Some time ago the Chinese emperor had in his service a man to serve him breakfast. Every morning this man would come in, smiling and happy, and serve the food. Every day the emperor woke up, grumpy and exhausted, and would see this poor man smile. One day he decided to ask him: “You are poor and have barely enough for you and your family to survive. How can you be happy each morning?” The man replied:”Well, your highness, I am a lucky man. I have a wife that loves me, and I get to serve the emperor his breakfast every day. What more could a man ask for?”, and with a smile, he walked off.
The emperor was not satisfied by this answer. So, he called in his adviser and asked him about his servant. The adviser said:”Your highness, it is the paradox of the 99 pieces of gold”. The emperor did not understand, and wanted his adviser to explain. “If I tell you, you would not believe it. So the only way to find out, is to do an experiment. Yet, with this experiment you would ruin this man’s life forever. Are you willing to do this?” The emperor thought about it, and said he wanted to learn, so they proceeded.
The adviser placed a bag of 99 gold pieces outside the door of the servant and waited for him to find them. Once the servant found them, the emperor and his adviser snuck up to the window to watch what happened. They saw the servant happily pouring the gold on the table, forming piles. As he was forming these piles, he noticed that one piece of gold was missing in order to make another pile of ten. He started looking for it, thinking he might have dropped it, yet there was nothing. So he started forming a plan to get that one missing piece of gold. Since he did not receive more pay than a nickel a day, he would have to work for 3 years to get that piece of gold, yet that was what he wanted, just this final piece so he would never have to work again.
Over the coming weeks the servant would still serve the breakfast to the king, yet slowly his smile disappeared. He also did not entertain the emperor anymore during his breakfast. Confronting him, the emperor asked what was wrong. The only thing the servant had to say was that his pay was too low, and he demanded more. After this the emperor dismissed him from his service. At the same time, the servant’s wife left him, and a few weeks later the servant was found dead in his room, next to a pile of 99 gold coins.