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Why Facebook’s Millionaires May Never Be Happy

David Geller

David Geller, author of “Wealth & Happiness: Using Your Wealth to Create a Better Life,” has over 25 years of financial planning experience and found that helping clients get richer hasn’t always meant they got happier. Seven years ago, Geller went through a divorce, a period of financial instability and questioned his own definition of happiness. “I felt like I was punched,” he says. “I thought, ‘What’s the point of my work?’ And so I became intensely focused – my second wife might use the word “obsessed” – about how to use your wealth to build a better life.” Rule No. 1: Write a book. Pay Dirt spoke to Geller about his secrets to happiness and why Facebook’s new IPO millionaires should be careful about their sudden windfall.

Pay Dirt: What led you to write this book? Did you have a particularly bad set of clients who were never going to be happy?

Geller: No, I don’t think so. The “aha” moment didn’t come from my clients directly. It wasn’t like I sat down one week and had four clients who were miserable. As I read more about wealth creation, it became clear that my clients weren’t using their wealth to make their life better.

At what point should my income start to make me happier?

I don’t think there’s a magic income level. Save enough money for housing, to feed and clothe your family comfortably, healthcare, and some money for fun. Then you have to have some paradigm shifts – whether you are earning $250,000 a year or $2.5 million a year.

Paradigm shift? Whoah! What’s that?

You have to understand the difference between pleasure and between happiness. It’s something we mix up in America. Pleasure is all about your senses: Sitting on a sunset on the beach, driving through the North Georgia Mountains on a crisp fall day. But it’s not happiness. I’m not anti-pleasure. I like pleasure. But happiness is not based on a lifestyle. It’s about the quality of your most important relationships and your work. The other is making a positive difference in someone else’s life by becoming very involved in a non-profit.

You know another great thing about being involved in a non-profit? You get to meet celebrities.

Those who get the most out of it are those who are connected to the mission of the non-profit.

Do you think Americans are too concerned about their lifestyles?

Yes, if we stay in a job where we’re not appreciated so we can live in the nice house or take the fancy vacation.

Or we become shopaholics.

Right.

Doesn’t money give you freedom to make choices? That gives plenty of people both pleasure and happiness.

If you don’t have a lot of money maybe the Holiday Inn might be your choice over staying in the Four Seasons. I don’t accept the premise that money necessarily equals freedom or security. Money is a tool.

What advice would you give the soon-to-be Facebook IPO millionaires?

Make no big decisions for 90 to 180 days because you’re getting this huge short-term emotional charge. Let things settle down. Then sit down and identify what really matters most to you. Then think about what your signature talents are and think how you want to make a difference for someone else.

And what about the Facebook billionaires?

They have an enormous opportunity and – on some level –an enormous responsibility. They have the opportunity to make an impact on something you really care about it. You know, people often ask me why I’m doing this.

To make money?

I have a bigger mission. I think America has a lot of dysfunctional attitudes about money. That leads to suffering at the individual level, family level, community level and societal level.

You sound like a cross between a preacher and Margaret Thatcher.

That’s the nicest thing that anyone’s ever said to me.

What’s wrong with wanting a better lifestyle? Isn’t that why people’s grandparents and great-great grandparents came to this country?

There’s nothing wrong with wanting a better lifestyle. It only becomes destructive when it takes away from your happiness.  Buy a Bentley, good for you. But when you give up your happiness for that, it’s not good.

Thank you, David. When we buy our Bentley, we will make sure we can afford it.

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    • Great advice, but as a previous blogger state its easy to provide this advice when life is good. But i do agree money does not make you happy but it sure helps. Realtionships healthy ones are the greatest gift. The power of giving magnifies my poor life immensely. LIVE LOVE LAUGH. God first in all things.

    • After being unemployed for 2+ years, having my home in foreclosure for 2 years, without health insurance for 1.5 years (because of a single late payment) and exhausting unemployment benefits over three months ago, I can say that while money won’t buy happiness it WILL reduce the stress of possibly becoming homeless and it WILL allow me to sleep at night. I would be very happy if I could sleep at night and if I would stop being penalized by potential employers for having been unemployed for an extended time. If anyone out there has more money than they know what to do with and helping people makes them happy, please feel free to look me up. I’m not looking for a hand out, just help in a time of need.

    • ever notice how it’s always the people with loads of money telling us po folk that, hey money isn’t everything – be happy in your hovel for pete’s sake.

      to paulo b. i mkae more than $60K/year & i’m happy. my son would be happy happy happy to be making half that amount.

      i second mary’s suggestion to anon, if it’s too mucho trouble i’ll take some of the $$ off your hands. hate to see someone so unhappy.

      to john, let me know when you get your free copy.

      to lorenzo, if you had $$ to help out w/your probs, the hassle with the medical insurance compnaies would finish you off.

      to bettyd & andyboy – nice shill job. get a free book?

      to ludes, even more fun to take long ride in new car with kid. you really know the wrong lawyers. maybe just all mopey people hang together.

      to anon @ 1012 if i want to be psychoanalized i’ll go to a shrink. i want my financial advisor to advise on financial matters, my dentist to be my tooth guy, my car mechanic to be my car guy, etc. no cross training – no psycho babble.

    • Bravo for digging past the superficial layer of privilege into the soft underbelly of desire, peace, and tranquility.

    • I bought a Bentley & payed for it.. Best car I’ve ever owned. It’s fun & I love driving it but my family is most important to me & they have always come first…They aren’t without their struggles but some of that makes them better, stronger people.At this point in my life I’m doing what makes me happy too.

About Pay Dirt

  • Pay Dirt examines the millions of consumer decisions Americans make every day: What to buy, how much to pay, whether to rave or complain. Lead written by Quentin Fottrell, the blog examines these interactions, providing readers with news, insight and tips on shopping, spending, customer service, and companies that do right – and wrong – by their customers. Send items, questions and comments to quentin.fottrell@dowjones.com or tweet @SMPayDirt.

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