I’m fascinated by the two founders of Google. Probably the biggest reason I like to think about them is that I’m the same age as they are – born in 1973. What they’ve already achieved in their lifetimes is incredible. I also believe some positive “peer” pressure from them is helpful whenever I need some motivation.
However, what I don’t want to fixate upon – and this is easy to do – is their enormous, mind-boggling, Solomonic wealth. I am convinced they’ve earned every bit of it because millions of us use their powerful products (for free) every day. But what is not practical or beneficial is if multitudes of men and women on this globe are merely inspired (to try) to become enormously rich ourselves – at least not in terms of monetary wealth. At a very basic level, the world simply doesn’t have enough resources to support legions of super-rich people. We can’t all be billionaires (or millionaires) if we don’t want to strip the world bare.
However, as I realized upon reading an excellent Orion magazine article (sorry I can’t find the specific article), human beings do feel great happiness when they “possess” a nice, big healthy surplus of “riches.” In fact, we are probably spiritually and biologically inclined to be most satisfied when we feel “rich.” But the kind of riches we’re talking about is not the ability to buy whatever we want. Instead, it’s the ability to appreciate, understand and experience a treasure trove of things. This kind of riches is something all people the world over could potentially enjoy, such as: the ability to read, draw, write, and create art. To get a good education and go as far as your ambition takes you. To understand the world’s history, read its greatest books and see its greatest art, architecture and exotic animals. To enjoy family and friends and a neighborhood in community.
Yes, these things are still out of reach for the world’s poor. But rather than encouraging everyone to simply pursue increased material production and consumption worldwide, why not make the goal to increase everyone’s ability to understand and appreciate things? After basic needs are taken care of, (food, shelter and healthcare) we don’t need to buy an increasing number of things to live a fulfilled life. Thoreau showed this vividly in Walden by living a simple life in a shed surrounded by great books and good food.
While most of us won’t be happy living in a shed, I think Americans in particular could benefit from seeing how other countries use their resources in a way that makes everyone feel richer and happier. Europe, for example, spends lots of money on building and maintaining beautiful buildings that last centuries. It’s a pleasure to stroll through these parts of a city and feel a sense of shared history, and mutual appreciation of their beauty. In contrast, driving in your own luxury car to a strip mall with mediocre architecture to buy something to bring back to your big home doesn’t promote as much happiness on either an individual or community level.
In sum, thank you Google founders for bringing us your amazing products You’ve earned your fantastic wealth. But for all of us who aren’t billionaires – we need to recognize that we too already possess all that is required to live truly satisfied, meaningful and “rich” lives.