One of the primary themes of Get Rich Slowly (and of Your Money: The Missing Manual) is that it’s more important to be happy than it is to be rich. I learn this lesson over and over again, but sometimes it seems like I forget it just as often.
At the end of last summer, before I started the book project, was one of the happiest times of my life. Everything was in balance, and I felt fulfilled. The last few weeks have been miserable. Sure, I’m working on things that I love, but that’s all I do. My life is out of balance, and it has affected my happiness.
Yet again, I’m reminded that it’s more important to be happy than it is to be rich. (Not that writing a book is ever going to make me rich!)
Trading money for happiness
Yesterday, a GRS reader called Dtrain forwarded a story to me about Karl Rabeder, a 47-year-old Austrian businessman who is giving away his entire fortune. He’s decided money makes him unhappy. From the article:
“My idea is to have nothing left. Absolutely nothing. Money is counter-productive — it prevents happiness.”
He will move out of his Alpine retreat into a small wooden hut in the mountains or a simple bedsit in Innsbruck, surviving on £800 a month while the proceeds go to a charity he set up in Latin America. He will draw no salary from it.
“For a long time I believed that more wealth and luxury automatically meant more happiness. I come from a very poor family where the rules were to work more to achieve more material things, and I applied this for many years.”
But over time a conflicting feeling developed. “More and more I heard the words: ‘Stop what you are doing now — all this luxury and consumerism — and start your real life’. I had the feeling I was working as a slave for things that I did not wish for or need.’
Rabeder is selling his £1.4 million lake villa in the Alps through a raffle. He’s already sold another home, his business, and his gliders. He’s serious about giving away his £3 million ($5.3 million) fortune.
Doing what works for him
I think this is an interesting story as-is — how many folks are willing to abandon a luxury lifestyle and return to something meager? — but what makes it a must-read is the final paragraph. Rabeder alludes to the “unbearable lightness of being” (one of my favorite books, by the way) and confesses that he doesn’t judge anyone who decides to keep their wealth. Why not? Because he’s doing what’s right for him, which may not be right for anyone else.
I’ve been thinking a lot over the past several days about what is right for me. What is it that will bring me happiness? It seems pretty clear that intense focus on a single project is not the answer. And to be honest, now that I’ve defeated my debt, accumulated a sizable nest egg, and have significant positive cash flow, money is no longer a goal for me. Instead, I’m ready to take some time for myself, explore long-dormant interests, and to rediscover my friends. In other words, I too am ready to make financial sacrifices to obtain more happiness.
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