Encore: 'The Happiest Person In The World'

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(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

Think about the last time you felt… sad.

What did you do to cheer yourself up?

Well, in this episode, we’ll meet a man who was feeling pretty low himself. And he was so determined to find happiness that he embarked on an adventure. An adventure that… he hoped… would chase those blues away.  This story has roots all over the world, from Africa to Italy to Uzbekistan.

This episode features Laura C. Harris, Delores King Williams, Anya Whelan-Smith, Keshav Moodliar, John Lescault, Mitch Hebert, and Emmy-award winning actor Jon Cryer. You grown-ups can catch Jon Cryer on Two and a Half Men, on Netflix and Network TV.  This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir and Jessica Alpert.

Adults: Print out this picture and let your listeners color along with the episode.

Things To Think About After Listening

What makes you happy? Is it a person in your life — or people? Maybe it’s an activity you enjoy doing… or a place you like to visit. Maybe it’s just a big bowl of ice cream? Find a piece of paper and draw a picture of what brings you happiness… then share it with someone you love.

Story Transcript

NARRATOR: Once, there lived a man named Jonah. Jonah had a big house with a large field. He had a kind, loving wife, and three wonderful children. Jonah also had many good friends and neighbors. In short, Jonah had everything a man could ever want.  But one fall morning, as Jonah woke up beneath his fluffy down comforter, he noticed that his heart... felt heavy. His eyes filled with tears as he gazed out the window of his big house.

JONAH: The sun is shining. The sky is blue. And yet, I feel so… unhappy.

NARRATOR: Determined to shake this feeling, Jonah got out of bed, kissed his family goodbye, and went outside.

JONAH: I think I’ll take a walk through the countryside! That should be just the thing to cheer me up!

NARRATOR: Jonah hiked for hours. He noticed the bright oranges, yellows and reds of the autumn leaves. He felt the tingle of the clear, crisp air. He wandered past sheep and cows contentedly grazing, and friendly, furry dogs wagging their tails.

But when he got back home, still... he wasn’t happy.


JONAH: This is the worst! I’ve never been so unhappy in my life! Maybe I should  go to the city to get rid of this gloom.

NARRATOR: The next morning, Jonah got out of bed again, kissed his family goodbye again, and set out for the big city. When he got there he dined at the most delicious restaurants and went to the fanciest shows. He bought a necklace for his wife, toys for his kids, he even bought himself a pair of soft, fuzzy slippers! But when he returned home again…?

JONAH: All this time in the city and I still feel down in the dumps! Whatever will I do?

NARRATOR: As the weeks went by, Jonah felt gloomier and gloomier. He didn’t sled with his kids when the first snow fell. He hardly spoke to his friends and neighbors. Before long, he could barely get out of bed in the morning, even when the family was having his favorite breakfast of blueberry pancakes. One day, as Jonah moped around the house, his wife had an idea.

WIFE: Oh, Jonah. We must chase away this storm cloud above your head! Perhaps you could visit your wise aunt who lives by the pond in the woods! Maybe she can bring your blue skies back again!

NARRATOR: Jonah lifted his head and shrugged his shoulders.

JONAH: Well...I guess it can’t hurt to try.

NARRATOR: Jonah headed to the woods, and followed the path until he reached the pond. When he stepped inside his wise aunt’s cabin, she greeted her nephew with a hug.

WISE AUNT: Jonah! How lovely to see you! What brings you here today? And why do you look so sad?

JONAH: Oh, auntie... no matter what I do or where I go, I am so unhappy. Do you know how I might find happiness again?

NARRATOR: Jonah’s aunt smiled.

WISE AUNT: Why, yes, Jonah! I know exactly what you must do.

NARRATOR: Jonah leaned in closely. He didn’t want to miss a word of his wise aunt’s advice.

WISE AUNT: The answer, my child, is this: you must find the happiest person in the world. And when you find this person, you must trade your shirt for theirs. Once you and the happiest person in the world have exchanged shirts, you will be happy again.

NARRATOR: Jonah took in what his aunt had told him.

JONAH: Well, that doesn’t sound so hard! Thank you, auntie! Thank you so much!

NARRATOR: And thus began Jonah’s search... for the happiest person in the world. Jonah wandered long and far... through cities, towns and country… and with everyone he met, he would ask the same question:

JONAH: Tell me: are you… happy?

NARRATOR: ...and they would answer:

HAPPY PERSON #1: Why, yes! I am very happy!

HAPPY PERSON #2: I’ve never felt happier!

HAPPY PERSON #3: All the happiness in the world is mine!

NARRATOR: Each time this happened, Jonah would ask another question:

JONAH: But if I gave you all of my money, and my big white house, and my large green field... would you be... happier?

HAPPY PERSON #1:  A big white house?

HAPPY PERSON #2: A large green field?

HAPPY PERSON #3: Of course I’d be happier!

HAPPY PERSON #1: I’d be overjoyed!

HAPPY PERSON #2: I would definitely be happier with more of such things!

NARRATOR: This sort of exchange happened again and again. And over and over, Jonah would shake his head and frown.

JONAH: But I am looking for someone who would NOT be happier if they had more things! Someone who is already happy with who they are and what they have! There’s no way you can be the happiest person in the world.

NARRATOR: Feeling lower than ever, Jonah trudged his way through the forest. He slouched down on a tree stump, his head in his hands.  It was spring, and the birds were chirping as they collected food for their newborn chicks. But that wasn’t the only sound Jonah heard. Somewhere in the forest, someone… was whistling!

NARRATOR: Jonah jumped up from the tree stump.

JONAH: Whoever is whistling such a cheerful song must be a very happy person indeed! Perhaps I’ll give this one more try...

NARRATOR: Jonah wound his way through the woods, following the sound of the cheerful whistling. At last, he came to a clearing. There, in a beam of sunshine, a woodcutter was swinging his axe... and whistling as he swung. Jonah knew that splitting wood was very hard work; yet, for some reason, this man was loving every minute. Amazed, Jonah stepped forward.

JONAH: Excuse me, sir! Can I — can I ask you a question?

NARRATOR: The woodcutter stopped his swinging and put down his axe.

WOODCUTTER: Ask away, my friend! Always glad to help a traveler!

NARRATOR: Jonah braced himself. He’d asked this question thousands of times before. Would the answer be any different this time?

JONAH: What I want to know is…

NARRATOR: He took a deep breath.

JONAH: ...Are you...happy?

NARRATOR: The woodcutter chuckled, his eyes twinkling in the sun.

WOODCUTTER: My friend, you’ve come to the right person. I’m as happy as can be!

NARRATOR: Jonah’s heart fluttered.

JONAH: Well, what if I told you I’d give you all of my money and my big white house and my large green field? Here and now — I’d just give it to you. All of it. Would that make you happier?

NARRATOR: The woodcutter smiled.

WOODCUTTER: My friend, I have no need for your money… or your house… or your field. I wouldn’t trade places with a king or queen! Look what I have around me! The sun is shining, the air is crisp, the flowers are waking up after a long winter. Back home I have a wonderful family who loves me, and I love them. I have enough food to eat. I have a warm place to sleep. I feel safe, and I feel healthy. So, thank you very much for the offer, my friend. But I’ll let you keep your money... and your house... and your field. Nothing on this earth could make me happier than I already am.

NARRATOR: Jonah could not believe his good luck.

JONAH: At last! I’ve searched far and wide for the happiest person in the world, and finally, I’ve found you! There’s just one more thing I have to ask. Can we... trade shirts?

NARRATOR: The woodcutter threw back his head... and laughed. He laughed and he laughed until the forest echoed with his laughter. Jonah was confused.

JONAH: Why are you laughing? Look! My shirt is made from the softest of cotton and has the most beautiful of patterns!  Please! I must find happiness again! Won’t you trade shirts with me?

NARRATOR: The woodcutter finally grew quiet. He looked Jonah straight in the eye and unzipped his tattered coat. That’s when Jonah saw that the happiest person in the world... wasn’t wearing a shirt. In fact, he didn’t even own one!

WOODCUTTER: You see, my friend? I have no need for the softest of cotton or the most beautiful of patterns. There is nothing to trade.

JONAH: But, but, how is that possible?  My aunt said the happiest person in the world would trade shirts with me, and then I would be happy, too!

WOODCUTTER:  Ahhhhh. What a journey you must have had! Perhaps, my friend, you do not need a special shirt.  Perhaps there is no special shirt. Perhaps everything you need to be happy in your life... is already yours.

NARRATOR: And with that, the woodcutter zipped up his tattered coat and went back to swinging his axe and whistling. As Jonah traveled the many miles back to his big house and large field, he thought about what the woodcutter said. Along the way, he smiled at the people he passed, he patted the furry little dogs that chased after him, he even whistled his favorite songs, as loudly as he could. When Jonah returned home, the sun had just come up over the horizon. He gathered his wife and children in a big hug, and felt his heart grow light. Over a hot breakfast of blueberry pancakes, Jonah gazed upon his family and knew that now, and always, everything he needed to be happy... was right here.

Read more versions of this story HERE and HERE.

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Rebecca Sheir Host, Circle Round
Rebecca Sheir is the host "Circle Round," WBUR's kids storytelling podcast.



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