The Secret to Happiness

I’d like to tell you a story…

A certain shopkeeper sent his son to learn about the secret of happiness from the wisest man in the world.

The lad wandered through the desert for forty days, and finally came upon a beautiful castle, high atop a mountain. It was there that the wise man lived.

Rather than finding a saintly man though, our hero, on entering the main room of the castle, saw a hive of activity: tradesmen came and went, people were conversing in the corners, a small orchestra was playing soft music, and there was a table covered with platters of the most delicious food in that part of the world.

The wise man conversed with everyone, and the boy had to wait for two hours before it was his turn to be given the man’s attention. The wise man listened attentively to the boy’s explanation of why he had come, but told him that he didn’t time just then to explain the secret of happiness.

He suggested that the boy look around the palace and return in two hours. “Meanwhile I want to ask you do do something,” said the wise man, handing the boy a teaspoon that held two drops of oil. ‘As you wander around, carry this spoon with you without allowing the oil to spill.”

The boy began climbing and descending the many stairways of the palace, keeping his eyes fixed on the spoon. After two hours, he returned to the room where the wise man was. “Well,” asked the wise man, “did you see the Persian tapestries that are hanging in my dining hall? Did you see the garden that it took the master gardener ten years to create? Did you notice the beautiful parchments in my library?”

The boy was embarrassed, and confessed that he had observed nothing. His only concern had been not to spill the oil that the wise man had entrusted to him.

“Then go back and observe the marvels of my world,” said the wise man.

Relieved, the boy picked up the spoon and returned to his exploration of the palace, this time observing all of the works of art on the ceilings and the walls. He saw the gardens, the mountains all around him, the beauty of the flowers, and the tasted with which everything had been selected. Upon returning to the wise man, he related in detail everything he had seen.

“But where are the drops of oil I entrusted to you?” asked the wise man. Looking down at the spoon he held, the boy saw that the oil was gone.

“Well, there is only one piece of advice I can give you.” said the wisest of wise men. “The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon”

The Alchemistby Paulo Coelho

This little story with a very big message from one of my favorite books begs the question, “Can we appreciate the beauty that surrounds us while staying focused on what is most important.”

Simplicity answers the question with a resounding “Yes!”

When life isn’t simple and you have to constantly think about

  • debt
  • shopping
  • catching up
  • spending
  • competing
  • appointments
  • health issues
  • falling behind
  • family conflict
  • clutter
  • stuff

there is no time to appreciate the beauty or protect what is most important to you. There is no time to be happy.

Imagine dumping everything in your life that is meaningless. Everything that you don’t do for love. What would be leftover? It’s time to prioritize the “leftover”. Somehow those most important things, those things (which usually aren’t actual things) get shoved back behind all of the things we are “supposed” to be doing, buying, reading, worrying about.

This isn’t permission to shirk your obligations, but an invitation to put the most important thing in your life today at the top of your never ending to-do list. While everyone will have a different thing at the top of the list, clearing out, or making a plan to begin clearing out clutter/debt/meaningless stuff should be close to the top until it’s gone.

That said, even before you are debt free, clutter free, or free of whatever stands in the way of you and a happier life, prioritize the precioius oil in your life and start living, start enjoying immediately.

There is no doubt that clearing clutter will give you the time and space you need to fully embrace life, but you don’t have to wait for an empty drawer to get started. I know you think you will be happy when you are debt free, or happy when you fit into your skinny jeans, but I can tell you with great conviction that it’s time to be happy right now.

You know me better to think that I am suggesting that you run around with a crazy smile on your face and rainbows shooting out of your pockets, but once you believe that happiness is possible, regardless of your current circumstances, things will start to change. You will change. Your life will change. You will have opportunity to be happy.


    • Courtney Carver says

      Eva, You are already there and soon, those reminders become natural awareness! 😉

  1. says

    Nice, Courtney! Some of us learn this while we’re young. Some learn it when we’re older. Some of us knew it, but put it off and that’s just plain dumb. There are different names or labels that people give this concept – I call it “living free.” I may be one of the dumb ones who knew it but put it off – but now I focus on it and write about it. Like you, I hope we can help as many others to grasp this life changing concept and see the “light” Now, where did I put my spoon full of oil.

    • Courtney Carver says

      Ed so true! I think we inherently know how to be happy but get too consumed with other “stuff” and lose sight of what is most important.

  2. says

    Po Bronson’s book is one of my favorites; as I purge my books, it will stay. The other evening, I watched the film version of “Peaceful Warrior;” will now read the book. What I am practicing from that film are lines toward the end:
    “Where are you?”
    “What time is it?”
    Mindfulness neatly, functionally wrapped as a mantra. Thanks for reinforcing that happiness is part of our journey, not the destination.
    Thanks for my blog review – changes have been made for the better due to your assessment.

  3. says

    The world is very good at putting obstacles in front of your “personal treasure.”

    Is it all just persistence and trust?

    Sometimes, it’s so hard.

  4. says

    beautiful post. i wanna read the amchemist again. read it so long ago when i wasnt aware of minamilism. with this awareness would love to re-read the book. enjoyed reading this post a lot. thank you

  5. Courtney Carver says

    A great friend just emailed this:

    I, too, believe that no matter your circumstance, you can choose to be happy in the moment, and once you do, happiness has a way of finding you and manifesting in everything around you.

    Your post reminded me of something: I have a favorite horoscope from 2008 taped to my fridge that I read whenever I feel I am losing sight of things. Sounds cheesy (a horoscope?), but read it and you will see what I mean:

    “Picture a full-grown lion with a thin two-foot-long string tied around one of its back legs. The other end of the string is tethered to a short wooden stake lodged in the dirt. The lion seems to think it’s held captive, and never tries to escape. It’s restless and frustrated, periodically emitting a doleful sound that’s both a pained growl and a mournful whine. I want you to think of this scene at least once a month, Leo. Each time, ask yourself, ‘Am I this lion?’ Make sure you always know that you can snap the string with ease and bound away to freedom.”

    It was like a light bulb went off when I read this (and the lights turn on every time I re-read it). It paints such a visual, powerful picture for me of a massive lion tied down by a dinky little string… “Make sure you always know that you can snap the string with ease and bound away to freedom.”

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  7. sean says

    Courtney, I think this may open a door to a room you have not examined:

    The palace and all the beauties within it are the omens that the king (who is the universe) wants Santiago to pay attention to while on his journey.

    The oil drops on the spoon are is goal (reach his treasure).

    He must continuously align his goal with the omens

  8. sean says

    Courtney, I think this may open a door to a room you have not examined:

    The palace and all the beauties within it are the omens that the king (who is the universe) wants Santiago to pay attention to while on his journey.

    The oil dropped spoon is Santiago’s goal (reach his treasure).

    He must continuously align his goal with the omens.

    I say this because the king tells the story just after he tells Santiago of the omens he must follow.


    • sean says

      If you imagine a goal in your life – the universe will place the resources you need in front of you to succeed. You must pay attention to these resources and use them. Nothing is impossible – Quantum Physics has proven this (i.e. – an electron can be in two places at the same time). The universe will bend to your goal. U have to work hard everyday to reach it, but the universe will give you everything you need. No if ands or buts about it. Einstein has proven this with E = MC(squared).

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  1. […] not going to tell this story in detail. This story about the secret of happiness that I read on One day, a shopkeeper sent his son to learn about the secret of happiness to the wise man. Then he […]