Give him a boat load of money

by seangljacobs

Part of the New Guinea Commerce Winners Don’t Cheat Series.

By Sean Jacobs

‘If you ever want to see someone be great at what they do,’ says the NBA superstar Kevin Garnett, ‘give them a boat load of money or anything they wish for and see if they go at it the same way as if they didn’t have anything.’

In school I can recall the painful and sweaty experience of hiking up hills on school camps. With maps and compasses in hand we’d clamber to the top of a hill and, thinking we were at the summit, almost collapse at the sight of another hill before us. This, our smiling instructor advised us, was a ‘false crest’.

It’s the perfect term, when leaving school, for staring at the path ahead of you and calculating success. If only, I remember thinking, I could just reach a certain income or get a job then all my problems would be solved. My friends and I believed that whatever sign of success it was – a car, winning a competition, a high paying job, a qualification or a girlfriend – if we could just get to a certain stage then it’d all be okay. We would’ve ‘arrived’, we thought, and our problems would’ve abated.

Except, as many young people will find out, this isn’t how things work. False crests are everywhere. ‘One-off events do govern much of our happiness at a given moment,’ says American academic Arthur Brooks, ‘but the impact of each particular event is surprisingly short-lived.’

I only appreciated this after a few years of professional life, emerging from a few challenges and tracking down my goals. Don’t get me wrong – achieving goals was exhilarating and satisfying. But big wins, as Brooks suggests, don’t translate into long-run momentum. ‘Lottery winners report a big happiness boost at first,’ he says, ‘but actually end up less able to wring happiness from simple pleasures and ordinary events than nonwinners.’

‘Don’t bet your happiness on big events,’ adds Brooks. ‘If you count on the big brass ring to make you happy, you’ll only find frustration.’ So what makes us happy? This is a question that, despite its lofty and elusive nature, has actually received a tremendous amount of research. According to studies the four basic things that bring the most happiness to most people are faith, family, community and work.

However, it’s important to remember that you have to work hard at all of these things. There’s a trap in thinking that, if you just let these things boil away, you’ll simply feel good about them. Work, for example, clearly requires effort if you’re going to get ahead.

And, clearly, no one can enjoy opportunities by an endless existence of working for free or without the eventual help of money. ‘They say money can’t buy happiness,’ says the writer PJ O’Rourke. ‘But it can rent it.’ O’Rourke’s point, although flippant, is important. An emphasis on making money and creating wealth shouldn’t be shied away from – it should be encouraged because money, ultimately, makes life easier and enables opportunities.

Yet using money as a prime motivator is a recipe for misery – your toil must give you enjoyment, fulfilment and satisfaction. If making money was the key to success, I was fortunate to learn from my Dad, then people like Tiger Woods would’ve retired a long time ago. A life of painful training and nerve-splitting performances simply wouldn’t be worth it.

Although it’s taken me some time I’ve realised that success is like what someone said of prosperity – it’s not a line drawn somewhere just above the million-dollar mark but involves choosing your own destiny and living out your potential in your own way. Young Australians shouldn’t be fooled by false crests. Chase down your goals but don’t rest on them. Realise there’s more work to be done and, whether it’s in faith, family, community or work, success and happiness require constant effort.

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