Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes. Carl Jung
In one direction thirty or so bodies jiggle, jump, and jive in water-aerobics. They are surrounded by seventy or so bodies on lawn chairs soaking up the Baja sun. Sounds like a vision of the good life. Or is it?
My husband, John, bought a time share here at Pueblo Bonito twenty-five years ago as he envisioned the good life for us. John had a lot of help from the enthusiastic agents who surrounded him as he stepped out of Cabo San Lucas International Airport (at the time I was with kids in Washington, D.C.). They astounded him with generous offers to shuttle him, host him, and feed him as he toured the place.
Over the years, the place didn’t quite seem to fit our idea of the good life, but we came occasionally, primarily to visit John’s cousin who lives half of the year in Los Barriles, about 95 minutes away. On this trip to Los Barriles, I sat under the palapas zipping a mango smoothie with another Gringa, Brenda, (a Canadian therapist who, with her husband, Pat began Bicycles for Humanity). We were discussing the good life.
I told Brenda that on this trip to Los Barriles I had seen a Mexican out fishing; it brought back that old story of the Mexican fisherman and banker. Brenda almost jumped out of her seat; she said it was her favorite story. The parable had helped Brenda and her husband thoughtfully consider their own vision of the good life. You’ve heard the story in some form or another.
The American investment banker is taking a much-needed vacation in a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docks. The boat has several large, freshly caught, Yellowfin tuna in it. The banker admires the fish but is shocked that the fisherman is coming in so early. It seems rather unambitious.
The fisherman explains that he has caught enough fish for his family’s needs and enough to give to friends. He will spend the rest of the day enjoying his family and friends, playing his guitar, taking a stroll. He has a full, busy, good life, he explains.
The investment banker, a Harvard MBA, is aghast. He tries to explain to the fisherman that if he works harder he can get more boats….Well, you know where the story goes (more boats, more fish, canneries, IPO, etc).
As the fisherman asks the banker why he would do all this, the banker explains that then the fisherman will be able to get rich. The fisherman still seems puzzled about what he will do with all these riches. is family and friends, play his guitar, and take strolls in the village. The banker explains that if the fisherman becomes rich he can work less, enjoy much of his day with his family and friends,
We see the humor…and the wisdom. I cannot say that the story totally captures my vision of the good life, but it does stir up questions and prods me to continue searching for answers. A basic question which underlies all visions of the good life would be to consider what it is that human beings need to be happy and fulfilled.
Authors I have been reading lately, Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell, suggest that there are nine crucial psychological and emotional needs which must be met for all human beings to live a good life – security, autonomy, attention, intimacy, connection to the wider community, status, a sense of competence, and meaning. A recent book by Johann Hari, Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression- and the Unexpected Solutions, makes similar claims.
Some researchers believe our needs can be largely grouped into three main categories – the need to be competent, the need to be autonomous (having a great deal of control and choice in our lives), and the need for wide and deep relationships. It may be important for us to consider these ideas as well as the parable before we head into making our goals and bucket list for our future Why?
Happiness researchers tell us that we aren’t very good at making sound decisions around what will lead us toward the good life. Americans, for example, often go for more and bigger stuff (cars, houses, boats). More money. More nips and tucks. Those goals, according to various world happiness and well-being reports, seem to be making us more unhappy.
I have had a chance to consider what seems to be making Mexicans happy. It can’t be the drug cartels, nor the poverty, nor the corruption. The weather, maybe. The food, perhaps. But the Mexican recipe for happiness seems to include a large dose of social contacts – lots of talking, laughing, joking, being with friends and family, and music.
One Mexican happiness researcher suggests that if others want to live more of the good life and learn from the Mexicans, they should spend less time alone, grow their circle of friends, laugh more, find happiness in little things, stop glorifying being overly busy all the time, and be more humble. Sounds like some of the lessons we might take away from The Fisherman and Banker Parable.
I haven’t nailed down my vision for the future or my goal completely but imagining life and goals around deeper and wider relationships makes sense to me and fits with my values.
In general, most of us know we need to be specific around our goals and take some doable action consistently. My goal won’t be to make five new friends this year which I can’t control. Rather it will be something like to do five acts of kindness (for example - buy a latte, send a thank you note or email, babysit). Those actions could lead to wider and deeper relationships, are enjoyable for me to do, and are processes within my control.
The idea of visioning and setting a relationship goal is influencing my behavior already. Yesterday as I walked downtown around the Cabo Marina I stopped being, well, so rude and aloof to the many folks who are hawking silver jewelry for a dollar, luxurious five-thousand-dollar fishing trips, and rides on a camel or a dolphin. I had some fun and joked back with them. And it did make me happier. Much happier.
Visions and progress toward our goals can make us happier and lead to the good life. Don’t leave your vision to marketers, social media, or enthusiastic salespeople. Go ahead and have a little fun as you observe, experiment, and ponder.
How might you explore an overarching vision, make a goal, and journey to the good life in the future?