Marcus Pfister, The Rainbow Fish

“The Rainbow Fish shared his scales left and right. And the more he gave away, the more delighted he became. When the water around him filled with glimmering scales, he at last felt at home among the other fish.”

Oftentimes, we might turn to great philosophers or accomplished entrepreneurs for words of wisdom. And they certainly do have a lot to teach us about the meaning of life and how we can achieve happiness. Sometimes, though, the greatest and most profound life lessons can come from the humblest of sources. In this case, it comes from a children’s book with a conceited rainbow fish.

We like shiny things. We treasure our shiny things and strive to protect them. And then we yearn for more shiny things to add to our collections. Some people like expensive brand name clothing. Some people like fancy cars or the hottest new technology. But they’re all just shiny things. They’re just possessions. And they can isolate you from the world.

In The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister, we follow the tale (no pun intended) of a colorful fish who happens to have a great number of extra shiny scales. These are depicted in the book as pieces of glittering foil that almost leap off the page. They’re eye-catching. And they are the Rainbow Fish’s most prized possession.

Because he stands out so much from all the other fish, the Rainbow Fish doesn’t have any friends. He thinks that he is better than everyone else, that they aren’t on his level. He values his shiny scales over the possibility of companionship.

But he’s unhappy and lonely, so he goes in search of advice. The advice he receives is to give away his prized shiny scales. Unsurprisingly, the Rainbow Fish is appalled. Eventually, he figures giving away one of his smallest shiny scales can’t be that terrible and this leads to the excerpt at the top of this post. The more he shares, the happier he becomes. The more connected he becomes.

Wealth and status will never bring you happiness unless you share with those around you. It’s no wonder that absurdly rich people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are so remarkably philanthropic now. They’ve gained perspective.

Yes, a lot of what I read with my daughter is largely inconsequential. There are colorful characters doing colorful things with their colorful adventures. Sometimes, though, I am reminded of what is truly most valuable in life. Sometimes, I just need to walk a little slower and appreciate what I have.