Ancient Wisdom for Modern Times — Money Can’t Buy Happiness

The gaining of perspective can be a long and at times painful process.

Life teaches us lessons. Learning from them is another matter. From my experience, the gaining of wisdom is better done sooner than later.

The story of an acquaintance from my youth had me in reflective mode recently. His is a story of a working-class boy from Brisbane who rose to the ranks of CEO in a London-based listed company.

He was driven by money. Friends fell away because his every conversation was about how much money he was making from work, his shares, and property purchases.

Along the way he married and had two children. He’s now divorced. His children have minimal contact with him…mostly to ask for money (hardly surprising when you grow up in a household where money is your only benchmark).

He’s back in Oz…alone and wanting to buy his way back into a social circle. From second-hand accounts he is a bore, and no amount of money can change that.

Here at The Rum Rebellion, we aim to contribute (in some way) to making your life richer for the experience.

Making money is a worthwhile ideal, but…

Money can’t buy happiness

Wisdom is a gift that’s been passed from generation to generation. Whether we accept the gift or not is an individual choice.

Personally, I love the ancient philosophers. These guys had the luxury of time. Time to think. Time to debate ideas. Time to write.

Aristotle. Plato. Socrates.

Wisdom that’s lasted for centuries.

A few years ago, I read a section of a consoling letter Roman philosopher Seneca wrote to his mother, titled Of Consolation to Helvia:

Consider in the first place how many more poor people there are than rich, and yet you will not find that they are sadder or more anxious than the rich: nay, I am not sure that they are not happier, because they have fewer things to distract their minds. From these poor men, who often are not unhappy at their poverty, let us pass to the rich. How many occasions there are on which they are just like poor men!

Prior to reading this I had never looked at life from this angle before.

The number of poor far exceed those of the rich…yet the poor are not sadder or more anxious than the rich.

Money most definitely does not buy happiness.

As confirmed by this AFR article about James Packer’s battle with depression (emphasis is mine):

Financial Review - James Parker and Mental Health

Source: AFR

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…the very rich have financial worries of their own, says [psychologist Joel] Curtis: while poorer people worry about paying the bills, and middle-class people are trying to get ahead of the bills to pay off the mortgage, the seriously affluent are preoccupied not with what they have done, but how to keep it that way.

Their entire self-esteem is tied up with money, so any downturn or the “business going south” can cause stress and depression.

Nothing is ever enough, there’s always another goal. Everyone is striving for self-actualisation and unfortunately for high flyers, it is based on results, so they have to keep chasing the high, the feel-good factor.

When you’re constantly striving for more and more, contentment can be as elusive as a competent central banker.

Happiness must come from within.

Creating a truly happy life requires a conscious effort and commitment.

To do this we need to work out our priorities and achieve some balance in our life.

If your priority is only money, to the exclusion of all else, then you’re destined to have a miserable life…and so is your family.

In an ideal world, we would have perfect balance in all facets of our lives…

Positive Changes

Source: Positive Changes

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Perfection is rarely, if ever, attainable.

The best we can do is try to be better versions of ourselves by constantly assessing and fine-tuning any imbalances in our lives.

Fighting natural tendencies takes conscious effort and discipline.

Neglecting family and health, for the sake of money alone, could have serious longer-term consequences.

Should my former acquaintance suffer ill health in his later years, I suspect (and this is a suspicion borne from experience) his family might secretly hope he makes a quick exit so they can get their hands on what he spent his life lusting after.

What a sad way to spend your final years. And believe me, it happens.

In Seneca’s dialogue to his mother, he suggests that non-wealthy people may be happier because they have fewer concerns in life.

The rich have to deal with issues that predominantly inhabit the world of the wealthy.

Suspicion. Jealousy. Greed. Feuding. Scheming. Theft. Markets. Legislative changes. Complex estate planning.

Money cannot buy happiness. Happiness has to come from an inner peace. Running your race at your pace and on your terms.

Control your destiny with reasoned thinking and a balanced approach to life. The importance of this cannot be stressed enough. How you live your life, is an example to your family. The apple tends to not fall far from the tree.

From little things, big things grow.

Seneca’s view on wealth is one I’ve embraced ‘useful and brings great comfort to life’. 

So true.

Wealth is a facilitator to enable us and our loved ones to make a valuable and positive contribution to life.

Wealth is not an idol to be worshipped. But rather a tool to be used to improve the quality of life…for yourself, your loved ones, and the community.

Have We Hit the Bottom? Financial Expert Warns Not Yet. Learn More.

Some final words of wisdom…

No man is crushed by misfortune unless he has first been deceived by prosperity.

You need to experience misfortune to appreciate good fortune. Adversity builds resolve. You become resilient and learn how to cope with life’s setbacks.

When you enjoy good fortune (prosperity) before you experience misfortune (tough times), you are at greater risk of being crushed by the setback.

Wealthy parents who shield their children from life’s trials and tribulations or who pay for problems to go away are setting them up for failure.

Coping mechanisms are not being developed.

There’s the very real risk, in later life, they’ll blame you for failing to equip them with the emotional stability to deal with life’s setbacks.

Please teach your children that the best luck you can have initially is bad luck. See failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. Embrace it, don’t avoid it. It’s life’s way of building strength…to avoid being crushed.

And, then there’s this brilliant piece of advice from Seneca…

A great mind becomes a great fortune.

This quote from motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar, is a modern-day twist on Seneca’s ancient wisdom:

Rich people have small TVs and big libraries, and poor people have small libraries and big TVs.

Invest the time in your personal self-development. An enquiring mind is a valuable asset.

The more you know, the better your thought processes.

One of the lessons I’ve learned in life is quality questions create a quality life.

Above all, in your quest for balance in your life, laugh a lot and have fun…and don’t bore your friends with stories on how much money you’re making.


Vern Gowdie Signature

Vern Gowdie,
Editor, The Rum Rebellion

PS: Vern is also the Editor of The Gowdie Letter and The Gowdie Advisory — investment services designed to help everyday Australians avoid the financial pitfalls of a volatile economy and make informed decisions to grow their wealth for generations to come.


Vern has been involved in financial planning since 1986.

In 1999, Personal Investor magazine ranked Vern as one of Australia’s Top 50 financial planners.

His previous firm, Gowdie Financial Planning, was recognised in 2004, 2005, 2006 & 2007, by Independent Financial Adviser magazine as one of the top five financial planning firms in Australia.

In 2005, Vern commenced his writing career with the ‘Big Picture’ column for regional newspapers and was a commentator on financial matters for Prime Radio talkback.

In 2008, he sold his financial planning firm due to concerns about an impending economic downturn and the impact this would have on the investment industry.

In 2013, he joined Fat Tail Investment Research as editor of Gowdie Family Wealth. In 2015, his book The End of Australia sold over 20,000 copies and launched his second premium newsletter, The Gowdie Letter.

Vern has since published two other books, A Parents Gift of Knowledge, all about the passing of investing intelligence from father to daughter, and How Much Bull can Investors Bear, an expose on the investment industry’s smoke and mirrors.

His contrarian views often place him at odds with the financial planning profession today, but Vern’s sole motivation is to help investors like you to protect their own and their family’s wealth.

Vern is Founder and Chairman of The Gowdie Advisory and The Gowdie Letter advisory service.

The Rum Rebellion