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Money, Happiness, and (Extreme) Giving

Written by Nickel - 7 Comments

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Money, Happiness, and (Extreme) GivingWe’ve previously talked about the relationship between money and happiness (here and here), and we’ve also tackled the issue of “how much is enough.” With those discussions as a backdrop…

I recently ran across an interesting article about an Austrian millionaire that’s giving away his entire fortune. He’s selling his homes, cars, the business that made his fortune, etc. and donating everything to a micro-lending charity (similar to Kiva) that he set up in Latin America, and from which he will not draw a salary.

Why is he doing this?

“For a long time I believed that more wealth and luxury automatically meant more happiness. I come from a very poor family where the rules were to work more to achieve more material things, and I applied this for many years.”

Over time, however, his mindset changed:

“More and more I heard the words: ‘Stop what you are doing now – all this luxury and consumerism – and start your real life.’ I had the feeling I was working as a slave for things that I did not wish for or need.”

He came to this realization while on a luxury vacation in Hawaii.

“It was the biggest shock in my life, when I realized how horrible, soulless and without feeling the five star lifestyle is… We spent all the money you could possibly spend. But in all that time, we had the feeling we hadn’t met a single real person… The staff played the role of being friendly and the guests played the role of being important and nobody was real.”

Crazy? Perhaps, but it’s what he feels driven to do.

“My idea is to have nothing left. Absolutely nothing. Money is counterproductive – it prevents happiness to come.”

In the future, you’ll be able to find him hanging out in a small, mountainside hut or a rented room in Innsbruck.

What do you think?

While it might be a bit extreme to simply give it all away, have you given much thought to the question of how much is enough? If so, what do you plan to do if/when you reach that point?

Published on May 3rd, 2010 - 7 Comments
Filed under: Charity

About the author: is the founder and editor-in-chief of this site. He's a thirty-something family man who has been writing about personal finance since 2005, and guess what? He's on Twitter!

Comments (scroll down to add your own):

  1. “Enough” for me is when I have no debt, my monthly income easily covers utilities/groceries/etc, and I have a good amount saved away for retirement and medical emergencies. Once that’s achieved, I can devote the rest of it to assisting friends and family. Nothing in large amounts, just practical gifts like school clothes, text books for the college-age kids, etc. The point would be to ease other people’s burdens without being their sole support.

    I’m not quite there yet, though.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 3rd 2010 @ 10:49 am
  2. I feel like we’re at “enough” for day-to-day living, but we won’t hit the target anytime soon for retirement – the last time I checked a calculator, if we go on exactly as we have been for the next 30 years, we’ll have plenty to retire on at age 62.

    What we have been doing is gradually ramping up our charitable giving so it is gaining slightly on our rises in income and decreases in expenses (despite inflation, child care costs just go down as our son gets older, so we keep having more disposable income each year.)

    Comment by Anonymous — May 3rd 2010 @ 11:25 am
  3. I’ll admit it. I like shiny things. Computer parts, motorcycles, electronic gadgets, etc. It doesn’t take a whole lot of it to keep me content and what I have is used as often as possible. I know members of my family who rarely talk about anything but how much money they have and what they are doing with it. I don’t want to be that kind of person, so sometimes I have to back away from my financial goals and make sure that’s not all I’m thinking about.

    It doesn’t hurt to have goals and ambitions, but I don’t think it’s healthy to focus only on what you don’t have yet. I don’t know what it was like for the subject of the post. I can imagine it would be tough to know who really mattered when everyone you know is far less wealthy than you are.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 3rd 2010 @ 5:09 pm
  4. I think helping people is great, but giving everything away seems a bit beyond the pale to me. But if that’s what makes him happy, so be it. I’m with Jorge. I retired at 53, before I gave myself a heart attack. We have no debt, money put away and growing (almost to where we were in 07) and have a modest income that meets our needs. We keep cars for at least 10 years and don’t buy alot of extras. We help family and friends, but try not to be extravagant about it. They know we are available as a financial backstop, if needed.

    My wife and I are happy just being together. Every day in our home is a vacation and visiting family or friends is a special occasion.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 3rd 2010 @ 6:46 pm
  5. It’s an overreaction.

    I had the same feeling when I ran away from the corporate lawyer and spent three months sleeping on the ground in the outback of Alaska and Canada. One gets over it. Then one gets to start all over again.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 4th 2010 @ 8:41 pm
  6. This Austrian is crazy — a real nut case. There are many situations where money could save your life — consider the Jews who were smart enough to leave Nazi Germany just as the Holocaust was getting started, and who had enough resources to carry that through. Or for a later example, when Hurricane Katrina struck, the people who had money evacuated smoothly and suffered nothing beyond some property damage, while the poor were the ones who were really in a bind.

    Besides, there are other catastrophes like car accidents and major illnesses where money is needed to deal with them effectively. Therefore, this Austrian is taking a major and unnecessary risk for himself and those dependent on him.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 4th 2010 @ 10:08 pm
  7. Enough for me would be totally debt free (including mortgage) plus reliable vehicles, plus affordable health insurance, plus access to a decent school for my child, plus access to health insurance and money to retire with, and a small emergency fund.

    I question whether I’ll even reach that point, b/c an ongoing stream of money (not a river mind you, but a stream) seems necessary.

    But if I won the lottery (which I don’t play), then I’d love to retire and just volunteer and be home for my child and husband.

    I am 27.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 6th 2010 @ 5:58 pm

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