On a sunny spring day long, long ago a sad raccoon found himself tired and alone in the middle of a forest. For many days the raccoon had been traveling in search of something that would bring him happiness, but his journey had found him only more sadness. His feet were sore, his fur was matted, and—as he had eaten his last cob of corn the night before—he was without food. Just when the raccoon was about to surrender all hope of ever finding happiness a man with a wide smile on his face and a sack of potatoes over his shoulder came into sight.
"Hello," the raccoon said.
"Hello," the man returned.
"Please sir, I'm so hungry. Could I have some potatoes? Just one?"
The man thought for a moment, but his smiling expression never changed.
"Alright," he answered, "I will share my potatoes with you."
The man handed the raccoon a potato and together they sat amidst the trees and enjoyed a delightful meal and a pleasant conversation. But as he turned to leave the sack tore open and potatoes spilled out across the forest floor. The smiling man didn't seem to notice and continued on his way, leaving the potatoes and the raccoon behind.
"With all these potatoes I won't go hungry for weeks!" exclaimed the raccoon, and he greedily stuffed the spuds into his own purse.
The next day he continued his search. He discovered a cottage in a clearing deep within the woods. Curious as to who would live in such a place, the raccoon knocked on the door. When it opened he found himself looking at none-other than the man from the day before. The man's smile was still so wide that the raccoon wondered if the potatoes had been missed at all.
"My friend Mr. Raccoon," the man said merrily. "What a surprise to see you here. Come, you must meet my family."
Before the raccoon could utter a single word of greeting, he was yanked into the cottage and the door was shut behind him. He found himself in a small room filled with blankets and beds. Playing with some wooden toys scattered about the floor were two children, a girl and a boy. Sitting on a rocking chair beside a tender fire was a woman feeding an infant child from a bottle of warm milk. All the occupants of the home wore smiles so wide they seemed too large for their faces. After introductions had been made, the raccoon asked the man to join him outside where they could speak privately.
"What do you wish to ask me, Mr. Raccoon?"
"Yourself and your family all seem so happy," said the raccoon. "Where does your happiness come from?"
"Our happiness? Our happiness comes from our wealth of course," the man laughed.
"What wealth? From all outward appearance, you're as poor as they come!"
"Stay with us," said the man, "and I shall share my wealth with you."
And so the raccoon stayed with the family for many months. Each day he would try to uncover the secrets of their happiness. On one day when they were having scrambled eggs for breakfast he asked if the family's wealth was eggs but the man said no, that wasn't it. On another day the raccoon asked if the wealth came from the livestock kept in the barn outside, but no, the man said that was not the wealth either. It seemed to the raccoon that the man must have been hiding his wealth, so the raccoon cooked up a nasty scheme. Each day he would hide something that belonged to the man and see what he wept for most. Whichever thing brought the most tears would have to be whatever he considered his wealth.
That night the raccoon snuck out to the barn. He unlocked all the gates and opened all the doors, releasing the animals into the forest. When the next day came, the raccoon found the man did not weep but was merely puzzled by the animals' sudden disappearance. Deciding the livestock was not the man's wealth, the raccoon looked for something else. That night, while all were asleep, the raccoon stole the cooking supplies and buried them in the forest. Neither the man nor his wife seemed troubled by the vanishing pots and pans, and continued their day smiling as they always did.
For several days and nights this continued, until at last there was little left in the home. The raccoon had hidden the man's gold watch, the children's toys, the wife's rocking chair and even the infant's bottle, but nothing seemed to make the family stop smiling. At last the raccoon decided the wealth must be the house itself. So one day, while the family was outside hanging laundry and watching the clouds in the sky, the raccoon lit fire to their home and burned it to the ground.
"What a terrible loss," the raccoon said to the man as they watched the cottage burn.
"Indeed it is, but we have family who will take us in," the man said, still smiling.
The man's smile finally caused the raccoon to snap. "Listen you. You've lost everything. Your pots and your pans, your roosters and hens, even the gold watch from your old man. Before you is your home, rising to the heavens in pillars of black smoke. Yet you smile. You still smile. Tell me good sir; please tell me as you promised I would learn. What is the wealth that keeps you happy?"
The man looked at the raccoon. "Oh, poor Mr. Raccoon. None of those things were my wealth. Despite staying with us for so long, you still have not learned what it is that keeps us happy? I suppose I will need to tell you then."
The man walked over to his children and his wife and his infant son. "This is my family, and they are all the wealth I need."