The two drops of oil

EM PORTUGUES CLICAR AQUI > O segredo da felicidade
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A merchant sent his son to learn the Secret of Happiness from the wisest of men. The young man wandered through the desert for forty days until he reached a beautiful castle at the top of a mountain. There lived the sage that the young man was looking for.

However, instead of finding a holy man, our hero entered a room and saw a great deal of activity; merchants coming and going, people chatting in the corners, a small orchestra playing sweet melodies, and there was a table laden with the most delectable dishes of that part of the world.

The wise man talked to everybody, and the young man had to wait for two hours until it was time for his audience.

The Sage listened attentively to the reason for the boy’s visit, but told him that at that moment he did not have the time to explain to him the Secret of Happiness.

He suggested that the young man take a stroll around his palace and come back in two hours’ time.

“However, I want to ask you a favor,” he added, handling the boy a teaspoon, in which he poured two drops of oil. “While you walk, carry this spoon and don’t let the oil spill.”

The young man began to climb up and down the palace staircases, always keeping his eyes fixed on the spoon. At the end of two hours he returned to the presence of the wise man.

“So,” asked the sage, “did you see the Persian tapestries hanging in my dining room? Did you see the garden that the Master of Gardeners took ten years to create? Did you notice the beautiful parchments in my library?”

Embarrassed, the young man confessed that he had seen nothing. His only concern was not to spill the drops of oil that the wise man had entrusted to him.

“So, go back and see the wonders of my world,” said the wise man. “You can’t trust a man if you don’t know his house.”

Now more at ease, the young man took the spoon and strolled again through the palace, this time paying attention to all the works of art that hung from the ceiling and walls.
He saw the gardens, the mountains all around the palace, the delicacy of the flowers, the taste with which each work of art was placed in its niche. Returning to the sage, he reported in detail all that he had seen.

“But where are the two drops of oil that I entrusted to you?” asked the sage.

Looking down at the spoon, the young man realized that he had spilled the oil.

“Well, that is the only advice I have to give you,” said the sage of sages.
“The Secret of Happiness lies in looking at all the wonders of the world and never forgetting the two drops of oil in the spoon.”

from the book “The Alchemist”


  1. nikamarie says:

    There are two world the spiritual and the physical, the warrior learns how to live in both simultaneously .

  2. Max says:

    It speaks of a simple life-balance.
    It is wise to observe the world, to look outward (the palace).
    It is wise to observe yourself, to look inward (the spoon).
    To balance both.

  3. Daniel Chen says:

    I was looking for this quote for the past while. Thinking to myself who it was written by and what the name of the passage was.
    Finally stumbling upon it I realized it was written by the author of “The Alchemist”. One of my favourite books I have read hands down, yet regrettably I have to pick up again because of my poor memory.

    This says to me. Don’t forget where you came from. Don’t forget the people that have influenced you, your friends are represented by the oil. It is viscous and when mixed with water, separate. There are times when an obstacle, like water, separates your spoon from your oil. And there are those times that you forget you’re holding onto that oil of spoon and drop it.

    Therefore remember that its still there. And remember to treat it with great care.

  4. […] Art of Being – or, the art of keeping the two drops of oil in the spoon in the process. This is all part of my process of becoming as skillful a social innovator and […]

  5. rogger uchofen says:

    hi i read this long time ago.,, i think that the meaning of the two drops of oil means his soul and spirit, like what is a person before going to the real world. because life and situation change people some become wiser , some become bitter, etc, . so i think its like go check the world , live…, but dont forget ur child inside you wich dont know of hates, and sociaty rules…

  6. AFTON says:

    I kind of get a different meaning from the story. When the guy was so concerned about the oil he missed such spendor. I take this to kind of mean, that a person can get so caught up in the duties of life (holding onto his commision) that he missed all of the splendor around him. I do this every day. I drive to work and I see NOTHING on the way because I am focused on the time and my job and all of my to dos for the day that I forget how beautifull the world is around me.

    1. raynal says:

      I feel your statement my friend.
      Sometimes people go into a tunnel vision for years, decades, lifetimes and forget the true meaning of life which is…………………………… i dont know actually.. I just wanted to sound wise. But I do look around when I’m driving and admire the way the clouds are, or how the sun looks majestic on top of us all, or how simple a sunset/sunrise could be yet have such a moving force within us.

  7. Bhuwan says:

    Deciding what the “drops of oil will mean for me” will take a lot of thinking.

  8. Joya says:

    Thank you for the reminder. Secret of happiness: Be aware of life, experience it.. Why do we constantly forget and have to be reminded! why do the distractions of our every day life put us in such a physical, mental and emotional imbalance that blurrs the sight….
    ‘when one door of happiness closes, another opens; But often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one that has been opened for us.’ – H. Keller-

    Perfect timing for reminding us of the secret and how to be aware of the wonders around us :)


  9. hassan says:

    gud lesson for all

    1. marie-christine says:

      Thanks for your news from Pakistan.

  10. Keith says:

    Why is it that people go around with their eyes closed, not seeing the wonders of the world around them? Maybe it is not their eyes, but their minds that are closed? They lack the wonder of a child.

    Maybe that is why they are not happy? Or is it more fundamental, that unlike Santiago they failed to follow their dreams?

  11. Candy says:


    Sharing with my sons. xoxoxo

  12. aditya says:

    Knowledge has to become a realisation for it to be useful to us, e.g. most of us must have been hit by this passage, when we read teh alchemist first, but have we been able to put it to use for us, to what extent ! there is a test. once one has known teh secreat of happiness, then either that person is happy or s/he does not want happiness,

    raising a toast to making a device for all of u ( and me too ) which helps one to convert knowledge into realisation.


  13. candieb says:

    I think so too,although not really easy to do at times.When a problem comes out,and you focuse on only that thing and you are missing out on all the rest.True,we should keep it all in mind,the scene,the forms,the colors and the frame..

    Good day

  14. Monika says:

    The real wise man has his drops in a little bottle in his pocket. ;-)

  15. Thomas says:

    I interpret the quote a bit like the hedonists or epicurists did. You make sure the greater enjoyment and fullfillment is protected by keeping the short term actions in balance with the longterm joy. Yes you cn have a drink but not so much you’ll lose a day recovering.
    I’m pretty good a t discerning those lessons but I’m bad at applying them. How you people do it, I don’t know but I always slip up when trying to live according to the principles stated here. When disappointed I tend to turn my back on the whole thing and spend some time breaking down those who’re appearantly doing better, but then you come back and you get a nice word or interesting opinion or a nice quote (I completely agree with the quote of the week this week) and I’m hooked again.
    I liked the idea of the Zahir of people just stepping out and speaking their mind and whether I like or dislike the opinions I read or the reactions to my posts at least it’s communication on fundamental things.
    And the struggle goes on, but since I opened myself up for some of the wisdoms stated here, the struggle gets easier to handle and that’s something.
    Shout out to my students and a middle finger to the haters!

    1. Chris says:

      Thanks Thomas, I agree and you are the first I’ve read that has embraced the entire meaning of the passage: Yes, enjoy life — observe it, pay attention to it — BUT, take care of business. “The shepherd may like to travel, but he should never forget about his sheep.”

  16. rainbow dream says:

    I got it! For me the two drops of oil are our nature, essence, purpose in life in my case to do medical research as a physician and scientist it is when I glow! and the rest goes along (like the fish in the water = como pez en el agua) even my duties, my work, my dauther’s care everything goes along and I appreciate and love it.

    1. andrew weiss says:

      look your first sentence put you on the right track but them you make it seam like you didn’t read the book

  17. Mona says:

    I’ve read it before. It’s simple but so hard! I think Prabu is right.
    Life is simple but also hard.
    But we should enjoy!
    Thanks for this great master piece!

  18. Dave says:

    I teach the Alchemist in my high school English class and the students all love it. They especially love this passage.

    To me, this passage means that we should experience the joys and wonders of the world, but not forget the duties and responsibilities that we have been entrusted with. There must be a balance.

  19. Alex A. says:

    To me, it means perhaps not to forget the true meaning of life, to stay focussed spiritually and not distracted, but also to see and enjoy the wonders of this world :)

  20. Daniel says:

    The good oil. Health and knowledge are my good oils. But obsession means you miss the view. Like sitting on top of a hill studying the flower before your feet. Widen your perspective and you’ll truly get to know the flower because you will know the space it occupies.

  21. Ericka says:

    i knew i readed somewhere….
    thanks paulo!

  22. Paula says:

    To my understanding, this story teaches me to maintain focus, balance and remain centered in myself (maintain a calm center)while enjoying and appreciating all the wonder and beauty that exists in the world around me. To see and appreciate it all but don’t loose track of who I am and my precious center in favor of all the wonderful attractive sights and sounds that draw my attention from outside of myself. Success in life requires balance and focus, as well as enjoyment and appreciation for all the magnificent variety and beauty that exists outside of me in the world. To focus only on myself and my center is to miss out on all the beauty and abundance that exists outside of me as well. Balance between the two makes for a happy and fulfilled life. That is what I strive for…….

  23. Thanks for the interpretation Jane

  24. James says:

    Most of us are into our two drops of oil. We need those two drops of oil. It says everything about us. Then life asks us to carry those two drops of oil with one hand behind our backs, balancing on one foot in gale force winds, blindfolded.

    When the young man stopped worrying about his spoon he saw the majestry of “Persian tapestries” and other wonders. If I could turn the clock back I would sit down with my parents for supper and tell them how much I loved them and what they meant to me.

    1. katie says:

      thank you james for this reminder.
      I have still a chance to do it with my father
      who is now very, very sick.
      big hug

      p.s. my father is very sick for a whole month. he has been always very healthy. but he is also now 89 years old …
      he gets one hematoma after the other in his brain and needs operation after operation. I am leaving for europe next week.
      this blog helps me to see my unbalance – that always comes in such extreme situations – but it also helps me to find my center again …
      your comment is very, very helpful :o)

  25. irene says:

    My son shared this link w\me. I read it yesterday and read it again, this time read all the comments. Nareens shared story almost brought me to tears. That is I w\o my God I could not do it. Thank you for sharing the insert of your book. I will have find it for my son.Peace & Love

  26. I really like this story and it is interesting to read the different interpretations.

    I think that the drops of oil represent ourselves – Body and Soul/Mind. They are drops of rare, precious oil which need to be respected and protected.
    We are all on a journey through this world and should profit from all that the world has to offer. We can observe the beauty of Mother Earth, enjoy Music and the Arts and make use of modern Technology and Scientific and Medical discoveries. At the same time, we should never become victims or slaves of these things and allow ourselves to be ‘dazzled’ by the material things of this world. This requires constant attention, balance and care.
    The story reminds me of a poem by W.B.Rands:

    Great, Wide, Beautiful, Wonderful, World
    With the wonderful water around you curled,
    And the wonderful grass on your breast,
    World, you are so beautifully dressed.
    Ah, you are so great, and I am so small,
    I tremble to think of you, at all;
    And yet, when I said my prayers to-day,
    A whisper inside me seemed to say,
    “You are more than the earth,though you are such a dot,
    You can love and think, and the Earth cannot!”

    We are indeed Rare and Precious drops of oil!

    1. katie says:

      ja, I can see this :o)
      the poem really fits well here :o)
      thanks, Theresa <3

  27. giovanna says:

    I Think that happiness is look at the wonders aroud us, but however appreciate our little things

  28. adonia adelpha says:

    all of us are Alchemist!
    nice story..i enjoyed reading the comments,too.
    thank you paulo for every word you write in “alchemist”..
    it just is not a book to read and enjoy,it’s a template for life,to learn way of created santiago in your great mind,then santiago is living in the soul of your readers -not all of them who read this book,just those who reallized it..
    santiago is living in their lives..i read this book 4 years ago,it alterred my whole thoughts makes my life and Alchemist changed my view,my mind, created a sparkle in my mind to find my unsought soul..
    switch to a new life..

  29. katka says:

    .. it is amazing book.. and I hope, that a lot of people will be read it.. love, katka

  30. Prithvijit Debnath says:

    tough! very tough- but whoever said getting happiness with responsibility is easy work? better “don’t worry be happy”!! take it easy policy.

    1. I agree… not easy work at all!!!
      Love and light, Gabriela Romaria

  31. kealan says:

    I always enjoy reading this passage. It reminds me to keep my eyes open to everything.

    1. Olta Ana says:

      It is great indeed!

    2. Natalie says:

      I totally agree.

  32. Rita says:

    Enjoy what life offers you… but without forgetting who you are and what’s ur own message in life…. Change ur attitude to your world but don’t let the world change U deeply… U should keep ur own identity and loose urself while winning the experience… and at the same time don’t let ur own mission of life make you blind of any thing else… coz the greatest enemie of faith is the inattentive….
    A lot & unlimited lessons can we see in this story… we can not outline the idea in few words… we just have to memorize the complete story to don’t risk any detail from all what we can learn… amazing as usual…


    1. SO TRUE.. so true…. RITA!
      Thanks for shating your thoughts with us!
      xoxox Gabriela Romaria

  33. AllaSobirova says:

    I wish I was able to read the whole book!
    thank you for this piece though!
    Alla Sobirova

    1. The whole book is just wonderful! You must read it!

  34. Basma says:

    life is pleasure on other hand its full of ups and downs and we learn from it……….its easy to say but hard to live it.

  35. Rajesh says:

    it is just not a story of that young boy who was seeking for the pursuit of happiness, it is the story of ours, real life fact of ours. everyday we are step out from the house i search of love, perfection but we cant know that it is already gifted by GOD and it is present within.

    The great Paulo Coelho have noticed and beautifully narrated.


    1. Well…. sometimes we need to search more for the love we have dreamed of… and it is not only within us… If so,. why the miracle of the two peole in love who wants to become as one?…. I wonder…. IT IS NICER TO CAN SEE THE BEAUTY IN OTHERS TOO… they will help us to appreciate ours as well… I think! xoxox

  36. I really might read that one again.

  37. katie says:

    Hi everyone :o)
    and a special “welcome back” for the WOLs that missed several weeks: good to see your names/comments again :o)

    I think I begin to understand Paulo’s “trick”, best summarized in Monica’s comment below:
    “I feel every book has a different interpretation for the person who’s reading it. It all gives the reader what he/she needs…..”

    yeah: even every story he puts on this blog… it leaves a lot of space for the reader to fill in one’s own story…
    thus, there is no right or wrong interpretation.

    Paulo reminds me of the (old) story tellers. >100 years ago, they were the center of a village, telling stories and everybody was listening :o)
    This is what we are now here doing on the blog, but the same old tradition :o)

    so, the oil story feels for me like a hologram: from whatever angle I look at it, it tells me a different meaning.

    – I know how it feels just to focus on the spoons of oil…. if you do it too long, not seeing the beauty, you get sick.

    – consequently, I had to go to the other extreme… discovering the beauty of life. both parts needed to be balanced in this way. now I recovered again, balanced them and see: without the spoons life does not work.

    – the spoons and oil drops can stay for everything that is different from enjoying the beauty of life, sit on a beach or meadow and just relax. it can stay for:
    pain, dealing with a disease, getting older, work, duty, caring for sick people caring for friends, focusing on one’s path etc.

    – why oil? oil has been always precious: preparation of food, energy, light, offering for the god(s) …

    – the story tells also about “living in the moment” because only living in the moment allows us to enjoy life and focus on the very important thing(s) simultaneously. and indeed this is complicate ….but the only solution we have to live a good life.

    I wonder how many spoons Paulo has in his hands …
    not just two …
    hope he will tell us one day how to manage this situation :o)

    big hug to you all

    1. VERY NICE KATIE!!!! xoxoxox

  38. gabi says:

    i love this story ;) i have read it few times and everytime i read it again i see something new in it. its magic ;)
    (sorry for my english)
    Regards from Poland ;)

  39. Alex Sandra UK says:

    This story reminds me to remember everything from my life whilst on my journey. Every small or big thing is important in the puzzle of life and will all fit together like a jigsaw one day. Each detail has in some way brought us to the place we are in today.

    “Everything which is done in the present affects the future by consequence and the past by redemption.” Paulo Coelho

    I think many people will take something different from this story, however, what I take from it is the two drops of oil are simply representations of something that is with us/part of us/been given. The oil is a reminder to enjoy everything in life but always remember who we are.


    1. Gaurry says:

      Thanks, I’m just wondering its meaning, your views are so valuable to me!