If Money Can’t Buy Happiness, Should We Just Get Rid of It?

Occasionally, I see something that just makes me think.  This article is one of those things.  In case you don’t feel like clicking through, here’s the executive summary: Karl Rabeder, who started poor and built up a fantastic fortune (3 million British pounds, about $4.6 million), has now decided to give all the money away: he gave (or is in the process of giving) all 3 million pounds he had accumulated to charities he had set up in Central and South America, although he’s not going to be drawing any sort of salary or compensation from those organizations.  His stated goal is to “Have nothing left.”

It’s not the sort of thing you see every day; in the modern world, there’s a great deal of emphasis on accumulating a greater and greater amount of wealth, rather than giving it all away.  Usually, if someone has such charitable leanings, they give only a portion of their wealth away, or wait until after they have died (and can’t use the money anymore, anyway).  To see someone voluntarily turn themselves into a pauper comes across as just plain strange; this isn’t helped when he says things about hearing words telling him to ‘start his real life.’

Actually, giving away worldly possessions to find your true self isn’t a completely new concept, though; asceticism, the practice of depriving yourself physically in order to grow spiritually and in your religious beliefs, is a concept that has existed for much of human history.  Eastern religions, such as Buddhism and Jainism, have made the denial of worldly pleasures into major tenants of their faiths, and monks, nuns, and priests in most Christian sects practice varying degrees of abstinence (sexual and otherwise) to strengthen their faith.

Ascetic Monks
Eastern Monks

But the ascetics differ from Mr. Rabeder in at least one important respect: they believe that money is a distraction from your spiritual goals because it can bring happiness.  Removing money and other possessions allows them to focus on the attainment of spiritual goals without the worry about possessions so many people seem to have.  In contrast, Mr. Rabeder has said, “Money is counterproductive – it prevents happiness to come.”  He clearly seems to think that, rather than bringing (earthly) pleasure as the ascetics (and so many other people) seem to believe, money instead blocks it.  Mr. Rabeder’s words caused me to start thinking: does money actually prevent people from achieving happiness and fulfillment in life?

My Thoughts

Money is many things.  I’ve given some of the reasons for people to want money before (and to want more of it than they currently have), and all are still valid.  In fact, that’s the primary reason to have money; it gives you options.  There’s many, many things you could do with $4.6 million dollars: fabulous spending sprees, great investment opportunities, and yes, giving it away to charity.

Money does have another side, of course; it also brings responsibilities and obligations.  Particularly if you are trying to ensure that your net worth keeps rising, then the time and effort needed to manage, maintain, and grow your money can be quite extensive.  It’s likely that sort of feeling that helped to motivate Mr. Rabeder’s choice in this matter.

That said, I can’t claim to understand Mr. Rabeder’s rationale completely; not being in his shoes, never having built a small fortune after I started from a poor background, I doubt I could ever fully understand him.  But, it’s his money, and if he feels that this move will increase his happiness more than spending or investing it, well, I hope that he is right.  Good luck in giving your fortune away to charity, Karl Rebeder, and here’s hoping that what you are seeking is easier to find once you no longer have so much money!  (Here’s also hoping that I don’t read about you being arrested for tax evasion or something similar; it would be a shame if such an interesting, oddly uplifting story turned out to be a ruse to avoid paying your share of taxes.)

What do you think of Karl Rebeder’s plan?  If you discovered, after working to build a fortune, that you weren’t any happier, would you consider (or even think of) donating it all to charity?  What sort of charity would you create to be funded by your millions?  Does anyone else want to give those monks a noogie?

8 Responses to If Money Can’t Buy Happiness, Should We Just Get Rid of It?

  1. Hey, FS, nice to see that someone is getting my trackbacks, at least. There still seem to be some kinks to work out of the system though, so I’ll have to improve on that.

    I think whether you think of money as a source of freedom or a trap depends on whether you have a goal you’re working towards. If you are saving for retirement or another big goal, getting more money helps you move toward that goal and makes you happier. If you’re working just to work and accumulating money (and stress) at the same time, I can see how it might feel like a trap. I can’t imagine ever deciding to give away nearly $5 million dollars though; that just seems wrong…

    • D’oh! Well, hopefully I can figure out how to get this trackback issue resolved soon; otherwise, I’ll be spending more time contacting people to let them know about where I’m using their posts than actually reading or writing.

  2. I wrote about my thoughts in regards to Karl Rebeders story last week ( http://totally-useless.com/662-money-cant-buy-happiness-indeed ), and asked him to react on it but didn’t receive a reply on my request until now. Nor will I or any other blogger receive one.
    And if you think about it – why would he? He did not strike me as someone willing to give an Internet career a chance 😉

    Because he could have started a blog and Twittered about it, next to send several press releases out.
    So we can guess, and continue guessing in regards to him until the story wears out.
    Cool blog you have by the way – Have a great week ahead
    .-= TatianaV´s last blog ..Happy Valentines Day to the readers of Totally-Useless.com =-.

  3. @TatianaV: True, I didn’t even try to get in touch with him; I figured that he would be more than busy enough with all the higher profile writers trying to contact him. I haven’t heard anything more about him in the ten months since this story first appeared, so I’m guessing he didn’t suddenly come to regret his actions or otherwise want to change his fortune. Hopefully, he’s found contentment.

  4. I think we should just get rid of money. People will do things for others or trade things with people who do the same. If you do nothing and are worthless, you can forget anybody doing anything or making anything for you. A lot of people would still work doing something and then they would be free to do what they like to and what they are good at without worrying about if it PAYS enough. If you love doing hair, you may find somebody who wants their hair done, but that person farms so they may give you food, etc. I hate money.

  5. @Melinda: While your idea sounds good in theory, it doesn’t work too well in practice. A barter system only works as long as you are able to find people willing to trade with you directly. If you want to style hair and need food, you’ll need to find someone to trade your hair styling for food. If nobody wants to do that, you’ll have to go without food. With money, you can style of the hair of one person, get money, and trade that money to another person for food. At its root, money just provides us an easy method of doing these exchanges. I agree that we’ve gone quite a bit away from this simple starting point (consider all the derivatives and other complex investments), but there’s a pretty big difference between simplifying what we do with money, and trying to get rid of it completely.

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