On Money & Happiness

Posted In: Blog

A 74-year old German businessman named Adolf Merckle — whose net worth was in the billions (yes, that’s billions with a “B”) — recently committed suicide. He threw himself in front of an oncoming train. There’s no foul play; he left a suicide note. You can read the details here: German billionaire kills self over financial crisis

Why did he engage in this drastic act of desperation? The global economic downturn, in addition to some not-so-stellar business choices, led to mounting financial losses. (Note to self: never engage in a personal business war with the Porsche family).

The upshot was that the guy lost several hundred million bucks, and was on the verge of losing control of his business empire. He was distressed over the situation. These business events left his spirit broken.

But still, think about it. THE GUY WAS A FREAKIN’ BILLIONAIRE. He was sometimes called “Germany’s Warren Buffett.” His estimated net worth recently was $9.2 billion, and he was once listed as the 94th wealthiest person on the PLANET. I don’t care how much money he recently lost, he could still spread Grey Poupon on his bratwurst with no worries. And yet he tossed himself in front of a train?

This, my friends, represents a dramatic loss of perspective. I hate to appear insensitive or criticize the recently deceased, but I think Mr. Merkle lost sight of what’s really important in life.

Some of the happiest times of my life were also the financially poorest times in my life. Don’t get me wrong; I’d rather have money than be broke. But life’s satisfaction comes from experiences, and from people. Yes, money facilitates the experiences. But no matter what “empire” you think you’re building, in the end it’s ALL temporary.

When I was in college, I worked in the kitchens at Yellowstone National Park. I chopped veggies, flipped burgers, and sometimes got to operate the ice cream stand. My financial earnings were negligible, but the memories were priceless.

I also once spent a year teaching English in Czechoslovakia (err, way back when the country was called Czechoslovakia). Every week, I faced rambunctious classes of Slovak schoolchildren in Bratislava. I loved it! But I was earning about $120 a month.

"Mister Sean" taught English in this Slovak school.

BRATISLAVA, SLOVAKIA: Sean taught English in this school. He didn't exactly rake in the dough.

There’s a lesson here for The Long, Long Honeymoon and our own RV camping adventures. One of the reasons we RV is to escape the day-to-day trappings of urban and suburban society. By camping, we share good times with the ones we love. We see the world. We simplify. We decompress. We acquire … perspective.

When I read about the suicidal billionaire, I wondered how his life might have changed if he’d just stepped away from the situation for a while.

Sure, the economy’s in the dumps, and there’s a lot of concern in the air. But whatever your situation, I bet you can still afford to spend quality time with the people you love.  No matter how bad this economic stuff seems, it’s just not that bad out there, folks. Maintain your perspective and STAY POSITIVE.


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