“He that is of the opinion that money will do everything may well be suspected of doing everything for money.” – Benjamin Franklin

 

How to Be Happy With Your Money 

It is often said that money doesn’t buy happiness.

When I had no money, which was the case for the first 30 years of my life, I resented that notion. It seemed a glib sentiment expressed condescendingly by those that had to those that had not.

It was also an idea that I didn’t want to hear. I was on the threshold of a 20-year crusade to make money – as much money as I possibly could. If my ambitions had been to be an actor and some Hollywood celebrity said acting wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be, I’d have felt the same way. (“You’ve done it. And you have it. I haven’t done it and I don’t have it. Yet. So don’t get in my way!”)

That was then. Now, so many years later, I have more money than I ever imagined I’d have. And guess what? I’ve come to the conclusion that the “money doesn’t buy happiness” cliché, like most clichés, is true.

Don’t take my word for it. There have been countless studies to support this thesis. And virtually all of them conclude the same thing: Once you have enough money to pay the bills, go to a restaurant now and then, and take a vacation once or twice a year, having more money doesn’t make you happier.

But I didn’t know this when I was wearing hand-me-downs in high school. And I didn’t know it when I started my career.

From 1982 to about 1998, I spent 60 to 80 hours a week working my ass off to make and save money. I approached those objectives with monomaniacal intensity. And largely because of that (I had no natural genius for business), I was successful, moving my net worth from zero to nearly mid-eight figures in 16 years.

During those years, I had countless pleasurable moments. But I can’t say I led a generally happy life. I was frequently excited, inspired, and impassioned. But I was also frequently on the verge of depression and despair.

Whenever news of some famous guy offing himself grabbed the media’s attention and people were asking “why,” I said nothing. But I got it.

In the winter of 2000, I started writing about wealth building in Early to Rise, an ezine I published for 10 years. One of the subjects I researched and wrote about on and off throughout that decade, was the relationship between money and happiness. And it was almost always about the wisdom of the money-doesn’t-buy happiness cliché.

But that didn’t stop me from continuing to make “getting richer” my number one goal in life.

 

Finally, the Realization 

Then one day when I was vacationing with K in Rome, I had a life-changing moment. We were crossing a bridge over the Tiber River, and I was lost in thought, worrying, as usual, about some business deal, when K stopped. She said something, but I could not hear her. This was not the first time that happened. It had happened a thousand times before.

I asked her what she had said.

“I was thinking about how much I’m enjoying this trip,” she said. “And I asked if you were having fun.”

“Right,” I said. “Fun.”

And then I thought, “Wait! What am I doing? Enough of this! I’m not going to spend any more time oblivious to the world around me, thinking only about how I can get richer than I already am.”

And I meant it. When we got back to our hotel room, I opened my laptop, went to my yearly list of long-term priorities, and moved “financial goals” from the top to the bottom of the list.

It wasn’t a miracle cure, but it was a start. For the first time, I was able to let happiness seep into my life, a drop at a time.

 

An Unexpected Extra 

Oddly, though, despite the fact that I was no longer fretting about adding to my wealth, my net worth continued to increase. In the 19 years that followed that walk over the Tiber, it doubled and then doubled again.

What happened was this:

I continued working because I liked the work I was doing. I continued to make plans and negotiate deals and create products and develop marketing strategies. But I did it with a different mindset. I set objectives and pursued them, but without caring about whether I accomplished them or not.

My 30-year-old self would have considered that last statement to be another case of condescending bullshit, but it didn’t feel like bullshit. It felt real.

What I finally figured out was another cliché, a biblical adage (Timothy 6:10) that is often misstated. The misstatement is: Money is the root of all evil. The actual statement is: For the love of money is the root of all evil.

I interpret that this way: If you can work towards building your wealth without attaching yourself emotionally to the goal, you can have your cake (gaining net worth) and eat it too. (Don’t worry! Be happy!)

In other words, if you accept the fact that money won’t bring you happiness and that desiring it will bring you (and those around you) myriad forms of pain, you can rid yourself of the ambition of forever acquiring more.

Let’s say you want to retire. You hate the work you’re doing and you want to quit as soon as you possibly can.

So you do this: You figure out the lowest possible amount of money that you need in your retirement account to live comfortably ever after. And you promise yourself that when you reach that “magic number,” you will quit your job.

By accepting the fact that more money won’t bring you more happiness, you won’t be tempted to ratchet that number up when you reach it. (As I did about a half-dozen times.)

Then you get back to work. And you work with a purpose. But your purpose will no longer be to earn more and more money. Your purpose will be to do a really good job until you reach your magic number.

I know this may sound like nonsense. If you think so, I believe it’s because you haven’t tried it. If and when you do, I believe you will find – as I did – that you will work better than you ever did. And as a bonus, you will enjoy your work much, much more.

 

Sometimes, Money Really Can Buy Happiness 

There is another thing you should consider doing: Rethink the way you are spending the money you earn. When our hearts are attached to dreams of making lots of money, we tend to spend what we have in foolish ways.

You may have heard the argument that people generally get more long-term pleasure out of spending money on experiences rather than things.

The first time I heard it, I was repelled by it. It seemed illogical. Experiences are ephemeral, I had always believed. You have them and they are gone. Poof! But things – ah, things last!

It didn’t take me too long to realize the fallacy of this logic. Experiences can last. They can last a lifetime. And the pleasure they bring can be deep. Things usually bring a lot of immediate pleasure, which ebbs over time. Eventually, your things might give you no pleasure at all.

So I resolved to spend less on things and more on experiences. And that has worked wonderfully well.

For example, I long ago discovered that I was getting very little extra pleasure from the collectible  cars I owned. The excitement I had driving them the first year or two had disappeared. Today, I want my cars to be comfortable and low maintenance. I still have a 1989 NSX, which I rarely drive. But the rest of my collectible cars are long and happily gone.

On the other hand, the art I own gives me pleasure all the time. It is not the art itself, the thingness of the art, that I enjoy, but my experience of enjoying it every day. So I continue to buy and sell art, always in an effort to improve the quality of my collection, because the experience of doing so gives me lasting pleasure.

I’ve also discovered – and this should not surprise you – that I can “buy” a considerable dose of happiness by spending my money on other people. Instead of buying a new car for myself, for example, I’ll buy one for my sister or lease a car for a friend that needs one.

In fact, when I think of the money K and I have spent over the years, there is no doubt that the greatest yield came from the financial help we’ve given to family and friends in need and to our Community Center in Nicaragua.

Still doubtful? That’s okay. I spent many years where you are – and I’m glad I lived beyond them. I wish the best for you.

 

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ephemeral (adjective) 

Something that’s ephemeral (ih-FEH-mer-uhl) is fleeting or short-lived. As I used it today: “You may have heard the argument that people generally get more long-term pleasure out of spending money on experiences rather than things. The first time I heard it, I was repelled by it. It seemed illogical. Experiences are ephemeral, I had always believed. You have them and they are gone. Poof! But things – ah, things last!”

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The CDC has been remarkably unreliable in terms of reporting and interpreting data on the coronavirus pandemic. The latest example, reported in The Atlantic, is mind-blowing. In reporting the total tests for the virus, they have been including results from both the swab tests and the serology tests. That gives you a meaningless number – one that would make the average percentage of positives much lower than it should be. (About 80% of serology tests, since they are given randomly to asymptomatic people, are negative.)  To read the article – “Could the CDC Make That Mistake?” – click here.

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Snoring is the sound of air trying to make it through the narrowed air passages in your throat. Having a large Adam’s apple and a thick tongue can contribute. Also being overweight, drinking, and smoking. Snoring is not particularly bad, but sleep apnea, which is what happens when no air gets through for 10 seconds at a time, can lead to serious health problems and even death. To defeat sleep apnea naturally, lose weight, limit your drinking, stop smoking, and sleep with your head elevated. Sweet dreams to you!

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the week in review

May 25-May 29, 2020 

 

a look back at this week’s essays… 

Art Collecting: Learn While You Earn* 

5 Reasons to Invest in Art: Investing in museum-quality art will make you richer financially… owning it will give you a richer life.

Click here to read more.

 

 

What We (Should) Want for Our Children 

When my children were infants, I wanted only one thing for them….

Click here to read more.

 

 

How to Get Better at What You Do Best 

The greatest challenges we face in life are obstacles that reside inside of us. When it comes to mastering a skill, the greatest challenge is not the work and time involved in acquiring it but the desire to be a master before you become one.

Click here to read more.

 

 

 

quick quiz 

 

  1. How much do you remember about this week’s “Words to the Wise”? Use each of these words in a sentence: 

*  fractious (5/25/20)

*  serendipitous (5/27/20)

*  reproach (5/29/20)

 

  1. Fill in the blanks in this week’s quotations: 

* “The only time life allows for _____is the present. Right now. In this very moment.” – Michael Masterson (5/25/20)

* “Of all nature’s gifts to the human race, what is sweeter to a man than _____?” – Marcus Tulius Cicero (5/27/20)

* “If you accept your _____ you go beyond them.” – Brendan Behan (5/29/20)

 

  1. Are these statements True or False? 

* The X in X-rays stands for electromagnetic. (5/25/20)

* Camp David was built as a retreat for President Dwight D. Eisenhower. (5/27/20)

* Every year, the Washington Post holds a contest in which readers are asked to supply alternative meanings for common words. (5/29/20)

 

 

recommended links from this week’s blog

 

* “Freedom Isn’t Free” – a powerful speech by President Ronald Reagan. I don’t know enough about Reagan’s career to have a strong opinion about it, but I can think of only two other presidents in my lifetime that were as good as he was at speechifying: Kennedy and Clinton. To watch the speech – which includes Reagan’s dramatic reading of “A Soldier’s Pledge” – click here.

 

* “New Tennis Rules” Here

 

* “More Than Money: The Good Life Parable” – In this short film about a well-known fable, a fisherman teaches a young businessman about life after the young man uses his MBA knowledge to explain how the fisherman could be more successful. Here

 

* A TED Talk by George Monbiot – lots of interesting facts about how nature works. Here

 

* This is wrestling…Here

 

 

Q&A 

Your Question: 

I liked your essays on the Corona Economy, as you called it, especially your explanation of how the Treasury and the Federal Reserve work. For years, I’ve heard the term “printing money” and always assumed that the Treasury really printed new dollars. Now I understand how it works – how both the Treasury and also the Fed can create fake dollars out of thin air and still manage to balance their books.

One thing I didn’t understand: You mentioned that there was a difference between what the Fed did to bail out the economy after the real estate crash of 2008 and what it is doing now. What is that difference?

 

My Answer: 

I put the same question to Tom Dyson when I was researching those essays. Here’s what he said:

“The difference between original QE and ‘monetizing the debt’  is in the intention behind it… its intended purpose. Mechanically, they’re identical.

“The QE they did 2008-2014 was to goose the stock market and give a tail wind to the banks. They did it voluntarily. It was somewhat of an experimental new idea put forth by Ben Bernanke.

“The QE they are doing now is out of necessity. They must do it because if they don’t the government won’t be able to finance itself and it will go broke.

“It’s a subtle distinction and one that I’m sure would be lost on most mainstream economists. Most mainstream economists probably wouldn’t even entertain the idea that the US government is insolvent if not for the Fed’s money printing.”

Tom said it is a subtle distinction, but he was being polite. It is a very important distinction and one that, after you “get it,” explains a lot.

One of the arguments against the 2008-2014 QE bailout was that it was going to be inflationary. (Increasing the money supply by a trillion dollars should, in theory, make prices rise because you have more dollars competing for the same number of goods and services.) That didn’t happen. I wondered why. Now I understand.

The larger economy didn’t inflate because almost all of those extra dollars went to the financial sector, as Tom pointed out. The financial sector did inflate. Hugely. Stock prices shot up and made Wall Street (its brokers, bankers, insurance agents, their lawyers, accountants, and shrinks, etc.) very rich. And that tidal wave of newly “printed” dollars flowed into the businesses that catered to Wall Street: luxury cars, fine art, expensive real estate, etc. But the rest of the country? Main Street? They got poorer.

Now that I understand it, it’s difficult to see it as some sort of brave fiscal “experiment.” It’s hard for me to believe that the effect of it would not have been apparent to everyone behind it (all those Wall Street insiders) that so nobly volunteered their time to conjure up and direct the bailout.

But the current QE is different. It is different not only because it’s necessary rather than optional, but also because the lion’s share of it went to the American public through stimulus checks and the PPP program. So will the next $3 trillion.

That probably will cause inflation in the general economy because most of those dollars won’t be spent on stocks and bonds but on food and clothing and other basic commodities. Those are the things that will become more expensive, which means that the productive classes – the people that pay taxes – will be paying off the government’s crazy borrowing by paying more for just about everything they buy.

 

Have a question for me? Submit it on our Contact Us page. 

 

 

For a look back at the stock market, click here

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Sebastian was flattered when Michael, his former protégé, asked him to critique the promotion he’d written. After all, Sebastian hadn’t written much copy in the 10 years that had passed since they worked together. And during that time, Michael had written a score of blockbusters. He was the man.

Nevertheless, Sebastian agreed to do it.

“It’s generally very good,” he wrote in his critique. “But I have one idea that you might want to consider…”

After sending it off, Sebastian worried. His suggestion would require Michael to spend hours reworking the lead. And he wasn’t sure that his idea was any better than what Michael had already written. He feared that Michael would be insulted.

Sebastian didn’t have to worry for very long. An hour later, Michael returned his email. “That was brilliant!” he wrote. “I don’t know how you do it! I’m going to get to it right away!”

Sebastian felt immense relief. Michael was in an entirely different mindset. He was focused on the work, on making it better. For him, it had nothing to do with feelings.

 

How to Get Better at What You Do Best 

“If you accept your limitations you go beyond them.” – Brendan Behan

The greatest challenges we face in life are obstacles that reside inside of us. When it comes to mastering a skill, the greatest challenge is not the work and time involved in acquiring it but the desire to be a master before you become one.

Hubris – Aristotle’s term for excessive, blinding pride – is the fatal flaw that foiled many tragic heroes in literature, from Oedipus to King Lear to Captain Ahab. And in developing any complex skill, such as copywriting, hubris manifests itself in the same way. The copywriter believes – or desperately wants to believe (which is sometimes worse) – that his/her writing is above reproach.

This is equally true for musicians, tennis players, salsa dancers, sumo wrestlers, and skateboarders. Those who are willing to say “I can do better” do better. Those who say “I am the greatest” soon take a tumble.

What you want in your career is the confidence that follows accomplishment, not the pride that precedes a fall.

So that’s the first lesson: No matter how good you are at what you do, never tell yourself that you can’t get better and never believe you can’t learn from others, even those that cannot perform at the level you have attained.

Think about your strongest skill – the talent or capability that is most important to the achievement of your main goal. Now ask: “Am I willing to acknowledge that there are people in my universe who are better at this than I am?”

If you can accept the limitations of your strongest skill, there is no limit to how far you can develop it.

The Fire and the Funnel 

Ego is the fire that fuels our ambitions. The ambition to master any skill is sparked by the heart’s imagination – seeing oneself at the top of the podium, lauded for one’s achievement, acknowledged for one’s value.

But when ambition becomes pride and pride becomes excessive, the skill seeker stops learning. He cannot learn because he believes he has nothing to learn. He refuses criticism. He defends his weakest efforts. He denies his failure – to others and to himself.

On fire with an exaggerated opinion of himself, he burns out.

Humility is the funnel that can prevent this. Humility set boundaries on pride and keeps the ego fire under control.

When I started actively training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) at age 47, I wasn’t very good at it at all. I had always prided myself on being a good grappler and a scrappy fighter, but I found out very quickly that those old confidences could not sustain me. I got my ass handed to me by guys that were half my size.

I had a choice: Be humble or be proud.

Pride would have spurred me to announce that BJJ was a bullshit sport and quit, thus avoiding future humiliations on the mat. Humility would have let me accept the reality of my incompetence, thus allowing me to continue to practice and learn.

Happily, I chose to be humble. And since then, every time I’ve advanced through the belt rankings, from white to blue to purple to brown and to black, I’ve had to face the fact that there were many others – not just higher belts but lower belts, too – that were more skillful than I.  Even today, getting beaten by a purple belt or a brown belt challenges my pride. And each time, I have to choose to accept the fact that others are better… because if I don’t, I cannot continue to improve.

Human beings are designed to get better through practice. Everything we ever learn to do – from walking to talking to writing concertos – gets better through practice. Practice makes our fingers move faster, our hearts beat stronger, our brains think smarter. What is it that Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods talk about when they talk about their careers? It’s not that they were gifted with extraordinary natural talent. It’s that they worked harder than their competitors.

Practice doesn’t make perfect. That’s a foolish idea. Practice makes better. And better is where all the enjoyment is in learning.

To become a better version of whatever you are good at now, you need the fuel of your ambition to drive you forward. But without the funnel of humility to restrain your pride, you will stop practicing. And when you stop practicing, you are out of the game.

 

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reproach (noun) 

Reproach (ruh-PROHTCH) is an expression of disapproval or disappointment. As I used it today: “The copywriter believes – or desperately wants to believe (which is sometimes worse) – that his/her writing is above reproach.”

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Every year, the Washington Post holds a contest in which readers are asked to supply alternative meanings for common words. Here are a few of the most recent winners that I was able to find:

* coffee – the person upon whom one coughs

* flabbergasted – appalled over how much weight you have gained

* esplanade – an attempt at an explanation while drunk

* lymph – to walk with a lisp

* flatulence – emergency vehicle that picks you up after you’re run over by a steamroller

* balderdash – a rapidly receding hairline

* testicle – a humorous question on an exam

* pokemon – a Rastafarian proctologist

* oyster – a person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms

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Rhyme’s Reason: A Guide to English Verse by John Hollander

This is a book my mother gave me when I first began writing poetry in college. I remember having a high opinion of it then.

A brief but comprehensive survey of the forms, rhyme schemes, and metric patterns of English verse. What distinguishes Rhyme’s Reason from other such books is Hollander’s brilliant illustrations of each variation with a definition that is, itself, an example of the form.

On couplets, for example:

Couplets can be of any length,
And shorter size gives greater strength
Sometimes – but sometimes, willy-nilly,
Four-beat couplets sound quite silly.
(Some lines really should stay single:
Feminine rhymes can make them jingle.)

If you read it, choose the third or fourth editions, which include an added section of examples taken from centuries of poetry that exhibit the patterns he has described.

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