How Could a Billionaire Not Be Happy?
Updated: Aug 27
Let's try this as a story.
Imagine you were given a pill that gave you magical powers. It made you smarter than everyone. Better looking. More charming. A better conversationalist. More athletic. You could help save the world. All you had to do was take it every day.
Imagine this pill gave you the power to generate enormous wealth for yourself. And you didn't need to keep it a secret. You weren't hiding or lying to people about it. People didn't think you were magical. They just knew you had this pill. You could be honest with the world about it.
But even though you weren't trying to hide anything, even though you were just trying to be of service to others, the world seemed to change around you. People admired you. They tried to get close to you. They did whatever they could to curry favor with you.
When things didn't go right for you, your fans came out in support. If you didn't get a sponsorship gig you wanted, or couldn't make it around the world in time for an award ceremony, they sympathized. When you couldn't cure cancer in a week, they sympathized (after all, the pill made you better than everyone, it didn't make you omnipotent).
But as much as they sympathized with you, followed your ups and downs, and cheered you along in your journey, they couldn't actually empathize with you. Empathizing with you meant that they needed to know how you felt. Sympathizing with you, on the other hand, just meant they were following your story and knew which emotions to feel as engaged audience members. But not like someone who would reach across a kitchen table late at night to squeeze your hand, look you in the eye, and know how you really felt. In fact, when people did get close enough to squeeze your hand, they usually had a question in their eyes they wanted you to empathize with. Could you, perhaps, given them a pill or two?
Imagine that this pill got you world renown, enough to meet anyone you wanted. To find the partner that you found most engaging. Imagine that you got this partner to marry you.
Of course, your pill had something of a limited supply. So you needed a prenup to make sure there were clear rules on if your partner could have any of the pill and under what conditions.
Imagine that years later your children grew up in the lap of luxury, but somehow, they had a complicated relationship with the pill. They felt like it was a blessing and curse. They weren't sure they wanted to take it. They wanted to take risks. They wanted to live their own lives. Somehow - paradoxically, crazily - it seemed like they wanted you to have the pill but at the same time, they resented it. They threatened to not to take the pill when they got older.
Imagine that your partner was sympathetic to them. "What?!" you would scream, bewildered. "This pill has given us everything we've ever wanted! It's not the be all end all, but how can you even entertain these thoughts! We have a responsibility to the world. We can help save the world!"
"But what about what the children want?" your partner would ask, shaking their head.
Now imagine a rival pill in limited supply comes out. Others have access to it. Suddenly, there is a competition. People realize they can get their hands on a pill if they really try to. In fact, you start getting worried about your pill supply, your secret stash.
So you invite a security company into your home to help you secure your pill, to guard your house. They control your movements, they keep you and your stash safe. Your family hates it, they want to be free. They tell you to forget the pill, that you have enough money, wealth, and fame. "But the world needs us! The world needs me to take this pill!"
"But we hate it."
Imagine that your best friend from high school, someone you haven't seen in 20 years kills himself. You find out he tried to reach you last year for some money to help pay for an experimental treatment for his spouse's rare form of cancer. You didn't get the message. His spouse died from the cancer and your friend killed himself in despair.
Your partner finds out and just hangs their head. "What world are you saving?" they ask you.
People hear about your family problems. They still smile at you in restaurants and on planes. No one refuses you anything. No one wants to upset you. No one wants to tell you anything you don't want to hear. No one tells you anything painful. No one tells you the truths you most need.
When you talk to other pill-takers, they recognize you are in the same situation, but there is no easy way to draw warmth from them. They are also competing with you.
So you trust no one around you. How can you?
People don't know what it's like to be you. They sympathize with you like you are character in a film they are watching. In fact, you aren't a real person to them. You aren't anything to them. When they turn their gaze from you, they turn back to their families, to their lives, to their hopes and dreams. You are just an example. You are the advertisement for the pill.
You have a life of dreams that you are living. You have everything that you want. But the world reacts to you as if you are a character in their stories.
You aren't reacting to people but to audiences. And the people close to you? They aren't enthralled by your pill. They just want to know why the pill is part of their family when they never asked it to be.
And then one day, you see that your pills will run out. You can still keep all the money you have earned. You can enjoy whatever you already have. You can have fresh fruit served to you on a plate, poolside, by yourself, all day.
So how on earth could you ever be unhappy?
What could make you unhappy? Could it have anything to do with your family? With human connection? With trust? With truth? With vulnerability? With purpose? With a fear of losing something you have? A fear of not living up to people's judgements?
I have seen this time and time again. No matter what people have, their worlds tend to shrink or grow to the size of their deepest relationships. When those human relationships fall apart, no magic pill or amount of fame, money, or power can protect them from deep unhappiness. There is no firewall against this. Relationship suffering is a vortex of emotion, a tornado that grabs you at the base of your soul and whips you around until it has your full attention.
And everyone who has swallowed a magical pill, of any form, knows this.
So how could a billionaire be unhappy?
Is it hard to accept?
If so, what is the story you are living in?