There is a story from Japanese folklore that I believe illustrates this well. The tittle of the story is "The Stonecutter." There are several versions of this Japanese folktale available, here is my version.
(This was originally a part of a thanksgiving post)
The stonecutter was skillful and experienced. He had spent his life going up to the mountain and laboriously cutting out chunks of stone to sell in the market. He would make decorations for gardens, parts to fix walls, or tables, or benches, street lamps. You name it he had done it. His work was not easy. Working with stone takes skill, practice, patience, wisdom, and quite a bit of effort. The stone was hard, heavy, and unforgiving. The stonecutter’s hands were strong and rough. His joints ached, but his shoulders were broad, his legs strong, his back had many scars and strong muscles from pulling and carrying heavy stones. His toes were crooked his fingers likewise scared, one does not become an experienced stonecutter without a fair share of scars.
But overall, his labors had their positive side. He knew everyone in his town and was well respected as an honest, hardworking and skillful man. His clothes were full of patches and as rough as he was. But the daily exercise had kept him mobile and strong even as his age advanced. Because of his experience his work continued to be in high demand even though there were other, younger, stonecutters in the town.
The stonecutter enjoyed walking around the town and seeing his handiwork helping hold up bridges, in the walls of houses, in beautiful gardens, in shops and parks. He felt like his work mattered, his skill and dedication were appreciated and he felt like he continually made valuable contributions to the lives of those around him.
However, on one particularly hot day, the stonecutter found himself up on the mountain working to get a specifically difficult piece of stone to adorn the garden of a very rich man. The stone he wanted to cut was in a narrow spot, his elbows were scraping against the rock, his fingers were beginning to bleed from the constant and heavy work, not to mention the sun, the heat, the sweat dripping down his face and oftentimes into his eyes, as well as the mosquitoes flying around his ears and nose. The day seemed to drag on forever, until finally he got the piece just the way he wanted. The color and texture was perfect, the shape was just right. He knew the wealthy man would be happy, and he was happy that his hard work would decorate a beautiful garden.
Carefully, the stonecutter placed the stone on top of his cart and with great difficulty brought it down the mountain, sometimes pushing, other times pulling, other times trying to hold it to keep it from overturning. There was no road at first and then the road was uneven and full of holes and sandy in some parts. With a great deal of effort the stonecutter made it to the rich man’s house.
The stonecutter was directed to the garden where he placed the stone where its proper place It looked perfect. Difficult as it had been to get it, the stone was the perfect complement to the rich man’s beautiful garden. The color, shape, and texture were perfect, just as he had intended them to be. Content he went inside the house to announce he had finished. As a servant left to announce it to the rich man, the stonecutter was left inside the house waiting.
Hat in hand, the stonecutter waited. The mansion was very big, and beautiful. The high ceiling caused the house to feel cool even though outside had been so hot. There was fine furniture, beautiful artwork, and the house smelled of the most wonderful aroma of fresh flowers. The rich man came and thanked the stonecutter for his work and paid him even more than they had agreed to. The rich man complimented the stonecutter in the quality of his work, and sent him on his way.
On his way home, the stone cutter became more aware of his fatigue, his aches and pains. When he arrived at his own house it looked small, felt cramped, crude, bare. His house felt stuffy inside, warm. It was not as cool as the rich man’s house. There was no art or beauty, no scent of flowers. As the stonecutter nursed his bleeding fingers, patched the holes on the knees of his pants, and massaged his sore legs and feet he began to talk to himself.
“I have worked hard my whole life. I have always done my best. I have perfected my craft. I have helped many people. I have been a good man. I have been honest, and dedicated. Yet here I am, in pain, living in a small house. My life is so difficult, my clothes are full of patches, my house is hot, my body aches.”
“Oh how I would like to be a rich man. To wear silk and live in a house that is cool, and had beautiful art, and smells like flowers. To have servants and plenty of food. That is the life I would like.”
Then the stonecutter looked up at heaven and asked,
“Why can’t I just be a rich man? I want a big house, lots of money, and servants, and food. I want to wear silk, and not have to work so hard.”
To his surprise he heard a voice saying
“your wish is granted!”
He figured he needed some fresh air and left for a walk in the cool evening air. As he came back home, he could not find his home. He made sure he was at the right place, but he could not find his house. Instead he found a huge mansion, with servants. He approached to ask about his house, confused the servant smiled while telling the old stonecutter that this was his house. Incredulous the stonecutter walked into the house, it was cool, and had beautiful art and smelled like flowers.
He took a long bath, and dressed himself in fine silk. He then had the biggest dinner he had ever had in his life, and laid down to sleep in the most comfortable bed he had ever laid in.
Weeks passed by, and as much as the stonecutter, now rich man, was enjoying his wealth and mansion, he could not help but feel bored. He did nothing all day, and as relaxing as that had been, having someone to do everything of him left him feeling empty. All he did was eat and sleep and he wanted more. Being just rich was not fulfilling.
As he mulled over those thoughts in his head he noticed a very important government official coming to town, he was on a fancy horse, with a beautiful umbrella. He had soldiers around him and everyone ran to and fro around him with important documents and decisions that needed to be made by him.
The stonecutter, who was now a rich man then realized that was what he was missing. He wanted to be an important government official, with a beautiful horse, and soldiers, and responsibilities and power. As he wished for those things out loud, as he had done before, he once again heard the same voice say
“your wish is granted”
The very next day the man who had been a stonecutter, than a rich man, was now traveling on a very fine horse, under a beautiful umbrella with soldiers and he had many important responsibilities and he had a lot of power. Now he knew he would be happy.
Until, a few weeks later he noticed he was getting a tan on his arm. (In Asia tanned skin is associated with working on the fields and therefore lower class status. I am from Brazil where everyone wants to have a tan, so I find this odd.) Frustrated with his tan the old stonecutter, who was now an important government official, looked at the sun and exclaimed.
“It doesn’t matter how powerful or rich I am, the sun will always be stronger. If only I could be the sun, then I would truly be happy!”
As before, he heard the mysterious voice announce “Your wish is granted!”
The former stonecutter, who then became a rich man, then a powerful government official was now the sun!
He was so happy! He could shine brightly on all bellow him. Soon he was out of control, causing droughts and giving people sun burns. Fires broke out and he was delighted at his new found power! Now he was happy, no one could stop him!
Until one day, rain clouds covered him. He tried with all his might, but as the sun, he could do nothing regarding the rain clouds. The rain clouds would come and cover him whenever they pleased and they would negate his power.
Frustrated, the former government official who was now the sun began to complain. How could he be happy as long as the clouds could cover him?
“Oh, I am so powerless, I can’t make the clouds move. If only I could be a cloud! Then I would truly be happy!”
As before, he heard a voice “your wish is granted.”
Now the man who once had been a stonecutter, then a rich man, then an important government official, then the sun, was a rain cloud.
He was so happy! He loved to cover the sun and to make rain. Soon the farms and forests that had been suffering from the drought grew lush and green. The rivers and lakes were once again full. But the man who had been a stonecutter and was now a cloud once again lost control and began to rain everywhere, too much, and to not allow the sun to shine. From his perspective he was more powerful than the sun and to allow the sun to shine would mean defeat. No, he was going to win! He was going to make it rain and rain for days without ceasing. Soon there were floods, houses were being washed away, plants were dying, roads were being destroyed, and the stonecutter who was now a cloud was loving it! He felt powerful!
He felt happy and powerful until he realized the mountain remained unmoved. It didn’t matter how hard he caused it to rain, the rock face of the mountain remained unmoved, unaffected, by the rain.
Once again the stonecutter turned rain cloud was miserable. He was so sad that he could not affect the rock. That mountain was stronger than he was. He whined and complained saying
“How can I be truly happy while that mountain remains there unmoved? What is the point of being a rain cloud if I cannot change the mountain, if I cannot significantly affect it by raining on it? Oh, if only I was a mountain, then I would be happy. If I was a mighty mountain, unaffected by the weather, then I would be truly powerful, and only then I could be truly happy!”
As the times before, he heard a mysterious voice say “your wish is granted.”
Now the former stonecutter, who had become a rich man, than an important government official, then the sun, and then the rain cloud, now became a mighty mountain. His rock face would not be affected by the sun or the rain. He was now mightier than all. He was finally happy!
Until he noticed a peculiar sound. A sound he was familiar with. A hammer and a chisel. It could not be! Someone was taking a piece off of him! As mighty and tall and strong and tough as he was as a mountain, a simple stonecutter was taking away a piece of him, and he could do nothing about it.
What was the point of being a mighty mountain if a little man could come and little by little carry away pieces of him? He felt, helpless, he felt vulnerable, he felt weak, and just like that his happiness left him.
“Oh,” he thought to himself, “if only I could be a stonecutter. Then I would be mightier than the mountain, then I would be truly happy.”
Once again, the now familiar voice was heard saying “your wish is granted.”
The stonecutter went back to his life, knowing that he was the happiest he could be, realizing that despite the aches and pains and hardships, he would rather be a stonecutter than anything else.