Money or Meaning?

Summary: The exclusive pursuit of riches is generally not meaningful.

Key Take Aways:

– Some extremely wealthy people began their careers with passion, not the pursuit of money.

– After a certain point, seeking additional riches  generally does not make people any happier.

– A meaningful life is more important than having a lot of money.

At a meeting of 161 billionaires and near-billionaires this year, the focus was more on meaning than money. Though it may be difficult to believe people like Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Oprah Winfrey were not obsessed with making piles of money as their first priority when they began, they were not and are open about that fact.

Billionaire David Rubenstein explained, “Most of the people who got into The Forbes 400 got there by having an idea and pursuing that idea as long as they could. And it created great wealth for them. They didn’t really care about making the money so much as pursuing the idea.” (Source: Forbes)

It seems odd, but often the simple reminder that life is very short is required to note that pursuing money only isn’t a good time investment. It tends to make people unhappy, so that can’t enjoy the money anyway. Also, once the time is gone, no amount of money will get it back. There is another danger- that we allow ourselves to lose touch with what meaning is and simply give up actively appreciating the very real benefits.

As Umar Haque wrote recently in the Harvard Business Review, “This is the deepest kind of theft; not merely prosperity having been looted from societies, but significance having been stolen from human lives.” (Source: HBR)

Julie Jansen identified ten kinds of meaningful work experiences in her book
I Don’t Know What I Want but I Know It’s Not This.

– Rewards and Challenges
– Interesting Field or Industry
– Expressing Ideals and Values
– Contributing/Making a Difference
– Solving Problems
– Changing Your Lifestyle
– Feeling Passionate
– Supporting a Cause
– Innovating/Creating
– Learning

Though there is truth in this list, even it doesn’t cover everything because meaning appears also to be very subjective. In other words it can be very specific and unique to one person or a group.

Pursuing riches has been shown by some research to not produce any more happiness. Above the annual income of $75,000, getting more money doesn’t create more happiness. There may be other disadvantages to pursuing excess wealth such as conceitedness, judgementality and poor health from over-indulgences. (Some of the richest countries also have very high obesity rates.)

Image Credit: Steevven1, Wiki Commons