August 13, 2009

Filthy Rich…and Miserable. ~ by Michael Robson.

Money will not make you Happy.

The American Dream is about more than Money. It’s about the pursuit of happiness.

Who’s happier? Diddy or Pema Chodron? This article comes to us via my brau Michael Robson, based on a conversation we recently had. Michael’s helping me with graywatering up my house, right now. ~ ed.

I know this guy and as far as I can tell his whole life has been about money, he studied at a prominent business school, seems only talk about the stock market and finance, and while not at the level of Diddy or Donald he is wealthy beyond most of our wildest dreams.

At a glance he seems to have it all: A sprawling house with big screen TVs everywhere, stunning wife, fancy cars, vacation homes in exotic places, miles of lush lawn, you name it. You’d think with all that money and stuff he’d be pretty happy, right? Not exactly. He is one of the more depressing people I have met. He is a person who, despite the opulence that surrounds him, has sadly, decidely missed the point. Maybe it’s not his fault, perhaps he thinks its what he wants.

And then I know this other guy. Worked his ass off developing his invention in his garage for the better part of a decade. He was a workaday guy trying to keep his head above water until he sold the fruit of his noodle for a significant fortune, one day. Now he’s in the Big Time, he can have anything, do anything.

What does this man do? He is a philanthropist. He spends time raising his amazing kids. He is generous, kind, loving. I went on a rafting trip with him recently, every adult on the trip lost his or her shit at one point along the way. Including me. But not this guy. Always there for everyone. He still works his butt off. Last time I talked to him he was wearing shorts with a tear in the butt and sports sandals. You can guess what I am going to say next: this man is one of the most happy and flawless people I have ever known. He understands that stuff won’t make him happy, that consuming is not the answer. Sure, he has the latest iPhone and a pretty fancy bike but he drives a 10 year old car and lives in a modest but tasteful house in a normal neighborhood. The money didn’t change him: he was a good man before and continues to be.

That brings us to the real debate: Where does happiness originate? What does it look and feel like? Who has it and who doesn’t?

Wealth for wealth’s sake has become what many consider to be the end to the means. This, we are told, will make us happy but this is not the case. I remember walking with my daughter through a poverty stricken part of a small town in Mexico a few years back and one thing struck me. The people were happy. They smiled and waved at us, dirty children with sticks and old tires played joyously in the street, people talked jovially amongst themselves and their bright, gentle faces indicated that they did quite a bit of smiling whether we were there to see it or not. These people are dirt poor, I mean dirt floor in the living room poor, they probably work ridiculous hours doing backbreaking jobs and somehow they manage to smile and laugh.

Maybe it all comes down to motive, why you’re doing it, what it means to you. If you amass wealth to impress others, to soothe the scars of unloving parents or some other dark undercurrent it will never be enough, you can’t be happy, you need to find another way. If your wealth is a product of your passion and commitment to your chosen profession it’s possible you may be able to truly enjoy it. Then there’s the syndrome of being effected by money, misjudging your own importance and turning into something you are not. You could say that wealth for wealth’s sake is not the answer, but happiness for happiness’ sake could well be.

Happiness makes us happy. Is it possible to just decide you are happy, or decide to be happy, regardless of your socioeconomic status? Maybe happiness is just that, a decision. Maybe happiness is separate, not related or linked to what you consider to be the defining facets of your life. Could it really be that simple? Or maybe it’s the only facet of your life over which you truly have control.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it:

Happiness is a state of mind or feeling characterized by contentment, satisfaction, pleasure, or joy.”

Really? wow, that sounds pretty simple and reasonably easy to do. It’s a state of mind, a decision you can make, right?

I am not wealthy by most standards, nor am I envious of those who are. Furthermore if a wheelbarrow of hundreds of thousands of dollars were to drop from the sky I know which one of the above people I would want to be. What I do know about happiness is that it is work, like working on your relationship or working on raising good kids, working on finding meaning. Maybe it’s similar to physical fitness: you need to train and practice your happiness, visualize success, you get stronger and fitter, have down periods and big victories.

But like any lifelong pursuit, there is no finish line.

That’s a lot of maybes. Maybe it’s just not that difficult.

Michael Robson.

Bonus: Pema Chodron on Maitri, or unconditional friendship…with oneself:

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