The Woman Who Lived in a Vinegar Jar

10 Feb 2021

When I wrote my blog on gratitude last week, this story came to mind. Perhaps you might know it already, but I will give an abbreviated version here.

There once was a woman who lived in a vinegar jar. It was small and cramped and she was very unhappy.

‘If only I could live in one of those little cottages on the hill, with roses around the door and a garden, how happy I should be!’ she cried.

The Happiness Fairy flew past and heard this cry. She decided to make the woman happy and granted her wish.

A year later the fairy checked up on the woman and was distressed to hear she was just as unhappy as she had been before.

‘Oh, if only I could live in a neat town house with a maid to open the door and do the cooking and cleaning: oh, how happy I should be then!’

So, the fairy granted her wish.

The next year she wanted a house in the country and her own carriage; the year after that, she wanted to be a duchess in a stately home, and she ended up in a sumptuous palace as queen of all the land.

She was still unhappy, however, and finally the Happiness Fairy gave up.

‘Well, you are no happier now than you were in your vinegar jar,’ she said, and promptly popped the woman right back where she had started.

It is said the secret of happiness is not to have what you want, but to want what you have.

This does not mean merely accepting our lot or relinquishing ambition, or the desire to improve things. Humans are hard-wired to reach for more than we can grasp; it is why we no longer live in caves. It means instead recognising that achieving an ambition or obtaining a desire does not necessarily bring happiness with it. For me, I know the feeling of pride or joy I experienced on passing my exams or finishing my first novel lasted less than 24 hours. At the end of that time, I had a new goal or new desire; writing ‘The End,’ only meant another four beginnings.

It is more difficult for those who had what they wanted, and it was taken away from them, by illness, by bereavement, by fire, flood or pandemic. They may feel happiness was stolen from them. I have never suffered such a loss and feel utterly inadequate talking about happiness to those who have.

Yet, we all know people whose life circumstances are bleak, but who continue to exude peace, serenity, and happiness; and we all know people who seem to have everything, yet complain bitterly about the colour, flavour and scent of that everything.

I feel incredibly grateful for all my many blessings. I want my happiness to be now and not based on some future dream.

I don’t want the Happiness Fairy to get impatient with me!


A Moodscope member.

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