"The Golden Key to Happiness"

Several days ago we attended the Cultural Awareness Program at Mt. Madonna School where our grandson is in first grade. His grade of ten adorable students reenacted a Buddhist story from Cambodia. In this story a single mother has three grown sons. She is very concerned that her sons do not help her or anyone else, and care only about money. She confides this concern to her beloved sister and together they come up with a plan. The mother draws her three sons together, shows them a treasure chest, and says, “When I die, you can open this chest. It has been locked with a golden key and my sister will give you that key after I pass from this world. What I will be giving you will bring lasting happiness. The sons secretly think that their mother will be giving them precious jewels and a vast amount of money.

A short time later, the mother passes from this world. The sons go to their aunt, claim the golden key, and return to the treasure chest with great excitement. When they open the treasure chest, they discover that the only thing in there is a letter from their mother. In her neat handwriting she had written, “The key to lasting happiness is to always help and serve people. If you follow my words, you will always know happiness in your life, for helping others brings a warmth and joy to your heart that money can never bring.” The sons loved their mother very much and therefore decided to follow her advice. They started helping people wherever they went and indeed they became very happy and fulfilled men.

After watching the children’s precious play, I reflected upon my father. My father was always helping people and going the extra mile. If someone asked him to do something for them, he would always do much more, often in secret. Towards the end of my father’s life, his heart and his health were failing and he completely lost his hearing. He could have sat around feeling sorry for himself, but instead he used what very little energy he did have to make wooden toys for a very poor day care center for migrant Mexican workers. When he had made around seven toys, after making special arrangements, my mother drove him to the day care center. It brought my father so much joy to see the children playing with the toys that he had made. They had very few toys and none of them very nice. These were beautiful toys. My mother snapped a photo of him and he had the biggest smile on his face.

My parents then went out to dinner to celebrate the toys and the joy on the children’s faces. My mother reported that my father seemed happier that evening than she had seen him in a while. He kept talking about how excited the children were to have his toys. Twelve hours later, my father died of a fatal heart attack. His last hours on this earth were spent in giving and bringing happiness to others, just the way he would have wanted his last day to be.

My mother also was constantly giving to others. Towards the end of her life these ways became small, but still she continued. She would write letters of encouragement and call people she felt might be lonely. And then because her memory was failing her, she was not able to do even these things. She said to Barry and me, “I cannot really help people anymore in the ways that I like, but I can still smile at people. Smiling will be my service to others now.” And indeed anyone who passed my mother was given one of her winning smiles.

Of course there are other ingredients to a happy life. Remembering God and taking time to feel that connection with the Divine, honoring ourselves, loving others and expressing that love, and taking good care of your body, getting exercise and eating well are all important. Honoring our planet and all of the animals and helping and serving others is very important. As the Cambodian story suggests, the golden key to happiness is truly in being of service.

My parents were not able to leave very much money to my brother and me when they died. But they left us with the valuable gift of modeling service to others. This gift has been more precious than any jewel-filled treasure chest.  

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