In a faraway country many years ago there lived a king who was very unhappy. He had much land and many servants. He had many riches and fine clothes and fast chariots. But he was not happy.
One day the king said, “Perhaps I would be happy if we changed the color of the velvet hangings in the throne room. Royal blue might be a better color.” And all the servants in the royal palace ran to change the color of the velvet hangings in the throne room.
When this was done the king sat on his throne and looked at the beautiful blue folds of the shimmering velvet hangings, and he liked them. But he was not happy.
Perhaps if I had white rabbit fur on my royal robe, that would make me happy, thought the king. So all the king’s trappers scurried around and caught enough rabbits to trim the royal robe with rabbit fur. Then the king sat on his throne dressed in the royal robe trimmed with rabbit fur and the people all admired him. But he was not happy.
Said the king, “Perhaps if I had six horses instead of four to pull my chariot through the streets, then I would be happy.” The servants in the fields brought in another span of fine white horses for the king’s golden chariot, and the king rode through the streets with six horses pulling his chariot. Although the people smiled and waved to him, the king still was not happy.
One day a wise man said, “Oh, king, there are many people in your kingdom who have not half as much as you and yet they are happy. Perhaps if you could wear the shirt of one of them, it would make you happy too.” The king thought about this suggestion and decided that it was a good idea. So he dressed in some old clothes and left on foot to travel throughout his kingdom, seeking a man who was perfectly happy.
The first man he came to was fishing from a small boat on a beautiful blue lake. The king beckoned to him and the man rowed to shore. “Are you happy?” asked the king.
“Of course,” said the man.
“Are you quite sure you are perfectly happy?” asked the king again.
“Well,” said the man, “if I had a bigger boat I could go out farther and get bigger fish. Then I would be even happier.”
“Too bad,” said the king and went on.
The next man he met was chopping wood in the forest with a large axe. “Are you happy?” the king asked.
“Of course,” said the man.
“Are you quite sure you are perfectly happy?” asked the king.
“Well,” said the woodcutter, “if I had a saw that would run by itself and do the cutting faster, I would be happier.”
“Too bad,” said the king.
The next man he met was plowing a field with a hand plow and a single golden ox. The sun was shining, the farmer was whistling, the birds were following in the furrows behind him, and little breezes lifted the grass along the bank where his plow went.
“Are you happy?” called the king.
“Yes,” said the man as he went whistling along.
“Are you perfectly happy?” asked the king. “Don’t you wish you had a fine team of horses to pull your plow?”
“No,” said the man. “I like the easy pace of my faithful friend, and I like to smell the good air. I enjoy watching the rich earth turn into furrows, and it gives me pleasure to whistle along with the birds.”
“Aha,” said the king to himself. “Here is a perfectly happy man.” Walking up to the farmer the king asked, “Where is your shirt that I may borrow it?”
“Oh,” said the happy man, “I have no shirt, for I need none. The sun is warm, the plowed earth is soft to my feet, the breezes keep the air sweet, the birds sing with me as I walk, and I am perfectly happy.” Then the man started down another row.
“Wait,” said the king. And he took off his shirt and laid it on the ground. He put his hand to the plow and worked all day with the man. The sun warmed him, the birds sang to him, and the man talked to him of the good and beautiful things of the earth.
And the king was happy.