What the 1% Can’t Buy

Hearst Castle
“I’m not talking about the pill and alcohol-induced smiley faces that shine at cocktail parties and on the pages of Seen magazine…”

a letter from the future…

Dear friend,

If you love the idea of being a 1%er and are reading this letter, you likely found it while demolishing the beautiful beach cottage that used to stand here to make way for the hideous, McMansional homage to your personal wealth currently under construction. Or as my friend calls it, your “3-sider,” because the building touches 3/4 of the property line ensuring it is as large as possible.* I’m sure your classy, paid-by-the-square-foot architect promised you the biggest and grandest house of them all, and then some. Good luck with that. This letter is not for you.

If, on the other hand, you found this letter while living contentedly in the aforementioned beach cottage, you’ll want to read on…

When I bought this house before you many years ago, I must admit I was enamored with the notion of being part of the 1%. I had worked hard to achieve the American Dream and, at 39, buying a house in the exclusive town of Sullivan’s Island was a crowning achievement. It confirmed my place at the top of society where I would gladly live out my days.

Or so I thought. Having lived here nearly ten years now, I realize how foolish I was to believe that true happiness could be found in the material trappings of society’s “elite” class.

Take a look around you, at your neighbors. How many of them are fundamentally happy people? I’m not talking about the pill and alcohol-induced smiley faces that shine at cocktail parties and on the pages of Seen magazine. I’m talking about true contentedness with one’s lot in life.

Be honest, they’re not happy. Quite the opposite. Most of the 1% are dreadfully miserable people. They are chasing fool’s gold, worshipping false idols, and as a result they‘ll never be satisfied.

Why? Because most of them subscribe to a self-defeating prophecy, believing happiness can be bought by spending more money to get bigger and better “things,” only to find the more they spend, the less happy they become.

I’ve lived in the belly of the beast, and I’ve seen first hand how vacuous it is. It is a void that cannot be filled.

Their belief system is so perverse and ingrained they have no other recourse. “The mahogany paneling didn’t do the trick? OK, let’s go with the marble floors. Surely that will do it.”

You see where this is going. Self-defeating prophecy, cruel paradox, Catch-22… whatever you want to call it, the 1% can’t find happiness where they are looking, no matter how much they spend.

Case in point. Right around the corner from your house, a family spent many millions and many years building a house worthy of the pages of the glossiest design magazines. Yet after the project was “complete,” contractors were still showing up every week, adding this, or improving that. When was it going to be enough?

The truth is, that $xxMM house was never going to be enough to make them happy in the first place. And the next $xxMM spent won’t fix that either. “Just a couple more upgrades and it will be perfect and then we’ll be content…”

Most of the 1% are dreadfully miserable people. They are chasing fool’s gold, worshipping false idols, and as a result they‘ll never be satisfied.

You’re absolutely right to be thinking that mine is not an original notion. Of course it isn’t. The same lesson about finding true happiness outside of material possessions is taught every Sunday in churches around the country and elsewhere. But I’m not sure those clergymen can speak as I can from behind the gated world of the 1%. I’ve lived in the belly of the beast, and I’ve seen first hand how vacuous it is. It is a void that cannot be filled.


In closing, allow me to offer a word of advice, dear owner of this humble beach cottage (remember, if you tore down the beach cottage to build your personal Xanadu, you were supposed to stop reading after the first paragraph).

If you’re fortunate, as I was, to be young enough to escape the trappings of the 1% in pursuit of true happiness, do it. Do it now.** In the words of the late, great Mark Sandman, “run if you can, just as fast as you are able… run like a mother f***er.”

Literally, today. Sell the beach cottage and put this letter back where you found it, where hopefully the next owner will find it and read it through.

If you don’t, before you realize it you might find yourself too entangled in the web of the 1% to unwind from it. It’s only a matter of time before they install a gate to Sulliva… I mean, Kiawah Island — North Estates. Then you will literally be trapped on the inside.

Citizen Kane realized it too late. His dear “Rosebud” was all he ever really wanted.


*The only reason it doesn’t touch all 4 sides is you need off-street parking for your Range Rover.

**I’m not suggesting that money, in and of itself, is evil, and that you should quit your job and go live in a commune. I am suggesting, however, that money spent on material possessions as a path to happiness, is evil. Go earn as much as you want, but don’t expect to find happiness in it. Use it to make the world a better place than you found it.


Vince Sonson