Where do I get ideas for this column? Normally, from reliable medical sources. But this new year’s resolution comes from The Daily Reckoning, a financial publication. Its advice is sound for all of us as we start 2014. Its topic is "The Parable of Taganga."
A U.S. investment adviser was visiting a small fishing village in Colombia called Taganga. As he strolled along the pier, a fisherman appeared with his daily catch. The basket contained four tilapia.
When the American was told the fish had been caught quickly, he said, "So why didn’t you catch more fish?" The fisherman replied, "This is all I need to feed my family."
So the American asked, "How do you spend the rest of the day?" The Colombian answered, "I have a siesta with my wife, play with my children, talk with friends, drink a little wine or sing with my amigos. It’s a good life."
The American then suggested, "You could fish longer, sell the fish and with more money buy another boat and soon have your own fleet of ships. Eventually you cut out the middleman and sell straight to the distributor. You could become so successful you’d end up in New York City running your tilapia empire, have a public stock offering and become filthy rich."
"How long would this take?" the fisherman asked.
"Maybe 25 years," the American replied.
"But what would I do then?" the Colombian asked.
The investment adviser replied: "This is the best part. You could retire, move to this quaint fishing village. Then you could fish, enjoy siestas with your wife, play with your children, sip wine and sing with your amigos."
As we enter 2014, it’s ironic that millions of North Americans, who hate their jobs, try to work hard all their lives hoping that at some time they too can lie on a beach in Florida or some other beautiful location like Taganga. Some make it to that beach, but there are millions who never do.
Nor can many decide to pack their bags, say "to hell" with what they’re doing, and start fishing in Taganga. So what can be done to make 2014 a more relaxing year without such a dramatic change of scenery?
Over the years, I’ve seen innumerable patients who needed to spend a few days with a Colombian fisherman. Those who have never learned to live within their means or realize it’s possible to be happy with less. That it is not necessary to buy every new gizmo that comes on the market. Yet hardly a day goes by without the temptation to open their wallets and go further into debt.
During 2014, others will not learn to separate the possible from the impossible with even a trainload of psychiatrists to help them. Some of my patients had an incompetent boss who should never have been promoted. Unfortunately, unless they won the lottery, there was no way to tell the boss to go to hell and quit.
Similarly, if your wife has suddenly run away with your best friend, you need more than a winning lottery ticket as a solution. I’ve always believed that Stalin, who was never a role model, had at least one good suggestion when he remarked: "You have to live with the devil until you reach the end of the bridge."
We must all accept and live with a problem until the right solution comes along and not, in the meantime, kill ourselves with stress.
Henry David Thoreau was right when he wrote: "Most men live lives of quiet desperation." It’s highly unlikely that the desperation of many will diminish in 2014. Today, people can’t escape the constant pressure of new ideas, behaviours and technology.
But thank Lady Luck that you live in this country. The Happy Planet Index reports that the island of Vanuatu in the Pacific is the happiest place on Earth, Germany the most stressful, and Mexico the least.
Remember, some stress is good. Animals in the jungle would not last the night without it. My best wishes for a healthy and less stressful 2014.
» Dr. Gifford-Jones is a graduate of The University of Toronto and The Harvard Medical School. He took post-graduate training in surgery at the Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, McGill University in Montreal and Harvard. During his medical training he has been a family doctor, hotel doctor and ship's surgeon. His medical column is published by 70 Canadian newspapers, several in the U.S. and the Epoch Times which has editions in a number of European countries.