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The Point of Life Isn’t To Go On a Tour of Gas Stations

Woman Pumping Gas --- Image by © Royalty-Free/CorbisHow much money do you need to be happy? Ben Casnocha has pondered perennial existential problem:

“…Just 100 years ago, the ultra wealthy enjoyed privileges average folk could never access: fresh food, medicine, safe childbirth, etc. Today, there are relatively small differences between the rich and the middle class in terms of quality of life. Today, no Americans will die in childbirth. Virtually all can buy good food, can fly anywhere in the world, access all the world’s knowledge and culture with a click of the mouse, and so on.

What “average” people in America share with the super rich like Bill Gates is far more significant than what we don’t share with him. Gates has a bigger house than you or me, but for what really matters, we’re quite similar.

It can be pleasant to be super rich, Ben admits. You fly in private jets or at least first class every time. You’re able to eat expensive food whenever you want, you have aides and servants who will save you time. The problem is, we quickly factor in these material comforts – what psychologists call the “hedonic adaptation.” The private jet doesn’t feel so special the 10th time you’re on it. Rather than marveling at the fact you’re on your own plane, you’re more likely to compare it (oftentimes unfavorably) to other private jets you’ve seen.

The best part about being super rich: You’re more likely to feel like you’re leading a life of meaning. You might not be happy all the time or most of the time, but you will feel like your time on this earth is counting for something… One way to distinguish happiness from meaning is that happiness is the day-to-day bounce of emotions while meaning is what you feel when you step back, take a minute, and reflect on what will go in your obituary.

“… With a substantial bank account, you can still take actions that generate meaning. Write big checks to charity and you’ll get thank-you notes from the children at the public school you helped. You get enough feel-good buzz from your charitable giving to last you a lifetime. Entrepreneur and billionaire Marc Benioff says “philanthropy is absolutely the best drug I’ve ever taken.”

“… but ultimately the quality of your life will be determined by the quality of your relationships. Anyone you befriend while you are atop a perch of power is just trying to get something from you – or so you suspect – and suspicion alone is enough to impair a relationship.

When you see jealously in the eyes of the people you know, something changes. Being super rich disconnects you from the day to day vicissitudes that define the experiences of most of your fellow humans. If you can’t remember the last time you waited in line at the airport and dealt with surly TSA agents, or if it’s been years since you drove your own car to a supermarket, you’re living in a different world than most of your fellow humans. It’s harder to relate; empathy goes down. It’s not surprising that it’s harder for the super rich to remain compassionate toward those who lead such different lives.

Money is like gasoline while driving. You never want to run out, but the point of life is not to go on a tour of gas stations, Ben says. Yes, it’s better to drive a Tesla than a beat-up Honda Civic in the road of life, but stopping with your BMW every so often at a gas station isn’t too much of an imposition, and it might even save you some unexpected hardship.