15 Best Inspirational Short Stories with a Motivating Moral

15 Best Inspirational Short Stories with a Motivating Moral

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Have you ever watched a movie or read a book that had a lasting impact on you?

Stories are one of the most powerful ways to guide, teach, and inspire people. Storytelling is effective because it helps to establish connections among people, as well as between people and the ideas that unite humanity.

Inspirational stories move past creating a sense of connection, and allow the listener to identify with the story wherever they are in their own life, which makes them more receptive to learning. Some of the best stories contain several different meanings or lessons so they’re effective in communicating complex ideas in ways that are easy to understand.

Finally, storytelling has characteristics that benefits the three main types of learning: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Visual learners benefit from the mental pictures that stories evoke. Auditory learners are able to focus on the words and voice of the storyteller. And kinesthetic learners can retain the emotional connections that they feel were created in the story.

No matter what type of learner you are, you can benefit from an inspirational story that comes with a moral. In this article, I will share 15 short inspirational stories that can teach you valuable lessons.

15 Best Inspirational Short Stories with a Motivating Moral

1. Three Feet From Gold

The Story:

During the gold rush, a man who had been mining in Colorado for several months quit his job, as he hadn’t struck gold yet and the work was becoming tiresome.  He sold his equipment to another man who resumed mining where it had been left off. The new miner was advised by his engineer that there was gold only three feet away from where the first miner stopped digging.

The engineer was right, which means the first miner was a mere three feet away from striking gold before he quit.

The Moral:

When things start to get hard, try to persevere through the adversity. Many people give up on following their dreams because the work becomes too difficult, tedious, or tiresome–but often, you’re closer to the finish line than you may think, and if you push just a little harder, you will succeed.

2. Rocks, Pebbles, and Sand

The Story:

A philosophy professor once stood up before his class with a large empty mayonnaise jar. He filled the jar to the top with large rocks and asked his students if the jar was full.

His students all agreed the jar was full.

He then added small pebbles to the jar, and gave the jar a bit of a shake so the pebbles could disperse themselves among the larger rocks. Then he asked again, “Is the jar full now?”

The students agreed that the jar was still full.

The professor then poured sand into the jar to fill up all the remaining empty space.

The students then agreed again that the jar was full.

The Metaphor:

In this story, the jar represents your life and the rocks, pebbles, and sand are the things that fill up your life. The rocks represent the most important projects and things you have going on, such as spending time with your family and maintaining proper health. This means that if the pebbles and the sand were lost, the jar would still be full and your life would still have meaning.

The pebbles represent the things in your life that matter, but that you could live without. The pebbles are certainly things that give your life meaning (such as your job, house, hobbies, and friendships), but they are not critical for you to have a meaningful life. These things often come and go, and are not permanent or essential to your overall well-being.

Finally, the sand represents the remaining filler things in your life, and material possessions. This could be small things such as watching television, browsing through your favorite social media site, or running errands. These things don't mean much to your life as a whole, and are likely only done to waste time or get small tasks accomplished.

The Moral:

The metaphor here is that if you start with putting sand into the jar, you will not have room for rocks or pebbles. This holds true with the things you let into your life. If you spend all of your time on the small and insignificant things, you will run out of room for the things that are actually important.

In order to have a more effective and efficient life, pay attention to the “rocks,” because they are critical to your long-term well-being.

3. The Elephant Rope

The Story:

When walking through an elephant camp, a man noticed that the elephants were only secured with a small rope that was tied around one ankle. He wondered why the elephants didn’t break free from the rope, as the elephants were certainly strong enough to do so.

He asked a trainer why the elephants didn’t try to break free, and the trainer responded by saying that they use the same size rope for baby elephants all the way up to adulthood. Because they’re too small when they’re babies to break free from the rope, they grow up being conditioned that the rope is stronger than they are. As adults, they think the rope can still hold them, so they don’t try to fight it.

The Moral:

The elephants in this case are experiencing learned helplessness. This phenomenon occurs when someone has been conditioned to anticipate discomfort in some way without having a way to avoid it or make it stop. After enough conditioning, the person will stop any attempts to avoid the pain, even if they see an opportunity to escape.

If you go through life thinking that you can’t do something just because you have failed at doing it in the past, you’re living with a fixed mindset. You have to let go of your limiting beliefs in order to make the breakthroughs that are required for your ultimate success. Don’t let other people tell you that you can’t do something, and don’t hold onto an assumption that you can’t grow and learn from past failures.

4. A Wise Man’s Jokes

The Story:

A wise man once faced a group of people who were complaining about the same issues over and over again. One day, instead of listening to the complaints, he told them a joke and everyone cracked up laughing.

Then, the man repeated the joke. A few people smiled.

Finally, the man repeated the joke a third time–but no one reacted.

The man smiled and said, “You won’t laugh at the same joke more than once. So what are you getting from continuing to complain about the same problem?”

The Moral:

You’re not going to get anywhere if you keep complaining about the same problem but do nothing to fix it. Don’t waste your time complaining, expecting other people to continue to react to your complaints. Instead, take action to make a change.

5. It’s Never Too Late

The Story:

In the 1940s, there was a man who, at the age of 65, was living off of $99 social security checks in a small house, driving a beat-up car.

He decided it was time to make a change, so he thought about what he had to offer that other people may benefit from. His mind went to his fried chicken recipe, which his friends and family loved.

He left his home state of Kentucky and traveled throughout the country, trying to sell his recipe to restaurants. He even offered the recipe for free, asking for only a small chunk of the money that was earned.

However, most of the restaurants declined his offer. In fact, 1,009 restaurants said no.

But even after all of the rejections, he persisted. He believed in himself and his chicken recipe.

When he visited restaurant #1,010, he got a YES.

His name? Colonel Hartland Sanders.

The Moral:

There are a few lessons that you can take away from this story. First, it’s never too late in life to find success. In a society that often celebrates young, successful people, it’s easy to start to think you’re never going to be successful after a certain age. However, Colonel Sanders is an example that proves that argument wrong.

This story also demonstrates the power of persistence. You have to have confidence in yourself and believe in your work for other people to believe it also. Disregard anyone who tells you “no” and simply move on.

6. The Boulder and the Gold

The Story:

There once was a king who decided to do a little experiment. He had a giant boulder put right in the middle of the street. He then hid near the boulder to see who, if anyone, would try to move it out of the way.

First, some wealthy merchants walked by. They walked around the boulder, complaining that the king hasn’t been maintaining the roads very well.

Next, a peasant walked by, heading home with his arms full of food for his family. When he noticed the boulder, he put his groceries down and attempted to move it out of everyone’s way. It took him a while to move it, but he eventually succeeded.

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If you’re able to push through moments that are challenging, you may end up being much better off than you were before you started trying.

After the peasant gathered up his groceries to carry on home, he noticed a bag lying in the middle of the road, just where the boulder once was. He opened the bag to find that it was stuffed full of gold coins, along with a letter from the king saying that the bag’s gold was a reward for the peasant to keep because he had taken the time and energy to move the boulder out of the road for the convenience of others who would be travelling the road in the future.

The Moral:

The peasant in this story was taught by the king that every obstacle you face offers an opportunity to improve. If you’re able to push through moments that are challenging, you may end up being much better off than you were before you started trying.

This story also offers a lesson of personal responsibility. If you see a job ahead of you, don’t leave it for the next person to do. Rather, step up and get the job done to help the people who come after you.

7. Dirty Money

The Story:

A well-respected speaker began a seminar by showing an audience of 150 people a crisp $20 bill. He asked, “Who wants this $20 bill?”

All 150 people nodded.

He said, “I am going to give this money to someone, but first….” Then he proceeded to crumple the bill up.

He asked the crowd again if anyone wanted it.

All 150 hands went up in the air.

The speaker then dropped the money on the floor and stomped all over it.

He then raised it in the air to show the crowd. The money was filthy.

“Does anyone want it now?”

Every hand went up.

The speaker proceeded to tell the crowd that no matter what he did to ruin the money, people still wanted it because its value remained the same. It was still worth $20.

The Moral:

Life often beats us up to the point where we feel inadequate. We deal with bad circumstances and make bad choices that we have to deal with later. However, no matter what you go through, your value will remain the same. You have something special to offer that no one can take away from you.

8. The Ultimate Test

The Story:

One night, four college students stayed up late partying, even though they knew they had a test the next day. The next morning, they came up with a plan to get out of having to take their test.

Each student rolled around in dirt and then went to the teacher’s office.

They told the teacher that they had gotten a flat tire the night before, and they spent the entire night pushing their car back to campus.

The teacher listened, and to the students’ delight, he offered a retest three days later.

On the day of the test, the students went to their teacher’s office. The teacher put all four of the students in separate rooms to take the test. The students were ok with that because they had been given a chance to study.

The test had 2 questions:

1) Your Name __________ (1 Points)

2) Which tire was flat? __________ (99 Points)

  1. Front Right
  2. Front Left
  3. Back Right
  4. Back Left

The Moral:

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You always need to take responsibility for your actions aside from making wise decisions.

Aside from making wise decisions, you always need to take responsibility for your actions. This means not blaming other people for your mistakes, not complaining about the reality of the present moment, and not giving in to other people’s pressure.

9. What a Waste

The Story:

A mother camel and her baby were lying down, soaking up the sun. The baby camel asked his mom, “Why do we have these big bumps on our back?”

The mom stopped to think and then said, “We live in the desert where there is not much water available. Our humps store water to help us survive on long journeys. “

The baby camel then stopped to think and said, “Well, why do we have long legs with rounded feet?”

His mother replied, “They are meant to help us walk through sand.”

The baby asked a third question, “Why are my eyelashes so long?”

The mother replied, “Your long eyelashes offer you protection from sand when it blows in the wind.”

Finally, the baby said, “If we have all of these natural abilities given to us to walk through the desert, what’s the use for camels in the Zoo?”

The Moral:

The skills and abilities that you possess won’t be useful if you’re not in the right environment.

You’ve probably heard of a professional who ditched his or her career to follow their dreams–or the person who remains unfulfilled in their job, but doesn’t try to make a change.

If you’re stuck in a career that isn’t the right fit, you have to do some self-reflection to realize where your strengths lie that are going to waste. Turn to people that you know the best as well as professionals in any given market so you can start thinking about what may be better for you. Think big and remain open to new ideas.

10. Breathing With No Air

The Story:

A boy once asked a wise old man what the secret to success is. After listening to the boy’s question, the wise man told the boy to meet him at the river in the morning and he would be given the answer there.

In the morning, the wise man and the boy began walking toward the river. They continued on into the river, past the point of the water covering their nose and mouth.  At this time, the wise man ducked the boy into the water.

As he struggled to get out, the wise man continued to push him further down. The boy felt a fish slip by his leg and squirmed to get up even harder. The man eventually pulled the boy’s head up so he could get air. The boy gasped as he inhaled a deep breath of air.

The wise man said, ‘What were you fighting for when you were under water?” The boy replied, “Air!” The man said, “There you have the secret to success. When you want to gain success as much as you wanted air when you were under water, you will obtain it. That’s the only secret.”

The Moral:

Success starts with the desire to achieve something. If your motivation is weak, your results will follow suit. Think about what you desire the most in life and work towards getting it. Don’t allow your environment or other people to influence the things that you truly want. Just because the fish swimming by is comfortable with being under water doesn’t mean that you are.

11. Sweet Dreams

The Story:

A young boy and girl were enjoying a pleasant afternoon playing outside in their neighborhood together. The boy showed the girl his collection of beautiful, unique marbles. In turn, the girl showed the boy the handful of candy that she had just gotten for her birthday.

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You have to be a participating factor in your relationship if you want it to be built on trust.

The boy proposed that the two of them switch–he would give her all of his marbles if she handed over all of her candy. The girl agreed, as she found the marbles to be beautiful as well.

The boy handed over all of his marbles, but kept one–the most exquisite one of them all–in his pocket. The girl kept her promise and gave the boy all of her candy.

That night, the girl was happy with the exchange and peacefully went to sleep.

The boy, however, couldn’t sleep, as he was up wondering if the girl had secretly kept some of her candy, just like he did with the marble.

The Moral:

If you don’t give 100% in your relationships, you will always assume your partner isn’t giving 100% either. If you want your relationships to be built on trust, you have to be a participating factor in that.

Honesty grows your character. By being honest in relationships, you’re holding your partner accountable to do the same. It allows both you and your partner to continuously think about your choices and how you can help (or hurt) your partner and your relationship.

12. Teamwork

The Story:

There was once a man who lived with his three sons. His sons were hard workers, but they constantly fought with each other. Even though the man continuously tried to help his sons make peace with each other, he was never successful. In fact, their fighting got to a point where their neighbors would make fun of them.

Eventually, the father became ill. He begged his sons to learn how to work together because of his impending death, but they didn’t listen. The father then decided to teach his sons a practical lesson to help his sons forget their differences and become a united team.

The father called his sons and said, “I’ll give you each an equal collection of sticks to break in half. Whoever breaks the sticks the fastest will be rewarded.”

After agreeing to the task, the father gave each of his sons 10 sticks and instructed them to break each stick in half. This task took the sons mere minutes to complete, but once they were finished, they started to fight about who finished first.

The father said, “Dear sons, the task isn’t finished. Now I’ll give each of you 10 more sticks, however, you must break the sticks in half as a bundle rather than snapping each one separately.”

His sons agreed and attempted to do what he had asked. They each tried their best, but none could break the bundle in half. They told their father that they had failed.

In response, their father said, “See, it was easy to break the sticks in half individually, but you couldn’t break all 10 of them at the same time. Similarly, if the three of you stay united as a team, nobody will be able to harm you. However, if you fight all the time, anyone will be able to defeat you. Please come together as a united team.”

This lesson helped the man’s sons understand the power of being a team and promised their father that, moving forward, they would work together as a team, no matter what the situation was.

The Moral:

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Strong teams are naturally aligned to work harder, support each other, and be cooperative with working toward a mutual goal.

Being an effective member of a team helps contribute to the overall moral and motivation of the team. Strong teams are naturally aligned to work harder, support each other, and be cooperative with working toward a mutual goal. Individuals each have diverse talents, strengths, and weaknesses to contribute to teamwork, so staying focused on the task at hand rather than allowing personal disputes to get in the way will help you achieve your desired results. 

13. Frogs for Dinner

The Story:

A lady was once heating up a pot of water on a gas stove with the intent of cooking pasta for her family for dinner. A frog fell into the pot while it was sitting on the stove. While it wasn’t his intention to be stuck in a pot of water, he didn’t try to escape. He was comfortable enough as he was.

The lady soon turned on the flame to begin boiling the water. As the water’s temperature began to rise, the frog was able to adjust his body temperature accordingly, so he remained in the pot without trying to do anything to change the situation.

However, as the water approached its boiling point, the frog’s body temperature could no longer keep up. He finally tried to jump out of the pot, but with water temperature continuing to increase, he didn’t have it in him to make the leap.

It was too late for the frog to save himself.

The Moral:

Things don’t always go as planned in life, and they certainly don’t always go the way we want them to. But, no matter how bad a situation is, it’s critical to be proactive and face the problem head-on.

Unlike the frog, who waited until the last minute to try to do anything about the problem he was clearly facing, it’s important to project the future outcomes of the obstacles that hinder you and mediate them before they get past the point of no return. You have to avoid wasting time and take appropriate action before problems get out of hand or become too much to handle.

14. Will You Marry Me?

The Story:

Centuries ago, in a small Italian town, there was a business owner who was in a great amount of debt. His banker, who was an old, unattractive man, strongly desired the business owner’s younger beautiful daughter.

The banker decided to offer the businessman a deal to forgive the debt that he owed the bank completely. However, there was a bit of a catch.

In order for the businessman to become debt-free, he was to have his daughter marry the banker.

The businessman didn’t want to concede to this agreement, but he had no other choice, as his debt was so extreme.

The banker said he would put two small stones into a bag–one of which was white, and the other black.

The daughter would then need to reach into the bag and blindly choose a stone. If she chose the black stone, the businessman’s debt would be cleared and the daughter would have to marry the banker. However, if she chose the white stone, the debt would be cleared and the daughter would not have to marry him.

While standing in the stone-filled path in the businessman’s yard, the banker reached down and chose two small stones, not realizing that the businessman’s daughter was watching him. She noticed that he picked up two black stones and put them in the bag.

When it came time for the daughter to pick a stone out of the bag, she felt she had three choices:

  1. Refuse to do it.
  2. Take out both stones and expose the banker’s cheating.
  3. Pick a stone, knowing it would be black, and sacrifice herself to get her father out of debt.

She picked a stone from the bag, and immediately ‘accidentally’ dropped it into the abundance of stones where they were all standing.

She said to the banker, “I’m sorry, I’m so clumsy! Oh well. Just look in the bag to see what color stone is in there now so you will know what color stone I picked.”

Of course, the remaining stone was black. Because the banker didn’t want his deceit to be exposed, he played along, acting as if the stone that the businessman’s daughter dropped had to have been white. He cleared the businessman’s debt and the daughter remained free from having to spend the rest of her life with the banker.

The Moral:

While you may have to think outside of the box sometimes, it’s always possible to conquer a difficult situation. You don’t have to always give in to the options you’re presented with. Challenge the status quo. Think creatively. Engage in productive nonconformity when possible. Don’t be afraid to question the things that are expected to be true. In order to overcome challenges, you have to think in ways that you’ve never thought before.

15. Wait…What?

The Story:

A carpenter who was nearing retirement told his boss that he was ready to end his career and spend his time with his wife and family. He would miss his work, but he felt it was time to spend his time with the people who were important to him.

His boss was saddened by this news, as this carpenter had been a good, reliable employee for many years. He asked the carpenter if he could do him a favor and build just one more house.

The carpenter reluctantly conceded, even though his passion for building had faded.

While he was building this last house, his normal work ethic faded and his efforts were mediocre, at best. He used inexpensive and inferior materials and cut corners wherever he could. It was a poor way to finish such a dedicated career that he once had.

When the carpenter was finished, his boss came to look at the house. He gave the key to the carpenter and said, “This house is my gift to you for all of the hard work you have done for me over the years.” 

The carpenter was astonished.

What a generous gift this was to receive from his boss, but if he had known he was building a house for himself, he would have made his usual efforts to create a high-quality home.

The Moral:

The same idea applies to how you build your life. Every day that you wake up offers an opportunity for you to put your best foot forward, yet we often do mediocre work, saving the more important things for “another” day. Then one day, we find ourselves shocked that our lives aren’t what we had hoped they would be. The “house” we built to live in has a lot of flaws due to a lack of effort.

However, you can’t go back and rebuild it in a day or two. As people say, “Life is a do-it-yourself project.” Your attitude and choices help build the life you will live tomorrow. Build carefully.

Final Thoughts on Inspirational Stories

Some of these inspirational stories left me astounded for a minute because of their strong impact, and I hope they had the same impact on you. They truly do make you think, and the images in your mind that they create are memorable.

Share these stories with friends who you think could benefit from the morals that they offer. I’m hoping that from now on, when you’re tempted to cut corners, restrict your thinking to social conformity, remain comfortable with mediocrity, or anything else that may be holding you back in life, you will come back to these stories for a bit of a motivational boost.

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Connie Stemmle is a professional editor, freelance writer and ghostwriter. She holds a BS in Marketing and a Master’s Degree in Social Work. When she is not writing, Connie is either spending time with her 4-year-old daughter, running, or making efforts in her community to promote social justice.

15 Best Inspirational Short Stories with a Motivating Moral