Heinrich Boll: Work ethics and happiness

The following short story was written by Heinrich Böll, an influential German author of the second half on the 20th century.  Its original title in German (Anekdote zur Senkung der Arbeitsmoral) can be roughly translated to English as “Anecdote to the Decline of the Work Ethic”

A tourist looks on a most idyllic picture: a fisherman dozing in the sun in his rowing boat that he has pulled out of the waves which come rolling up the sandy beach. The tourist’s camera clicks and the fisherman wakes. The tourist asks: “The weather is great and there’s plenty of fish, so why are you lying around instead of going out and catching more?”

The fisherman replies: “Because I caught enough this morning.” “But just imagine,” the tourist says, “you could go out there three or four times a day and bring home three or four times as much fish! And then you know what could happen?” The fisherman shakes his head. “After a year you could buy yourself a motorboat,” says the tourist. “After two years you could buy a second one, and after three years you could have a cutter or two. And just think! One day you might be able to build a freezing plant or a smoke house. 
You might eventually even get your own helicopter for tracing shoals of fish and guiding your fleet of cutters, or you could buy your own trucks to ship your fish to the capital, and then . . .” “And then?” asks the fisherman. “And then”, the tourist continues triumphantly, “you’d could spend time sitting at the beachside, dozing in the sun and looking at the beautiful ocean!” The fisherman looks at the tourist: “But that is exactly what I was doing before you came along!” 

Just like the fisherman, it is up to each of us to perceive the goodness that surrounds us, and to keep a positive outlook on our pursuit to happiness. At the end of the day, we are responsible for pursuing our own dreams and the only way in which they will come true is by exploiting our inner power to overcome any obstacles that might stand on our way.

Image: Auro Queiroz


Big Dreams, Small Dreams

A newspaper issued a special note, where it reported how a movie theatre chain in Mexico “invited” some 1500 people to watch the premiere of a local film for free. But they were no ordinary customers: These were very humble, poor people (mostly kids), some of which had never been to a movie theatre in their lives. At the end of the premiere, the newspaper interviewed some of the attendees. One of the interviewees was a 10 year-old boy. He said to the newspaper that his life dream was to watch a movie in a movie theatre. Thus that day, his dream was becoming true.


For most of us, this boy’s dream to watch a movie in a movie theatre feels like something small and trivial. We take an evening at the movies for granted, because it looks to us simply as a commodity that is readily available to us at will. From this perspective, coming into a movie theatre and watching films is not a dream – it is an available and constant reality. But for the boy, watching a movie in the theatre seemed like something big, unattainable, distant and almost impossible. And the day his dream came true – his experience at the movie theatre was lived by him with more passion and intensity than any regular customer can possibly live it. The kid found goodness in that.

There is a powerful learning from this story: Sometimes, we take certain good things in life for granted, without making the fullest out of them at every moment we have them in reach: A drive to work, an evening at the movie theatre, a walk in the park, a moment with the parents, a family vacation, a home made meal… all of them are simple things in life, but all of them have the potential to be great moments in life if we really get to appreciate all the goodness that they bring to our lives.

Be grateful for the goodness you are surrounded with at every moment – just like the kid at the movie theatre for the first time, you too have the inner power to live each of them to the fullest.