The happiest land is the world is one none of us can easily reach. It’s tucked away in a hidden valley in a faraway part of the world that does not appear on any map.
By happenstance, a hiker entered this remote place on his way to climb one of the highest mountains in that part of the world. He did not know it was the happiest land. The hiker, though still young, had traipsed across four continents. He had thrown a stone off the Great Wall, bathed in an ice-cold river in Patagonia, and watched antelope drink from a calm pool at sunset in Namibia. He still had much left to see and experience. He wanted to write a great novel, learn the paint, fall in love, and have his name etched in a monument at the end of his days. But he had only one lifetime in which to achieve it all, and he worried that he couldn’t achieve all that he wanted. Therefore, the man lived in constant anxiety, as he hurried from one experience to the next.
When he first entered the happiest land, he found nothing outwardly interesting about it. Its mountains were no more majestic than others he had seen. The streams were no clearer, the flowers no more colorful, and the animals no bigger or faster.
As he found it rather dull, the hiker chose to spend no more time than necessary in this small land. After asking directions, he took the shortest path possible that lead toward the mountain he intended to climb. Along the way, all the natives treated the visitor warmly. This was nothing new to the man. He had traveled through many hospitable places. However, the people in this land seemed even happier and more relaxed than he had previously experienced. This made him uneasy. He was not used to such calmness.
The stranger also noticed that some people wore white t-shirts with calendar dates printed in black. Some dates were many years in the future; others were close at hand. He assumed the shirts were the current fashion in this land, but he did not want to reveal his ignorance about their meaning. Still, he decided to buy one as a souvenir. He entered the next shop he came to and asked where he could purchase a white shirt like the ones he had seen others wearing.
The store clerk was pleasant, but firm. “I’m sorry, sir. You cannot buy those shirts. They are a gift when a person reaches a certain age.”
The clerk suggested other apparel — plenty of well-made shirts in beautiful colors were available — but they did not interest the hiker. He left the store frustrated.
Near the far end of his trek through the land, the hiker met a middle-aged woman along the path. Just as all the others he encountered that day, the woman had a look of almost otherworldly contentedness. By this time, the visitor had become annoyed at the serenity he saw in all the people he met. He stopped the woman as she passed him.
“Everyone I have seen here appears to have such inner peace,” the hiker said. “Frankly, it’s starting to get on my nerves. It’s as though you think you have all the time in the world. Trust me, you don’t.”
The woman shrugged. “We have enough time.”
“I don’t know how you could. Look at me. I have no responsibilities, I travel all around the world. and yet I still feel like life it too short.”
“I imagine you have been to many wonderful places,” the woman said. She pointed to a large rock just off the path. “Why don’t we rest for a bit while you share some of your stories?”
“I wish I had the time,” the hiker said. “But I have a mountain to climb.”
“Why must you climb it now? Is this your last day?”
“My last day?”
“I have seen other people like you. Not a lot, but a few. They hurry on the last day of their life like they are in a race.”
“It’s not my last day, I assure you,” the hiker said. “I’m still a young man, and I have a lot more to do in life. Besides, how would I know if it were my last day?”
The woman sat on the rock to rest. She rubbed the calves of her legs, which were much weaker than when she was a young woman. “We all know our last day in this land,” she said. “For some of us, that day is quite close. For others, the day is well in the future.”
“How can you know the day you’ll die?”
The woman shrugged. “We just do. We are born knowing.”
“That explains the shirts I saw,” the hiker said. “You must be miserable to be cursed with that knowledge. What if the time of your death is soon? There is so much to do and see.”
“For most of us, it’s comforting to know when we will die,” the woman said. “It liberates us to live. We can experience life with calmness, because we already know how it will end. Instead of worrying about it, we focus on what happens each minute of this life.”
“You sound like you believe in a life after this one,” the hiker said. “Otherwise, you wouldn’t be so calm about it.”
“I do believe in a life after this one,” the woman said. “But that’s not for me worry about. I know for certain that I have been given this life. No matter how long it is, I make the most of it. That doesn’t mean I have to climb every mountain, though we have many beautiful ones here. It doesn’t mean I have to read every poem ever written, though we have wonderful poets among us. It means I must cherish the life I have.”
The woman stood again, ready to continue down the path.”You seem to be in a hurry to reach that mountain,” she said. “What is the point? If you knew you were dying tomorrow, would you want to be there? Or would you be somewhere else more important to you?”
“But I don’t know when my last day will come,” the hiker said. “What should I do?”
“The same as all of us here,” the woman said. “Love, of course. Love who you are, where you are and those around you.”
“I guess you have already figured out where you’ll be on your last day?” the hiker asked.
“In a place very special to me,” the woman said. “With people I love. I’m going there now.”