A Word

Column: Keeping it real by Jacqueline Alexander
First published in the Henley Standard newspaper

A boat docked in a tiny Mexican village. An American tourist complimented the fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took him to catch them.

"Not very long," answered the Mexican who explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family.

The American asked: "What do you do with the rest of your time?"

"I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife. In the evenings, I go into the village to see my friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar and sing a few songs. I have a full life."

The American interrupted. "I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you. You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat.

"With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers. Instead of selling your fish to a middle man, you can then negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can then leave this little village and move anywhere you want - even New York City from where you can direct your huge new enterprise."

"How long would that take?" asked the Mexican.

"Ten, perhaps 20, years," replied the American.

"And after that?"

"Afterwards? Well my friend, that's when it gets really interesting," said the American, laughing. "When your business gets really big, you can start buying and selling stocks and make millions."

"Millions? Really? And after that?" asked the Mexican.

"After that you'll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your children, catch a few fish, take a siesta with your wife and spend your evenings drinking and enjoying your friends."

Quite clearly, there are not enough fish in the sea for everyone to live this particular dream but that's not really the point. We all know that life can be demanding, frustrating, exhausting and, sometimes, overwhelming. It can also be fulfilling, rewarding, satisfying and surprisingly simple. Unfortunately, many of us are guilty of forgetting that it is the simple things in life that make us happy.

Apparently, an unexpected by-product of the recession has been for us to start remembering it's just that we can't quite recall how to appreciate it. One man who is trying to jog our memories is Leo Babauta, a father of six living in Guam and the author of the Power of Less.

He is not a doctor, coach or expert of any kind. He is, however, a man on a mission.

Each day since January 2007, Mr Babauta has shared his thoughts on family, finance, health, fitness, happiness and simplicity via his website, Zenhabit.net. Meanwhile, he has been getting his life in order. He has given up smoking, paid all his debts, doubled his income, written a book or two and, one would hope, helped look after the children.

Of course, there are hundreds of Mr Babautas on the internet and they are all busy espousing their wisdoms for our benefit but this particular website is worth a mention because it poses some interesting questions.

Firstly, it asks you to list the five most important things in your life. That doesn't sound too difficult, does it? It's a question that will probably result in a list including family, health, home, friends and either pets or a hobby or two. Secondly, you must list how much time you devote to the top five things in your life. For most of us, this is where the plan goes awry as our busy, demanding lives decree that we only have about 20 minutes to spare for our top five.

Luckily, Zenhabit.net has some suggestions to rectify the situation. The ideas vary from getting organised to ignoring advertising - some ideas you will like more than others but it seems to work for Mr Babauta so it may just work for you. There is a lot of purging, editing and clearing which doesn't sound much fun but there is also a lot of creating, simplifying and a whole lot of living. Now that sounds like a plan.

Next: Ever the Twain

Audio: Jacqueline Alexander presents Web Watch with Phil Kennedy on BBC Berkshire and BBC Oxford:

Copyright: Jacqueline Alexander 2012

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