The Fisherman and His Wife

From Grimm's Fairy Tales.

The Fisherman and His Wife

There was once a fisherman who caught a magical talking fish that promised to grant wishes if the fisherman let it go.

Now, the fisherman was a simple fellow with a contented mind and few desires. He didn't have any wishes and decided to let the fish go free.

When the fisherman returned to his dilapidated little hut and recounted the story to his wife, she was furious.

“Go back to the sea and find that fish,” she demanded, “and ask for a new house, now!”

The fisherman yielded. He found the fish and relayed his wife's request.

“It is done,” the fish said and instructed the fisherman to return home.

When he got home, he found his wife sitting on the porch in front of a magnificent new house. Her mood, however, had hardly improved.

“Old fool,” she called out to him, “you found the magic fish that grants wishes and this is all you asked for? Go back to it and ask it to make us kings.”

Again, the fisherman obeyed, though a bit reluctant. He found the fish again and relayed his wife's new request.

“It is done,” the fish said and disappeared beneath the surface of the water.

When the fisherman got home, he was stunned by the awesome palace in the place of his old hut. He greeted his wife, now a king, only to find that she wanted more.

“There are many kings but there can only be one emperor,” she reasoned. “Go back to the magic fish and ask it to make me an emperor.”

Yet again, the fisherman had to look for the magic fish and, again, he reported his wife's wish.

It went on like this several more times. Each time, the fisherman would return home to a dissatisfied wife who wanted more. Soon, however, the fish was fed up.

“You will no longer receive anything,” it told the fisherman. “Go back to your little hut.”

The fisherman returned home for a final time. This time, he found his poor wife sitting miserably on the ground in front of the original dilapidated hut.

And there they live to this very day.


As the saying goes, “the grass is always greener on the other side.” It's what author William B. Irvine calls hedonic adaptation. We all experience this when we badly want something—be it money, cars, houses, careers or even companions—and how almost as soon as we acquire it we lose interest.

Instead of chasing after every next proverbial bone or rainbow, Stoics advise us to appreciate what we have. It's not that we shouldn't strive for better. It's just that we ought to be mindful of our goals while also committing to not take what we already have for granted.