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Why A Billion Dollars Can’t Bring Happiness, But This Can

happy or sad

W idely reported last week was the story of how unhappy Markus Persson (aka “Notch”) was after Markus "Notch" Perssonmaking over a billion dollars selling his company to Microsoft. Despite having more money than he knows what to do with, he feels really bored and deeply lonely.

Persson was the founder of Minecraft, which was sold for $2.5 billion almost a year ago; he did not join Microsoft after the sale. Persson certainly looked like he was having a blast and living the big life. He bought a $70 million mansion and has been hosting wild parties ever since.

But a series of recent tweets reveal a sad and unhappy man:

“The problem with getting everything is you run out of reasons to keep trying, and human interaction becomes impossible due to imbalance,” he tweeted.

“Hanging out in ibiza with a bunch of friends and partying with famous people, able to do whatever I want, and I’ve never felt more isolated.”

Happiness is a very individual feeling. Some time ago, I visited my doctor for a check-up. My doctor had tragically lost his son a few years ago to an incurable disease. I can only imagine how hard that must have been to deal with, when you spend your life in the medical field helping people. He told me he was unsure whether he could find happiness again, but that changed. He recently graduated as a Master of Applied Positive Psychology at University of Pennsylvania, in a course led by Dr. Martin Seligman.

For decades, medicine has focused heavily on the more negative aspects of psychology such as depression and mental disease. Surprisingly, very little has been done to research happiness in adults and Seligman has made this a principal focus. He talks about three happy lives:

  1. The Pleasant Life – this is having as many pleasures as possible: whether sex, money, material things or potentially addictive pleasures. The key drawbacks to this type of life are that they habituate rapidly and the long lasting pleasure is not sustainable. Interestingly, many of the people who are depressed in this world are the people who “have everything.” From a macro perspective, a 2011 study by international researchers found wealthier nations suffered more from depression than poorer nations, and penned it as an “illness of affluence.”
  1. The Good Life – This is the happiness achieved from engagement; whether in work, parenting, hobbies or leisure activities. Some people may seem very dull and quiet on the outside, but achieve intense happiness from their engagement in an activity.
  1. The Meaningful Life – This happiness is achieved when people who know their strengths and use them for something larger—for example, in philanthropic or social causes. Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi led very difficult lives, but they achieved much happiness from their meaningful contribution.

The general takeaway from Dr. Seligman’s study is that people who have happy, full lives versus sad, empty ones gained very little contribution to their lives from the pleasures and far more from being engaged and meaningful.

For people like Markus and also those of us who don’t have a billion dollars, consider staying engaged and focusing your time on things that are truly meaningful in life. You may find a free and more natural path to Happiness.

If you have any comments on this topic, please share with the rest of us.


  1. Steven says:

    Who invents these labels “Pleasant Life”, “Meaningful Life” etc? It is people who conjure up the terms to sell their books and courses. Happiness is happiness is happiness. End of.

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