all the anxiety and stress we see in people today. You are going through an existential quagmire brought on by living for a future.
Your future is an abstraction that doesn’t exist, yet you stress yourself out in achieving something that brings a false sense of assurance.
Most people have forgotten that it is not security that will bring us happiness. Consumerism, greed, or success will never give life meaning. Happiness doesn’t arrive after the promotion or the fancy new house or the relationship because people are chasing what they can never catch. What arrives instead is only emptiness. Once you get what you want, you distract yourself with a new future to work towards…and if you don’t distract yourself with something else, this emptiness inside you makes you anxious.
As contradictory as it may seem, the truth is usually the opposite. Happiness comes from living in the present moment as opposed to living in the future. It comes from a sense of insecurity instead of chasing a false sense of security. When you understand that the Universe is ephemeral and fluid, you will stop racing. You will realise that there is a meaning in not being someone, in not going somewhere, and in not getting something. There is happiness in this moment.
It is best to leave you with these words by Alan Watts:
“My goodness, don’t you remember when you went first to school?
You went to kindergarten. And kindergarten, the idea was to push along so that you could get into first grade. And then push along so that you could get into second grade, third grade, and so on. Going up and up and then you went to high school and this was a great transition in life.
And now the pressure is being put on, you must get ahead. You must go up the grades and finally be good enough to get to college. And then when you get to college, you’re still going step by step, step by step, up to the great moment in which you’re ready to go out into the world.
And then when you get out into this famous world, comes the struggle for success in profession or business. And again, there seems to be a ladder before you, something for which you’re reaching for all the time.
And then, suddenly, when you’re about 40 or 45 years old, in the middle of life, you wake up one day and say “huh? I’ve arrived and, I feel pretty much the same as I’ve always felt. In fact I’m not so sure that I don’t feel a little bit cheated.”…because, you see, you were fooled.
You were always living for somewhere where you aren’t. And while, as I said, it is of tremendous use for us to be able to look ahead in this way and to plan. There is no use in planning for a future, which when you get to it and it becomes the present you won’t be there. You’ll be living in some other future which hasn’t yet arrived. And so, in this way, one is never able actually to inherit and enjoy the fruits of one’s actions.
You can’t live it all unless you can live fully now.”