During the 11 years I spent in prison, I read somewhere in the region of 500 books. Biographies, history, current affairs, memoirs, classics and literature.

The best books I read were those from which I extracted wisdom about life and about the world. Books that might bring me benefit in my life and help me bring benefit to the lives of others.

The following short story is taken from one of the best books that I read in prison, perhaps one of the best I have read in my life.

A fellow prisoner gave it to me when I was in HM Prison Woodhill in 2006. It was a short, gripping book, so I finished it within a day. Here is the story…

Once upon time, a merchant sent his son to learn the Secret of Happiness from the wisest of men.

The young man wandered through the desert for forty days until he reached a beautiful castle at the top of a mountain. There lived the sage that the young man was looking for.

However, instead of finding a holy man, our hero entered a room and saw a great deal of activity; merchants coming and going, people chatting in the corners, a small orchestra playing sweet melodies, and there was a table laden with the most delectable dishes of that part of the world.

The wise man talked to everybody, and the young man had to wait for two hours until it was time for his audience.

The Sage listened attentively to the reason for the boy’s visit, but told him that at that moment he did not have the time to explain to him the Secret of Happiness.

He suggested that the young man take a stroll around his palace and come back in two hours’ time.

“However, I want to ask you a favour,” he added, handling the boy a teaspoon, in which he poured two drops of oil. “While you walk, carry this spoon and don’t let the oil spill.”

The young man began to climb up and down the palace staircases, always keeping his eyes fixed on the spoon. At the end of two hours he returned to the presence of the wise man.

“So,” asked the Sage, “did you see the Persian tapestries hanging in my dining room? Did you see the garden that the master of gardeners took ten years to create? Did you notice the beautiful parchments in my library?”

Embarrassed, the young man confessed that he had seen nothing. His only concern was not to spill the drops of oil that the wise man had entrusted to him.

“So, go back and see the wonders of my world,” said the wise man. “You can’t trust a man if you don’t know his house.”

Now more at ease, the young man took the spoon and strolled again through the palace, this time paying attention to all the works of art that hung from the ceiling and walls.

He saw the gardens, the mountains all around the palace, the delicacy of the flowers, the taste with which each work of art was placed in its niche. Returning to the sage, he reported in detail all that he had seen.

“But where are the two drops of oil that I entrusted to you?” asked the sage.

Looking down at the spoon, the young man realized that he had spilled the oil.

“Well, that is the only advice I have to give you,” said the sage of sages.

“The Secret of Happiness lies in looking at all the wonders of the world and never forgetting the two drops of oil in the spoon.”

This story was taken from the book The Alchemist, written by Brazilian author Paolo Coelho.

It is said that there are two types of people in the world: those who have read The Alchemist and those who have not read The Alchemist.

This statement is not too far from the truth, given that The Alchemist has sold more than 65 million copies in 69 different languages, which makes it one of the best selling books in history.

The Alchemist is the fable of a young Andalusian shepherd boy who travels thousands of miles across different lands to enact a recurring dream that he has had about finding a buried treasure.

The story follows the boy as he meets different people and as he stays with them, he picks up different wisdoms about life and about the world, including:

“When you really want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.”

“It is the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.”

“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”

“The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.”

“When you are loved, you can do anything in creation. When you are loved, there’s no need at all to understand what’s happening, because everything happens within you.”

“Everything that happens once can never happen again. But everything that happens twice will surely happen a third time.”

“When each day is the same as the next, it’s because people fail to recognize the good things that happen in their lives every day that the sun rises.”

“No matter what he does, every person on earth plays a central role in the history of the world. And normally he doesn’t know it.”

Read this book. Get your teenage children to read it, get your friends to read it.

It is less than a hundred pages but full of a thousand wisdoms.

You can buy a hard copy of The Alchemist on Amazon or you can download the PDF for free here.

My story and why I blog can be read here.

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