The Deeper Why

Do you want more money?

Let’s assume you said “yes,” because most people would. You might be that one Buddhist monk who lives on a mountaintop and doesn’t, but then how are you reading this blog?

If I gave you a bunch of money, what would you do with it? Would you put it in stacks on your table and stare at it lovingly? Would you roll around in it? Would you eat it? Probably not, I’m guessing. I’m guessing you’d spend it. (Or you’d save or invest it, but for this thought experiment that can count as “spending,” in that you’d do something with it other than enjoying the actual physical bank notes.)

Okay, so you didn’t really want money. You wanted stuff – a new car, a different outfit, a fancy toy or a night out or a vacation or whatever. Even if you save/invest it, you don’t want a savings or investment account for their own sake; you have them because you want a new car, different outfit, vacation or whatever, but you want more of them later as opposed to fewer of them now.

So that’s “one why deeper.” You say you want money. I ask why. You say “because I want a new car.”

But we can go another why deeper. “Why do you want a new car?”

Maybe as we go deeper and deeper, you discover that you want a new car because your older brother loved cars, and he was your hero growing up, and he passed away a few years ago and getting a fast car lets you remember him and know he’d be proud of you for all you accomplished. (And if you go even deeper, you’ll realize that your brother would be proud of you no matter what, so do what makes you happy, not what he would have liked.)

Maybe as you go deeper and deeper, you discover that you want a new car because the kind of potential mates you find attractive are the kind that like fast, fancy muscle cars, and you want to use it as an ice-breaker to meet those potential mates. (And if you go even deeper, maybe you realize that what you really want is just a mate that thinks you’re cool and builds up your self-esteem, and there are lots of ways to pursue that goal.)

Maybe as you go deeper and deeper, you realize that you’re perfectly happy with your 2008 Toyota Corolla but you’ve been caught up in the constant race of keeping up with the Joneses for so long that you’ve started to judge yourself based on how others perceive you, and what you’d really rather do with that money is visit your mom in Jacksonville. (And if you go even deeper, maybe you realize there are a lot of things you spend money on that you’d rather abandon in favor of more family time.)

All dollars are not the same. Things and experiences make us happy and give our lives fulfillment, and to earn them we do things that are valuable to others. I make your life better, and in exchange I get the means to make my own life better. That’s the core concept of all of society. No matter how we organize the point system and exchange rates, ultimately society is built on this concept – give a little, get a little.

But if you give to the world, and then when it’s your turn to get something you pick things that don’t actually make you happy… what are you doing?

It’s worth going “one why deeper” until you get to the bottom, because that’s where you see who you really are. Most of us don’t. All of us should.

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