The richest man, in the most populous country in the world isn’t happy. In an interview with CNBC, Jack Ma, the founder of internet company Alibaba.com, stated that the $28 billion dollars that came with his recent IPO haven’t made him happy, and in fact, have made him more stressed, tired and less happy.
Once this interview was aired, the internet exploded with people calling Ma a variety of names, and making snide remarks about how they would happily take his fortune off his hands for him.
But, you and I know better.
Mo’ money mo’ problems
First off, we know that more money doesn’t mean more happiness. The number itself is debatable, but there is a certain point after which, making more money no longer contributes to increasing your happiness. And no matter what that number is, not only is it it well south of $28 billion, it’s also attainable by the likes of you and me. In other words, if Mr. Ma was expecting that his billions would make him happy, he was fighting an uphill battle against science.
What money can buy (starting at much lower sums) is freedom. Freedom from worry, from stress, even eventually freedom to pursue activities others than those that made you your money in the first place. Ma’s billions haven’t made him happier because he already had that freedom long before his IPO.
As we saw, when we looked at the foundations of happiness, financial happiness is one pillar of happiness. However, we know we can’t be truly happy until we are pursuing all five of the pillars of happiness: financial, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.
Fulfilling these other four pillars can’t come from money. Sure, money can help in the pursuit of them, but money alone will never make a person happy.
The good news for Mr. Ma is that he apparently has already realized why his billions haven’t made him happier. In his interview, Ma says that his ultimate goal was never to make a lot of money. Instead, his goal with his IPO was to earn respect from his peers in the business community. He wasn’t even pursuing financial happiness, which he had probably already achieved, he was pursuing his emotional happiness.
Money was his way of measuring his success. This was supposed to lead to the respect of his peers, which was supposed to lead to emotional happiness. Unfortunately, the problem with Ma’s approach was that, sure, he could measure his success in dollars, but what he was really after, the respect of his peers, was never guaranteed by that success. What’s more, he was trying to gain happiness by laying his hopes on something that was completely outside of his control.
The pitfalls of using money as a measuring stick
On top of that, measuring success in money has other unintended consequences. Ma talks about people surrounding him just to be close to his money. This makes it difficult to forge any real human connections. Human connection is at the basis of emotional happiness, which is what Jack Ma was after all along.
And to top it all off, if all that wasn’t bad enough, Ma’s basic assumption, that once he achieved this financial success he would earn respect, was outright flawed. He feels he’s not getting the respect he thought he would. And of course he isn’t, because the other danger of money is that it breeds jealousy rather than respect. Whether in the Western world, or in China, having a lot of money doesn’t buy respect. It can buy power, but not respect, and the two are very different.
Not to mention that there’s the very real question about whether power or respect should be a basis for happiness.
Poor Jack Ma
Overall, and I write this with no irony or sarcasm whatsoever, I feel for Mr. Ma. Those that are bashing him on the internet are jealous of his fortune. For my part, I don’t want it.
I look at Jack Ma, and I see the ultimate expression of so many of the people around me, and even what could be me. It might even be you. Sure, we might never be worth $28 billion, but to some degree or another, we are all on the money treadmill. Even once we’ve reached a point where we know more money isn’t going to make us happier, we still think that if we could just get a little more, life will be great, because we’ll have the right house, right car, right stuff, right friends, and more respect.
This is exactly how Jack Ma thought, only at a much larger scale. And despite the fact that he achieved more in a few decades of life than most of us could ever hope to in several lifetimes, he’s not happy. So, what was the point?
Ma didn’t get where he is today by being satisfied with his current lot in life. For that reason, if for no other, I think we will one day see a happier Jack Ma. He will take that great mind of his that he has used to become the richest man in the most populous country in the world, and he’ll now turn it towards a different goal: becoming the happiest man in China.
Ma is already looking for ways to spend his money to give back to society, putting him on the path to emotional fulfillment and happiness. I have no doubt that this is just the beginning of his journey.
All the best to you, Mr. Ma, and hey, if you’re reading this, drop me a line. Maybe I can help make you the Happiest Man in China.