August 6, 2010 — Three unexpected things have happened to me during my two years of entrepreneurial pursuits in California.
First, I have not gotten rich.
Second, I have met many people who have gotten rich. I've even had the pleasure to witness some of my friends get rich.
Third, I've yet to meet someone much happier than me.
I've met a large amount of people who are 6, 7, even 8 orders of magnitude richer than me and yet not a single one of them was even close to an order of magnitude happier than me.
The explanation, I finally realized, is simple.
Happiness, as NNT would say, resides in Mediocristan. Happiness is a physical condition and just as it is impossible to find someone 60 feet tall, it is impossible to find someone ten times happier than everyone else. I could sit next to you and drink 3 cups of coffee, and sure, I might be 20% happier than you for about 20 minutes, but 1,000% happier? Not even close.
Our happiness is a result of some physical processes going on in our brains. While we don't understand yet the details of what's happening, from observation you can see that people only differ in happiness about as much as they differ in weight.
This idea of happiness being distributed rather equally might not be surprising to people with common sense. There are a million adages that say the same thing. Thinking about it mathematically took me by surprise, however.
I was rereading the Black Swan at the same time I was reading Zappos founder Tony Hsieh's "Delivering Happiness". In his autobiography, Tony talks about how he wasn't much happier after selling his first company for a 9 figure sum. I thought about this for a bit and realized I wasn't suprised. I've read the same thing and even witnessed it happen over and over again amongst startup founders who strike it rich. The change in happiness doesn't reflect the change in the bank account. Not at all! The bank account undergoes a multi-order of magnitude shift, while the happiness level fluctuates a few percentage points at best. It dawned on me that happiness is in Mediocristan. Of course!
I'm not warning you that you might not become an order of magnitude happier if you become rich, I'm telling you IT'S PHYSICALLY IMPOSSIBLE!!! There's no chance of it happening. You can be nearly as happy today as you will be the week after you make $1 billion. (In rare cases, you might even be less happy after you strike it rich.) Money is great, and having a ton of it would be pretty fun. By all means, try to make a lot of it. You will most likely be at least a few percentage points happier. Just remember to keep it in a realistic perspective. Aim to be 5 or 10% happier, not 500% happier.
It's funny, although our society doles out vastly different rewards, at the end of the day, in what matters the most, mother nature has created a pretty equal playing field.