How we choose to spend our money determines how much joy we get from it — that’s obvious. Some buy fancy sports cars. Others buy a big house, or a sailboat, or a piece of art.
That’s all good.
But in my generation — the Millenials — a different attitude is en vogue.
Fill your life with experiences, not things. Have stories to tell, not stuff to show.
Don’t buy stuff. Buy experiences.
Of course, our platform of choice — Instagram — loves that kind of stuff. Sure, that yellow Lamborghini is cool, but backpacking in South America is so much more Instagrammable.
Even scientific studies back this attitude: buying things gives us gratification at the moment, but the feeling of joy wears off rather quickly. Experiences, in that regard, seem to give a better return on our investment. And yet, “Buying experiences” seems like such a small step up. Such a minor difference. A small shift in perspective, but still a purely consumerist attitude at heart. To treat the entire world as one big supermarket of experiences. It might scientifically be better than buying stuff, but it still feels rather shallow.
The Pyramid of Wealth
Recently — after having lived on the tropical island of Bali for over 6 years, and generally buying all the experiences a self-respecting millennial could ever need — I feel there might be another level to this.
Stuff —> Experiences —> Feelings
As I slowly amass more wealth, I realize that most of the value of having money is in the feelings they provide:
- The feeling that you have enough
- The feeling that you’re safe
- The feeling that you’re free — that you’ve transcended the rat race, and are free to pursue whatever you want
- The feeling that you can offer help
Those feelings are worth much more than the experiences.
So my suspicion now is that it’s actually a pyramid.
Like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Five levels. Just like Maslow’s pyramid.
Oh, and what about purpose?
The more I think about it, purpose feels like the top to me. Look at the world’s richest people, and you’ll see that it’s mostly what they spend their time and money on: Bill Gates, Elon Musk… all pursuing big visions to reduce suffering or take humanity forward.
At some point, you would have bought yourself enough feelings of safety, freedom and belonging. At this point, your cup starts to overflow. You have fully taken care of yourself, so you look around to see how you can help others.
(Side note: doesn’t “pursue purpose” look a lot like applying financial leverage to Maslow’s concept of “self-actualisation”?)
So what’s purpose all about? Purpose is about helping others. Others that — often through no choice of their own — are at the bottom of the pyramid. That includes people, but also animals, and in a sense our planet.
The bad news is that there are many struggles at the bottom of the pyramid.
The good news is that a little bit of our money can help a lot.
Organisations like GiveWell make it really easy for us to make our money touch lives in the most cost-effective way possible. For instance: for around 50 CHF, you can avoid one person from going blind.
Even if you will never meet that person, that’s a pretty cool way to spend 50 francs.
And thanks for reading this!
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