Get rich, be happier, and save the world

Before I connect a few ideas that make up this wildly optimistic headline, allow me to vent some frustration.

Last week was the first time I saw Black Friday ads in the Netherlands. They were everywhere and they really got on my nerves. Black Friday is probably the complete opposite of what we should be doing.


Back in 2011 I witnessed the madness of long lines and tents in front of the store myself. In 2008 a store worker had been trampled to death in the greedy hallways of Walmart. Each year they start Black Friday earlier, which means Thanksgiving dinners (valuable experiences) are sacrificed for buying more stuff nobody needs. Humans are not inherently bad, but some things promote our negative characteristics more than others. Black Friday is definitely one of them.

Before we move on to more positive things I want to give some more context why I hate Black Friday.

Evil consumerism point 1: Happiness

Let's say you have 1000$ and you want to use it to increase your happiness. You could go on vacation, or buy an iPhone X. Your smart brain figures that since the iPhone will stay around for much longer than the vacation (maybe 2 years vs. 2 weeks), it's probably a better way to increase your happiness. But the problem is that as a human, you are extremely good at getting used to something. Which means your effective happiness for a new iPhone will only be a few weeks. That's why it's better to spend money on experiences than on stuff.

And be careful about dismissing this too easily, because the same is true for a nicer car, a bigger house and everything else you want.

Since we are world champions at getting used to things (even a Holocaust concentration camp), trying to increase happiness with new things will never work and will only leave you more unsatisfied. More is never enough.

Evil consumerism point 2: Hidden impact

The basic idea of the amazing book 'Hidden impact' is that most of our impact on the world is not visible.

For example, while everyone knows driving a car is bad because of gas (something you see), almost nobody knows that another really bad thing about a car is the manufacturing process (something you don't see). In similar way you never see how much water it takes to grow a cow aka beef or the cotton for your jeans. Because of this, Babette Porcelijn has ranked 'buying stuff' as the number one negative impact Westerners have.

Who is burning up the most CO2? China. What are they using all that energy for? Making our stuff.

That means buying stuff is worse for the environment than the typical things like plastic, cars, airplanes, or meat. Why? Because it takes valuable Earth resources to make stuff, and the Earth doesn't have endless valuable resources. And when extracting and processing those valuable resources we burn up more of the ancient plant fossils that we should avoid.

A few numbers to make the point clear:

It takes 2000 swimming pools to neutralise the toxics released for producing one laptop (because of mining rare minerals like gold or cobalt)

One pair of jeans takes 10.000 liters of fresh water (for growing and washing a lot of water intensive cotton)

If you switch your old car to a more efficient one, it takes 13 years until you've saved energy (because of the production of the new car)

That is why consumerism is public enemy number one. The weird thing is that everyone kind of knows that consumerism is bad. But you would probably say you're not a victim of it. You're smarter than that. Except that you're probably not. Unless you make an active decision against consumerism, you will unconsciously go along with it. Because consumerism has become our default, it takes small daily decisions and weekly practice to withstand it. This part about 'small daily decisions' is a super fascinating topic I'll save for a later post.

Now the optimistic part: If consumerism is making us feel bad and it is not a good strategy for living on planet Earth, we can kill two birds with one stone! We can get happier and secure a better future by leaving consumerism behind. Actually it brings a third advantage: early retirement!

Wait, what?

Get rich with saving

Mr Money Mustache is a personal finance blogger who had a normal income and retired age 30. The word 'retire' simply means that he doesn't have to work for income anymore, because he could live off his savings for the rest of his life. His philosophy is that the only way to get rich is not by earning more but by spending less. He calculates that if you save 75% of your income, you can retire within 7 years!

This sounds very extreme, but he has a lot of excellent examples of how much stupid money we spend. Underlying all of these saving tactics is training yourself to want less.

Why does he do this? Because he is maximising happiness. Happiness is not the same as pleasure.

Happiness is what you get from being thankful for what you have, spending time with family and friends, or working on something purposeful.

Pleasure is feeding the instant gratification monkey; the same monkey that makes you procrastinate.

I only know one or two people who say they want to become rich. Most of you realise getting rich won't make you happy and instead you want a good life and security. The problem is that is still very vague. What is security? Aren't you secure enough already when you live in Europe or the US? When you don't train yourself to be happy with what you have, you will never have enough.

Start small

You don't have to become a minimalist who lives in a tiny home without a smartphone. Find small ways to want less. Start small. Start with teling yourself the next time you see an advertisement about a cool product that you don't need it. Or postpone buying any new clothes until the new year. And what if for Christmas you would gift experiences rather than stuff?

I am only beginning on this exciting journey of training myself to want less, but I think it's an idea worth talking about more. I'm very interested to hear your opinion on this outrageous, incomplete but sincere claim that this is the way to get rich, be happier, and save the world.

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