Don’t Chase Happiness. Recognize It.


“Everyone chases after happiness, not noticing that happiness is right at their heels.” –Bertolt Brecht

One day a fisherman was lying on a beautiful beach, with his fishing pole propped up in the sand and his solitary line cast out into the sparkling blue surf. He was enjoying the warmth of the afternoon sun and the prospect of catching a fish.

About that time, a businessman came walking down the beach trying to relieve some of the stress of his workday. He noticed the fisherman sitting on the beach and decided to find out why this fisherman was fishing instead of working harder to make a living for himself and his family. “You aren’t going to catch many fish that way,” said the businessman. “You should be working rather than lying on the beach!”

The fisherman looked up at the businessman, smiled and replied, “And what will my reward be?”

“Well, you can get bigger nets and catch more fish!” was the businessman’s answer.

“And then what will my reward be?” asked the fisherman, still smiling.

The businessman replied, “You will make money and you’ll be able to buy a boat, which will then result in larger catches of fish!”

“And then what will my reward be?” asked the fisherman again.

The businessman was beginning to get a little irritated with the fisherman’s questions. “You can buy a bigger boat, and hire some people to work for you!” he said.

“And then what will my reward be?” repeated the fisherman.

The businessman was getting angry. “Don’t you understand? You can build up a fleet of fishing boats, sail all over the world, and let all your employees catch fish for you!”

Once again the fisherman asked, “And then what will my reward be?”

The businessman was red with rage and shouted at the fisherman, “Don’t you understand that you can become so rich that you will never have to work for your living again! You can spend all the rest of your days sitting on this beach, looking at the sunset. You won’t have a care in the world!”

The fisherman, still smiling, looked up and said, “And what do you think I’m doing right now?”

Story: Heinrich Boll

There is a beautiful life of simplicity calling out to those who will listen. It invites us to live the life we were born to live, not the life our neighbor is seeking to achieve. Simplicity invites us to pursue the things we value most, not the values of billboards and magazines. It invites us to remove the distractions that keep us from living and enjoying life to the fullest.

When we stop chasing the world’s definition of happiness, we begin to recognize the decision to experience happiness has been right in front of us all along.

Image: iwan pribadi

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. Clara says

    It’s not the first time that I read this story, but every time I smile and makes me think that it is in the small things and small pleasures in life that we can find happiness.


  2. says

    Thank you for this beautiful post this morning. It feels so necessary to remember this lesson at the start of summer. Why work hard all summer long to make enough money to go sit on a beach and see the sunset when we could simply work fewer hours, have more fun and appreciate the sunset from our front porch every day.

    • Jazzy says

      because where I live, its winter 5-6 months of the year and round about April I need sun, sand and surf….even just for a week….

      but other than that, I agree with you – and this entry! :)

  3. says

    That’s a great story and I can imagine the smile the fisherman has on his face as he repeats his question and finally ends with an even more profound question. Thank you for this beautiful story.

  4. says

    I love how Zen this story about the fisherman is. I totally agree with the simplicity story – it is so clear once you realize how important simplicity is in life. It makes everything else in your life so much sweeter when you don’t have to worry about buying stuff and taking care of the stuff you already own. Thanks for this story – it reminds me of why I have decided to quit my job, save up and go travelling to South America for 1 year. If not now, when? If not you, who?

    • says

      Congratulations on having the courage to follow your bliss. Average people can do exactly what you’re doing but oftentimes find themselves controlled by fear and anxiety, and not honest enough to admit to themselves that they want something different from the “Joneses”.

      I just wrote an article about a man who didn’t care about material possessions, and clutter, and even money. All he cared about was eating clean, living clean, and surfing. And he did all that while raising 9 kids in a 24-foot camper! Check it out at

      He’s the perfect example of someone who made a conscious decision to not chase the world’s definition of happiness but to pursue the things he valued most.

      Great post.

  5. says

    This post is perfect! This sentence hit me hard: “There is a beautiful life of simplicity calling out to those who will listen.” I live a pretty simple life, and don’t have huge aspirations to start my own company and make millions of dollars.

    Last year I traveled to 5 countries and 5 states and several National Parks. I was “on vacation” for almost 9 months straight, and I made somewhere in the realm of $12,000 total last year as a beginner freelance writer. And somehow, I made enough to pay the bills and to travel to Europe, Canada and Mexico. :)

  6. says

    What a wonderful story. It saddens me how our society craves “greatness” so we can all finally retire and do nothing. All when we are too tired, frustrated, and stressed to enjoy it. Enjoy life now. We only have today, don’t we?

    Great post! Thanks, Joshua, for all you do!

    Be blessed!

  7. says

    Good reminder, thanks. Love this story and it’s so true… taking time to be thankful and enjoy what we already have is so counter cultural, and yet the peace that comes with the attitude of gratitude is what so many of us miss out on when we choose instead to seek more.

  8. Tara says

    This is so crazy! A few days ago, my husband and I happened across this proverb posted on the wall at a restaurant. It IMMEDIATELY spoke to us and we’ve been talking about it since and then you post it! I will take it as my sign……….I’m on the path.

  9. Kris says

    Love the story. However, what will the fisherman’s legacy be… sitting on a beach? I bet the business man is kicking himself for not bringing that up.

    • Ken says

      First……maybe his legacy is to teach people that “success” as the world defines it isn’t necessarily his (or your) definition. In the parable, the hard work…..the stress…..only leads him to a place he’s already found (without the stress).

      Second……if someone feels that we MUST leave a legacy to the world at large then maybe…..just maybe…..they’ve missed the point of the parable.

  10. says

    I love this. I have not been sleeping well, because I wake up thinking I should be doing more. I work a part time regular job and so does my husband (he is older and gets retirement and soc. sec. as well) and I started my own event and interior design business last year. The work came a lot at first, but now it is slow, and I feel like I’m okay with that. We make enough money to pay our normal bills and pay off some debt, hopefully to be paid off next year. I ask my husband all the time. We are fine right. I don’t need to do more do I. He always says yes. If I worked more, we wouldn’t have our free time together and with the dogs. I like having free time and volunteering for a crisis pregnancy center. Need to remind myself that others ideas of success, doesn’t have to be mine.

  11. says

    This is a well known German Story by Heinrich Boell. I assume you did not know the reference, but I think it would be a nice gesture to give the author his credit. I read it in Germany in 1993 for the first time. Have told it many times since.

  12. Lauren Smith says

    Love the picture! The story is priceless! Happiness can be elusive. I love the thought of getting rid of clutter to find happiness. I completely agree. Nothing makes me happier then getting rid of clutter. I am reading a wonderful book right now called, “One-Liners For Life” by author Susan Spira. It’s an idea book to help self-edit one’s life to gain greater joy, happiness, and fulfillment. I try and read a little bit each day. It helps me keep a positive attitude! She has also written the books, “Happy Shorts,” and “The Happy Tips Book.”

  13. says

    Such a lovely post. For years, I had been looking for happiness in possessions and earning money. My perspective changed when I joined Art of Living. Now I focus on doing the work I love. Yes, I need a regular job to meet my needs. But I am not a part of the mad race anymore. Instead I spend my extra time on volunteer work with Art of Living, learning astrology, blogging, spending quality time with my son and doing tarot readings on free tarot network and on my site

  14. Ciara Conlon says

    I had a great opportunity to teach this lesson to my seven year old recently. He said why can’t we be rich so I can have everything I want. So I asked him what he wanted and he told me the name of a toy. But aren’t you getting that for your birthday I asked. Oh yes he said but if we were really rich I could have it now and have everything I wanted. No you couldn’t I reminded him because then you would be spoilt! So I suppose I already have what I want and what I can have he said and continued playing.

  15. Atreides83 says

    While I fully agree that chasing after happiness is foolish (happiness is always a byproduct), this 1-sided story always bugs me.

    The businessman who works hard initially and saves up for a life of leisure is in a very different position to the fisherman doing it from the start. When hardships, unexpected expenses, new expenses (e.g. a family), disaster or just general life come along, the business man is prepared and can continue his lifestyle as normal. The layabout has nothing to fall back on and will have to endure great hardship and probably lament his previous idleness.

    That said, it is important to not get too focused on saving up for a future that may never come. A balance is required, and this story is heavily lopsided.

  16. says

    I haven’t read a blog since i last stopped writing a few months ago in mine…
    Your post stand out so much, and they are reminding me of what I was trying to communicate to others in my blog. You’re obviously much more talented in story telling and persuasive writing. It sounds so sincere and simple the way it should be.

    If you can take quick look at my blog and leave some feedback, I’d greatly appreciate it. I need some inspiration. :)

  17. chuck says

    Not trying to down the blog but realistically..

    One would have to secure housing, food, util bills..etc before enjoying the day at the beach. How does this story apply to the countless homeless individuals or the massive amount of people that are unemployed? Their days are always trying to fish for survival.. not to enjoy the sun/beach.

    This story only applies to people that are somewhat established financially.

  18. says

    It’s true fear and anxiety … I would quit my job but I’m pregnant and have excuses as to why I should stay… (Health & life Insurance , money, Medicaid won’t cover giving birth)… It’s tough to be a single mother and take a step into nothing when you have another life depending on you to live… I need some guidance

  19. says

    nice story, I’ve got a friend that doesn’t get caught up in having a materialist life. My wife calls them gypsys’ lol because they seem to be free to do what they want to do without obligation, or things holdin them back. I’ve often ponderd how my things and the pursuit of more things have kept me working, and not free to do what I really want to. And be calm enough to enjoy the things and people that really matter.


  20. kimberly brown says

    Thank you!!!
    I read this on your site the other week, went to look for it again… couldn’t find it for anything.
    This story is going up in my shop! After purchasing more kayaks, keeping them sold out folks tell me ‘ MORE!’. I’m good thank you.
    Why is a simplistic lifestyle so hard to accept?
    I’m not interested in being rich, don’t want more stuff, etc. Absolutely love my life, our small surroundings & being able to do what I like.
    Share some kindness & a smile folks!

  21. says

    what I love is all these online zombies with their iPhones saying “Oh yeah, I love the life of simplicity.”

    Reminds me of the song “Only a fool would say that” by Steely Dan. And before you flame this post its worth reading the lyric to that song.

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  1. Happiness | Notes | September 25, 2013

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