Happiness Is a Way, Not a Goal

Happiness Is a Way, Not a Goal

Carlos Slim Helú, one of my greatest role models, once said that happiness is a way, not a goal. Never heard of Carlos Slim? He is a Mexican investor who has made more money than the great Warren Buffet, and is similarly grounded.

The richest value investors on the planet are also the wisest amongst the mega rich, and the ones worth your attention. They don’t waste money on heaps of luxury. They don’t buy and accumulate meaningless stuff. They life relatively modest compared to their wealth, and enjoy spending their money on things that advance society and the economy.

Happiness is a way of living and aiming for goals that are worth achieving. Achievements which have a positive impact on others. These goals make you less selfish, and thus more likeable.

Making money for the sole purpose of getting rich is not a respectable goal, and one that sends you on an unhappy path. You may make friends, and you may find out that none of them care about you, because all you ever cared about, and all they ever cared about, was your stuff. The things you possessed.

Assets and Liabilities

Financial struggles are often part of perceived unhappiness. Often, these struggles are justified for basic needs like shelter, healthcare and education. One thing that differentiates many unhappy poor from happy rich is the accumulation of random stuff.

While the happy rich may also buy stuff from time to time, they buy far less relative to their net worth than the unhappy poor. With poor I mean all those who don’t feel they’re fully independent. Those who feel they can’t live where they want, when they want, for how long they want.

Perhaps you know this feeling of guilt when you spent money on something “cool”? Probably, because you instinctively felt that it was unnecessary.

There was a time where I barely could pay for my rent, and yet made an effort to buy every cool gadget that crossed my way. I saw things and wanted to own them. They entertained me for a few days, and then went on to become annoying, expensive clutter. Stuff makes it harder to relocate, thus limiting our freedom. Stuff keeps our mind busy, thus preventing us from being more productive. Stuff ends up becoming trash, polluting the environment.

The batteries of my 20 remote controlled helicopters are probably already exhausted and damaged from storage. I have probably more than 50 non-fiction, already outdated books that I bought in a rush and never truly read. All these things were bad investments, as they didn’t get me any closer to my big goals. Stuff is like watching television all day long. It makes us passive, and thus unhappy.

Stuff is a dangerous distraction that keeps especially the poor from advancing in life. Their relative spending on stuff is disproportionally large to their income. Even worse, some go into debt in order to afford the next flatscreen TV, or sparkling but useless jewelry. Worse yet, people addicted to stuff often buy cheap quality that ends up in the trash rather quick or cause them a lot of stress.

Every year for birthdays and Christmas, many people gift each other even more stuff to worry about. It is as if many of us feel a strong need to accumulate stuff which occupies our minds and distracts from the fact that we haven’t yet made an effort to define worthy goals for our lives.

There is a better way than accumulating stuff. One that is happiness: Think in assets and liabilities.

Both Warren Buffet and Carlos Slim invest in assets. Things that advance them towards their worthy goals. Warren Buffet once famously said his role is to make a lot of money, so his foundations can spend it. Note that the higher goal is not to make money, but to spend it for good purposes.

Stuff, on the other hand, is a liability. It loses value over time, occupies your mind, and often causes repeating expenses. What you really want to accumulate is assets, not liabilities.

Unfortunately, most public schools in the world don’t teach these fundamentals of finance, and thus the poor are especially prone to this so called rat race phenomenon, in which they work hard their entire lives just to make money and buy more stuff. Stuff that loses its value over time and holds them back from advancing in meaningful ways.

The Key Take-Away

The key take-away is that making money for the sake of making money leads to making money for the sake of buying stuff, and the accumulation of meaningless stuff is a root cause for unhappiness because it holds you back from thinking about and pursuing worthy goals that improve other people’s lives. Thus, happiness is a way of living, rather than a goal.

Actionable advice: Every time you feel an urge to buy something, evaluate whether it is an asset or a liability. If you need it to earn money, or if it helps you to get closer to your high level goals, it’s an asset. If it serves no purpose other than entertaining you or someone else, and you simply think you want to own it, it’s a liability.

Make clear to your family and friends that they don’t need to gift you useless stuff for birthdays or Christmas, and that you’d rather prefer non-tangible things like tickets for a movie or consumables that are out of sight once you swallowed them. Chocolate, pralines, and things like that don’t clutter up your space, and you can share them with others which makes everyone happy.