The Oil & Spoon: The Secret to Happiness in Life

7 min readDec 21, 2021

A Personal Reflection on a life lesson from The Alchemist

Photo by Jr Korpa on Unsplash

The Alchemist is a novel that contains a story of the remarkable journey life takes us on as we realize our personal legends, our reasons for being. Within the earlier part of the novel contains a short anecdotal story of a young boy exploring a grand palace in pursuit of the secret of happiness in life. I have been reflecting on where I am at in my life and have seen many parallels between my current situation and the story — along with a valuable life lesson from within it. These parallels are what I would like to share with you today in my writing, in hopes that it may spark similar reflection within you.

In this anecdotal story, a young boy happens upon a palace on the top of a mountain. In this palace is said to live the wisest man in the world. Forty days prior and just before he departed, the boy’s father had told him that the wise man would be able to explain to him the secret to happiness. Unfortunately for the boy, when he met the wise man, he told the boy that he did not have time to explain the secret of happiness to him. So instead, the wise man instructed the boy to look around the palace for two hours and then return to him. As part of his instruction, he was told to explore the palace while balancing in one hand a spoon filled with oil. The boy did as he was instructed, climbing stairways and navigating tight corridors and busy banquet hallways — all while being completely fixated on keeping the oil within the spoon.

When the boy completed his tour he returns to the wise man, who proceeds to ask the boy if he saw all of the marvels throughout the palace; the tapestries, the gardens, the parchments. The boy was embarrassed to admit that he did not see any of those things, as he was too focused on not spilling the oil that the wise man entrusted to him. And so, the wise man instructed the boy to repeat his tour once more, this time ensuring he witnessed the marvels of the house. The boy does so, this time observing all of the works of art, the architecture, the flowers, and the landscapes. When he returned to the wise man, he related in detail with excitement everything that he saw. However, the wise man was quick to point out this time that the oil was no longer in the spoon.


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