STORIES: "The happy man's shirt"

STORIES: "The happy man's shirt"

An Italian folktale:


Once there was a king who ruled over a very peaceful yet powerful kingdom. His people all loved and adored him. All was perfect in his kingdom, except for his son. The king's son was very unhappy for no known reason.
He would always sit in his room staring blankly out the window over the lands, frowning.
The king addressed his son: "What on earth has upset you? What is it that you lack? What is making you so distraught?"
The young prince only shrugged.


"Could there be a girl, a certain women that has caught your eye? Tell me her name and I'll move mountains to have you two married at once!"
"No, it's not a girl. I don't know why. I'm just so unhappy."
The king nodded and walked off. If this state of affairs continued the king feared his son would die of melancholy.
Deciding he needed more help, the king issued a decree to have all the top physicians, astrologers, and wise men of the kingdom come to him. When they arrived the king showed them to his son. After three days the astrologers had finally come up with a solution.


"Your Majesty," the head astrologer, spoke. "We have given the matter close thought. In order to help your son you must find a happy man. A man that is happy through and through."
The king raised an eyebrow at this. "I must find a happy man?!?"
"Yes, and when you find the happy man you must trade his shirt for your son's shirt, then all will be well."

The king agreed and dismissed them. He called in his ambassador to the throne room, and told them to go out and find for him a truly happy man. He had notices placed all over the kingdom offering a handsome reward to anyone who could find a truly happy man.


The first person to be shown before the king was a priest.
"Are you happy?" The king's question was simple and to the point.
"Yes, mi-lord, I am very happy."
"Well then, how would you like to be my bishop?" at this, the priest perked up. "Oh yes, your majesty, nothing would bring me greater joy!"
"Get thee hence from my palace before I have you imprisoned!" Yelled the now furious king. "You are no happy man so much as a liar, and only looking to better himself. Out of my castle!

The search continued. Not a week went by but there was news of a neighboring king who was described as a real happy man. He had a lovely wife and many children. He has no enemies and he too has a peaceful but powerful kingdom. Thinking this was his solution, the king sent his ambassador to inquire after him.

"It is true that I have all I could ever want, but I fear that I will die soon and lose it all. Every night I lie in bed thinking of what I will lose."

With this answer the ambassador thought it wise not to take the kings shirt. When he was told the news, the King was furious. He had no clue what to do next. His son was going to die sad and depressed. In desperate need of fresh air the king went off on a hunting trip.


In the fields, the king shot out at a hare a few meters away. The arrow only grazed the hare, and it escaped into the woods. Following quickly, the king moved far away from the rest of his party. After a few minutes he gave up looking for the hare and made to head back but suddenly stopped. There was a noise coming from his left. As he drew closer the king realized that it was someone singing and whistling a small tune.

The song led him into the vineyard, where he found a young man pruning the vines.
"You there! Tell would you like to be appointed to the highest position in the land as the king's personal advisor?"
"Advisor eh?" the youth sat up and scratched his chin. "Such a troublesome position. Sorry I'll have to pass. I'm fine enough as I am."

The king beamed at this answer.
"You're the one! Quickly! On your feet!" He grabbed the young man and ran back to the men and his camp. "My son is saved! My son is saved!"
He turned to the young man and gestured warmly: "You, may have from me whatever it is you wish. But i need...i need..."

The young man looked at the king strangely. "You need what?"
"My son the prince is dying and only you can save him. Come closer."
The king grabbed the young man, smiling his brightest smile and quickly began to unbutton the youth's jacket, then suddenly stopped.

His arms drooped to his sides.

The happy man wore no shirt.


What do you think is the lesson of this story? I love to hear your thoughts...

For me, this story is an allegory in which the characters and events are symbolic of ideas and concepts to make us think about how we can find true happiness.

The prince lived in riches in a beautiful castle, without any needs and yet he was terribly sad and depressed.

The shirt also symbolizes external things, and the young man who was truly happy didn't own a shirt. His joy didn't depend on any material things.

The lesson here for me is that "True happiness comes from within".


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Published by Amira Carluccio


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