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Today's quote:

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Happiness can't buy you money

If you read Wittgenstein over your cornflakes, you might turn your nose up at these essays, which are rarely longer than a couple of thousand words. But despite their brevity, they are not simple and, more importantly, not simplistic. Each essay has a title and deals with a question such as ‘Climate Change: Why does climate change not prompt more alarm?’ or ‘Stendhal on Love: How much light does Stendhal’s On Love throw on the subject of love?’ The bite-sized snippets do not provide answers to these questions as much as a framework of considerations and arguments that might be useful for thinking of answers.

Take, for example, this excerpt on the subject of money:

"One of the things that most marks off human beings from the rest of the animal kingdom is their genius for getting the wrong end of the stick. Nothing illustrates this better than the subject of money. Consider the inconvenience of taking a cow to town, and butchering small bits off it in exchange for a pair of shoes here, a haircut there, a newspaper, a beer at the pub on the corner - and so rather bodily and (for the cow) distressingly forth. Thus it was that our distant ancestors invented tokens of exchange to represent the value of bits of cows and pairs of shoes: much less distressing, much more convenient.

But no sooner had this stroke of genius been struck than humanity began to make money an end in itself, a fetish, something so desirable that some even murder for it. The token had become mesmeric in a way that a steak or a radish could only be to a starving man. When it comes to money, in short, we are all starving men.

The rational attitude to money is of course to wish for lots of it, but only because of what spending it provides. Consider: a man who has ten million dollars in the bank and never spends a cent is a very poor man indeed. A man who has a hundred dollars in his pocket and spends it on a good time is a rich man indeed. Accordingly, one should estimate an individual's wealth by what he spends, not by what he has; for in this short life of ours - one should never tire of pointing out that the average human lifespan is less than a thousand months long - wealth is experience, endeavour, enjoyment, energy. It is emphatically not a bank balance, a sheaf of investments, a pile of bricks and mortar, for none of this goes into the grave with its owner, and while it exists in that illiquid form it is of little real use, except as a promissory of what it can be turned into: travel, laughter, learning, expansion of spirit through the acquisition of delights and memories."

And what could be truer than the conclusion that "... too few know that the real definition of 'being rich' is 'having enough' -not of money, but of what you want to buy."?

I have found something new or interesting in this book which is an enjoyable read that can be dipped into then left on the bedside table, which is good because it tends to send me looking for other books – for the best possible reasons.


Money can't buy you happiness, but it's more comfortable to cry in a Ferrari than on a bicycle.