Once upon a time people lived in a beautiful garden called Paradise. In those days everything they did was in harmony with nature and no one had to work. Nature was bountiful, producing enough fruits, nuts and vegetables for everyone, and all the people had an equal share.
For a long time everything went well. Everyone was happy. Then, one day, one of the men in Paradise was waylaid in the garden by the Devil.
“Man,” the Devil said. “I have been watching you day after day and I can see you are losing out. Some of the people in Paradise are getting more than you.”
“Oh! Is that so?” the man exclaimed. “I never suspected it. Everyone in Paradise seems so honest.”
“Ah!” breathed the Devil. “You shouldn’t be so trusting. Even now people are dividing up the fruits of the trees without leaving you as much as they are taking for themselves.”
“What can I do about it?” the man asked miserably. “Already I feel a little unhappy with my lot.”
The Devil pretended to think for a minute. “I will tell you what I will do for you,” he declared with an air of great generosity. “If you will give me that tiny thing within you called the soul, I will see to it that from this time onwards you get the best of everything: the best fruits, the most nuts and the juiciest vegetables. What’s more you will be able to take the most beautiful woman in the garden for your wife and I promise that your children will be stronger, healthier and more gifted than anyone else’s. In a few years you will be the most honoured and respected person in the whole of Paradise. Surely it is worth giving up that little thing called the soul to become the happiest man in the whole wide world?”
The man was much impressed by the Devil’s promises and readily agreed to the deal. But, unknown him, the Devil had secretly made the same deal with every single person in Paradise. When the Devil left the garden he had all their souls tucked into the pocket of his tunic.
From that moment onwards peace in Paradise lay in tatters. Everyone began to compete madly with everyone else for the biggest and the best of everything. When they were better off than all the others, they were happy — just as the Devil had promised. But it turned out he had forgotten to tell them that, when they got less than anyone else, they would be utterly, utterly miserable.
For many years the people continued to live in the garden but it was Paradise no longer. No matter how much they competed and struggled against one another, they could not regain the permanent happiness they had experienced in the years before the Devil had appeared. Life had become an endless series of ups and downs and all the people admitted they now felt strangely empty somewhere deep inside them. At last they decided to leave Paradise to look for the lost feeling of permanent happiness elsewhere.
Source: “Dancing with Foxes,” by Henry Elwell.