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A Means to an End

By Atip Muangsuwan

What distinguishes between happy and unhappy people?

What I’ve simply noticed is that… “Happy people have fewer conditions to be happy than unhappy people.”

For example, some unhappy people may set some conditions that… they need to own Mercedes cars or Louis Vuitton bags in order for them to be happy. Or they need to be rich or own big and luxurious houses or have those kinds of houses nearby the beautiful lakes or oceans or on top of the mountains. They need to own this and that, these and those before they can be happy or content with their lives.

In fact, Mercedes cars, Louis Vuitton bags, lots of money, luxurious houses, other valuable things, assets or properties, they’re just… “a means to an end”.  What they all do the same (at the end) is… they bring you good feelings. You feel good when you own or have them in your possession. That’s it!

However, let me tell you the secret! You don’t need to own or have those things in order to feel good! You can feel good right here and right now if you choose to! Feeling good or being happy is a matter of choice. You can see that…the Buddhist monks, they are happy and content without having to own those things. They can be happy even when they have nothing in their possession. This is also because… they have fewer or even no conditions to be happy and content.

Let me share with you a story which I think is quite relevant to this.

There was a businessman standing on the beach in a small fishing village. Looking out to sea, he noticed a local fisherman rowing his boat to shore. The businessman was impressed by all the fat, fresh fish that the fisherman had caught.

When the fisherman arrived on land, the businessman complimented his catch. Yet he was curious. “How long does it take you to catch your fish?” He asked.

“About a few hours,” The fisherman replied.

“So, why don’t you go out and catch more?” The businessman asked.

“I have more than enough to feed my family,” The fisherman said.

“So, what do you do for the rest of the day?” The businessman wanted to know. 


The fisherman smiled and said… “Every day, I wake early and I catch fish for a bit. After that, I go home and I play with my children. In the afternoon, I take a siesta with my wife. At night, I meet my friends in the village. We chat, we play guitar, we share a few beers.”

The businessman furrowed his brow.

“Look,” he explained. “I have a degree in business management. I can help you. From now on, you should spend more time at sea so you can catch more fish. With the proceeds from that, you can buy a bigger boat and catch even more fish.”

“And then?” The fisherman asked.

“Using the money you earn from a bigger boat, you can then get a fleet of boats and hire men to operate them. You can cut out the middleman and start selling your fish directly to processors. You can even open your own cannery and eventually move your company to a big city like New York or Los Angeles. There you’ll be able to expand your enterprise.”

“Hmm, how long would that take?” The fisherman asked.

“About ten to fifteen years.” The businessman said. 

“And then?” The fisherman asked.

“That’s the best part,” The businessman said. “Once you’ve made enough, you can announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public. You’ll make millions!”

“Millions…and then?” The fisherman asked.

“With all that money, you can retire. You can move to a nice quiet area, maybe a small village by the beach. With all your free time, you’ll be able to play with your kids. You can take siestas in the afternoon with your wife. At night, you can meet your friends in the village. You can chat, play guitar, share a few beers!”

 “And what have I been doing so far?” The fisherman asked. 😊

You see? Those conditions the businessman was trying to set for the fisherman are just… a means to an end.

So, why wait for 10 to 15 years to enjoy life, to feel good or to be happy and content when we can attain those feelings right here and right now?

We all can take a shortcut rather than a detour to feeling good, to happiness and contentment.

In Buddhism, while we are breathing in and out, we are already happy and content. We don’t need any conditions or any means to an end in order to be happy and content. We’re happy while we’re breathing in the present moment!