The author Jeff Brumbeau wrote a most insightful children’s book titled The Quiltmaker’s Gift—a message also beneficial for adults.
The story he tells is of a greedy king who has every material thing he could ever want, yet his possessions do not make him happy. The king hears of an old woman who makes the most beautiful quilts in the world and who gives them away for free to people who can’t afford them. She works all day on her quilts, and although she has few material possessions, she is very happy with her simple life. So the king decides he wants one of her quilts more than anything else, and is stunned when she won’t sell him one for any amount of money. She explains that they are only for those who can’t afford them. He is livid, but the old woman won’t bend, no matter what he does to threaten or punish her… and he certainly tries! Finally she makes a deal with the king, since she knows how selfish he is and how he doesn’t like to share any of his beautiful things. She tells him for each possession he gives away, she will make a square for his quilt. He reluctantly agrees because, though he loves all of his treasures, her beautiful quilt is the one thing he can’t have.
At first, he can’t find anything in all his treasures he can part with, but finally he decides to give away a single marble. To his surprise, the boy who receives it is so happy that the king decides to find other things to give away, and each time when he sees the joy on the face of the receiver, he can’t resist smiling. “How can this be?” the king cries. “How can I feel so happy about giving my things away?” Though he doesn’t understand why, he orders his servants to “bring everything out! Bring it all out at once!” And so each time he gives a gift away, the quiltmaker adds another piece to his quilt. After everyone in his kingdom has received a gift from him, he begins giving away his things to people all around the world, trading his treasures for smiles. Soon the king has nothing left to give, and the old woman finishes his beautiful quilt and wraps it around him, since his royal clothes are now in tatters. “As I promised you long ago,” the old woman says, “when the day came that you, yourself, were poor, only then would I give you a quilt.”
“But I’m not poor,” protests the king. “I may look poor, but in truth my heart is full to bursting, filled with memories of all the happiness I’ve given and received. I’m the richest man I know.” And so from then on, the quiltmaker sews her beautiful quilts by day, and at night the king takes them down to the town, searching out the poor and downhearted, never happier than when he is giving something away.