My plans to retrace Captain Cook's unfinished voyage have been postponed a year while I work on the next Marine Diesel Basics book and get my new boat SV Oceandrifter ready for sea.
Don’t get me wrong. Money is important. No-one denies that. The better question to ask oneself is HOW important is it? If it’s very important, is it the most important aspect of your life, or just something that’s very important along with lots of others high priorities, like health and love?
And if you had so much money it started interfering with your enjoyment of life, what would you do?
Most of us probably can’t imagine having too much money – though of course, many people make choices everyday between more money or better health, more money and time with family and friends. How blessed we are when we are able to make such choices.
But imagine if you suddenly had millions and millions, but found your new wealth was not making you more happy, or that you were becoming less happy, feeling less fulfilled in life. What would you do?
(There’s a saying in journalism – dog bites man is not news. Man bites dog is news. This story feels sort of similar.)
When Austrian millionaire Karl Rabeder recently found that his riches were making him unhappy, he decided to give up all of his wealth, estimated at $4.5 million, in hopes of being happier. He’s selling his villa in the Alps, his farmhouse in Provence, planes, luxury cars and antiques. He plans to give all the money to his microfinance charities in Latin America and to live in a small wooden hut in the mountains.
“My idea is to have nothing left. Absolutely nothing,” he told the Daily Telegraph newspaper in London, England. “Money is counterproductive – it prevents happiness to come.
“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,” he said. “More and more I heard the words: ‘Stop what you are doing now — all this luxury and consumerism — and start your real life.”‘
Rabeder said that for many years he wasn’t “brave” enough to give up his lifestyle. His epiphany came on a three-week vacation in Hawaii.
“It was the biggest shock in my life, when I realized how horrible, soulless and without feeling the five-star lifestyle is,” he said. “In those three weeks, we spent all the money you could possibly spend. But in all that time, we had the feeling we hadn’t met a single real person — that we were all just actors.”
On a later trip to Latin America, he said he realized he had an obligation to help the poor. “If I don’t do it now I won’t do it for the rest of my life,” he said. But he doesn’t judge people who want to keep their money.
“I do not have the right to give any other person advice,” he said. “I was just listening to the voice of my heart and soul.”
While few of us would choose to give up whatever wealth we have and would probably happily get some more if we could, research consistently shows that wealth (above what I might call “abundant subsistence”) does not make a person happier. That’s not to say that poverty makes anyone happier either. Probably the truth lies in the observation that happiness and money don’t lie on opposite sides of a scale. They overlap but aren’t directly connected. Happiness is about purpose, filfillment, connection to life. You may need (some) money to achieve these, but equally, having a lot of money can easily distract you from the real sources of happiness.
Yet how many people, even when they know they’re getting distracted from what’s really important to them, have the courage to make the changes that are necessary and risk ridicule and rejection from people who may, deep down, envy the person’s courage to choose their own life for themselves?
Bravo Karl Rabeder, I salute you!