Imagine a young man, eager to learn the Secret of Happiness, embarking on a journey through the desert for forty days. His search led him to the top of a mountain where a beautiful castle stood. There, he hoped to find wisdom from a renowned sage.

Free Stirling Castle Scotland photo and picture

Upon arrival, the young man discovered a bustling scene. Merchants were conducting business, friends were engaged in conversation, melodious music filled the air, and a banquet table offered tempting dishes. The young man was taken aback by the unexpected liveliness.

The sage, a man of endless curiosity and connection with others, finally met with the young man after a two-hour wait. Listening intently to his quest, the sage realized that he couldn’t reveal the Secret of Happiness at that very moment.

Instead, he proposed a simple task. Handing the young man a teaspoon filled with two drops of oil, he asked him to explore the castle without spilling the oil.

Dutifully, the young man wandered the palace, eyes locked on the spoon, his mind consumed with the task. Time slipped away, and he returned, triumphant in his mission but oblivious to the wonders around him.

The sage’s questions about the castle’s treasures revealed the young man’s oversight. He had missed everything – the art, the gardens, the delicate beauty of his surroundings. The sage then urged him to revisit the palace, this time with a more balanced focus.

Embracing the challenge, the young man observed the world around him. He noticed the intricacies of life, the joy in creation, and the beauty of existence. But, upon returning to the sage, he realized he had lost the two drops of oil.

With a knowing smile, the sage delivered his profound wisdom: “The Secret of Happiness lies in looking at all the wonders of the world and never forgetting the two drops of oil in the spoon.”

In our lives, this balance between enjoying the journey and staying focused on our responsibilities is the essence of contentment and purpose. Like the young man, we must learn to see the beauty around us without losing sight of our obligations.

We may wander through the metaphorical palace of life, enthralled by its wonders, but the two drops of oil remind us to keep our commitments in view. By embracing both, we find harmony, joy, and the delicate equilibrium that brings genuine happiness.

Using this in my own life

The other evening, as I settled into a relaxing bath, my mind wandered to a phrase I had written down: “3 to thrive.” This concept, inspired by motivational speaker Tony Robbins, resonated deeply with me. I had even scribbled a personal list that I thought would make me feel fulfilled: 1. Play music, 2. Write a short story, 3. Clean the house. The idea was exciting and filled me with anticipation.

But then, amidst the soothing warmth of the water, reality crept in, and I remembered my values. I looked at the list and realized that, although these activities were appealing, they were not entirely reflective of who I had become. I was no longer that individual engrossed in solitary pursuits. I was now a partner in a family, a father of three beautiful children.

This realization led me to reassess my priorities. My true path to fulfillment lay elsewhere. What if, instead of indulging in my creative desires, I focused on nurturing the growth of those I loved? I quickly reimagined my list: 1. Teach Charlie how to talk (he genuinely needs my help with those tricky “K’s”), 2. Play with Sandy, fostering joy and connection, and 3. Read to the kids, enriching their minds and our bonds.

Suddenly, the revised plan felt much more aligned with my heart. It offered a more resonant ending to the day, filled with shared laughter, love, and learning. While playing music or writing stories can be creatively rewarding, they are, in essence, solitary activities. Some might even label them self-centered or narcissistic.

The point of this reflection was not to undermine the value of personal hobbies or interests, but to emphasize the importance of awareness and intentionality in our daily choices. It was a reminder to ask myself if I was looking at the drops of oil in the spoon.

Understanding our core values acts as a compass, guiding us through the maze of life’s possibilities. It helps us make decisions that are in harmony with who we are and what we truly care about. Sure, there’s a time and place for music, writing, or other individual pursuits, but for me, at this stage of my life, making Charlie my instrument seemed a far more enriching melody.

It’s a delicate balance, of course. We must still attend to our other responsibilities, passions, and personal growth. But as parents, partners, and individuals with complex roles and duties, it’s essential to remember where to focus our energy and attention. By aligning our actions with our values, we create a life filled with purpose, connection, and, ultimately, happiness.

John Michaelsa Missoula native and author, has been captivating readers with his writing for years. A graduate of Brown University’s esteemed creative writing program, Michaels has spent the majority of his career crafting stories that resonate with his readers and capture the essence of the human experience. Despite the demands of raising children, Michaels has continued to pursue his passions, finding solace in the bustling downtown Missoula scene. There, he spends his free time honing his craft, whether it be working on short stories, playing music, or dedicating himself to his work at Sunflower Counseling, MT.