How much do we need to be happy? Do we realize that the destination is happiness and money is just the path to it? Do we get so tied up in making money that we lose sight of the destination? Do we trample so much of happiness underfoot because we have our eyes on the sky and we fail to notice the happiness within easy reach?I am reminded of the short story ‘How much land does a man need?’ by Leo Tolstoy.At the start of the story, Pahom is a content, hardworking man. Unfortunately, he makes the mistake of thinking that more land would make his life better. When an opportunity arises for Pahom to acquire more land, he jumps at the chance, convinced that more would make him happy. He manages to acquire more land but he is only satisfied for a short while. One day, Pahom hears about a place where free land is given to any man who joins the Community. Immediately the many acres of land that he does own seem meaningless and barren, compared to the promise of better land and he sets off to find that place.
Just as the tradesman had promised, the land is lush and fertile and the owners promise to give Pahom all the land he could walk around in a day for a very cheap price, provided he returns by sunset. Pahom walks the entire day, but greed overtakes him and in a bid to acquire more and more land he keeps walking. Suddenly he realizes that he has barely enough time to reach his starting point before sunset, which he must do according to the conditions of the agreement. Exhausted, he tries to make it back to the designated meeting place before the day is over, but he is too tired. In his mad rush to the starting point, however, he collapses and dies. He ends up with six feet of land…enough for his grave.This story shows us that even if we have enough to get by, the prospect of becoming wealthier is so alluring it can cause us to risk all the good things we already have.My parents were two of the most amazingly content people I have known. Though their lives were full of struggle and perhaps they did not attain as much in monetary terms to qualify as rich, I never saw them being unhappy with their circumstances and that is the reason my brother and I had a very happy childhood. My parents managed to put us in the best school they could where most of my class fellows were from very rich families. My friends and class fellows had all kinds of fancy toys and they spent their vacations abroad, but I never felt underprivileged in any way because of the emotional support of my parents.
I did notice though that many of my super rich friends were quite unhappy, even miserable. They felt their parents neglected them, many came from broken homes and all had a fair share of their demons.My point is having a lot of money does not necessarily make people happy, and in some cases, it even drives people apart. Psychological studies on happiness in the past couple of decades have supported this. Research shows that money correlates with happiness up until a middle class income and after that, there’s no correlation between money and happiness. It may, of course, provide comfort which in turn, may contribute, in part, to happiness but it can not in itself guarantee happiness.One recent study even suggests that making more money can decrease how much we enjoy normal, everyday activities, and inspire us to disconnect from those around us. Both of these factors can lead to greater unhappiness.There is this now oft quoted anecdote in which a group of alumni, highly established in their careers, got together to visit their old university professor at his home. Conversation soon turned into complaints about stress in work and life.
Offering his guests coffee, the professor went to the kitchen and returned with a large pot of coffee and an assortment of cups that were porcelain, plastic, glass, crystal, some plain looking, some expensive, some exquisite. He then invited them to help themselves to the coffee. When all the students had a cup of coffee in hand, the professor said:”If you noticed, all the nice looking expensive cups were taken up, leaving behind the plain and cheap ones. While it is normal for you to want only the best for yourselves, that is the source of your problems and stress.””Be assured that the cup itself adds no quality to the coffee. In most cases it is just more expensive and in some cases even hides what we drink.””What all of you really wanted was coffee, not the cup, but you consciously went for the best cups. And then you began eying each others cups.”Now consider this: Life is the coffee; the jobs, money and position in society are the cups. They are just tools to hold and contain Life, and the type of cup we have does not define, nor change the quality of Life we live.” Sometimes, by concentrating only on the cup, we fail to enjoy the coffee God has provided us.”God brews the coffee, not the cups………. Coffee should be good, do not worry about the containers!But please do not misunderstand me. Making money is great and I’m all for it. I only want you to think what the point of earning money is? Ideally, we want to make money so we can enjoy life and be happy. What I’m questioning is what happiness and enjoyment is!I know people who have palaces and mansions to live in but they are never home. Their flashy cars just serve to chauffeur drive them from ‘home’ to work and their HD, 3D large screen TVs yearn to be watched.Some years ago I had the occasion to spend a few hours with one of the richest men in Pakistan, perhaps the richest. He had come for a visit to a school and I was one of the people designated to show him around. The fellow spent most of the time on the phone, barking orders or telling his minions what or what not to do. He seemed to live in another world, paying least attention to those around him and coming across as crass and rude. Suffice to say, I felt quite sorry for him.
In the words of Thoreau: “Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.” Money buys happiness only when it is spent on experiences and earned without expending excessive time. This is why it is inappropriate to define wealth in terms of money and more appropriate to define it instead in terms of the experiences it can buy for us. ‘Wealth is having the freedom to maximize one’s life experiences.’ Money is a requisite for being wealthy, but so is time and so is efficient use of that time and money. Money gives one opportunities for more experiences. But one must also have the time to pursue those experiences. Having the money to travel around the world isn’t worth anything if you can’t ever take time off work to go there.Tim Ferriss tells a story in his book ‘The four hour week’ about a Mexican fisherman. It illustrates an important point about wealth and life.An American consultant was at a pier in a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellow-fin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.The Mexican replied only a little while.The consultant then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish?The fisherman said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs.The American then asked the Mexican how he spent the rest of his time.The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life, señor.”
The American consultant scoffed, “I am business consultant and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and, with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution.“You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually NYC where you will run your expanding enterprise.”
The Mexican fisherman asked, “But señor, how long will this all take?”To which the American consultant replied, “15-20 years.”“But what then, señor?” asked the fisherman.The consultant laughed, and said, “That’s the best part! When the time is right, you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public. You’ll become very rich, you would make millions!”“Millions, señor?” replied the Mexican. “Then what?”The American said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos!”