How to Miss Out on $100 Million of Warren Buffett Money and Still Be Happy

Or Why I’m Terrified of Winning the Lottery

I almost won the lottery without even buying a ticket.

It was terrifying. I was lying in bed, drifting off to sleep with the TV on. The lottery drawing came on, and I stopped myself from turning off the TV as the first ping pong ball rolled down the chute.

8. The day of my birth, my oldest child’s birth, and my self-professed lucky number.
Then came the second number — 31, my wife’s birthday.
Then the third — 11, the month of my birth and that of our second child.

The jackpot was over $100 million. I didn’t have a ticket. Was I really watching my lottery numbers hit, without a ticket in my hand?

This couldn’t be real. Early stage existential crisis started to settle in.

The fourth ping pong ball exited the chamber. 9 — the month of our anniversary and third child’s birth.
The fifth — 44. Whew. Nearly no significance there. Jersey number of my favorite baseball player growing up — Cincinnati Reds outfielder Eric Davis. But I’m not much of a baseball fan anymore, and there are a dozen more meaningful numbers I’d choose before getting around to 44.

I hadn’t won the lottery. Thank goodness.


Did Peter Buffett Win the Lottery?

In his excellent book “How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life,” Russ Roberts tells the story of how Warren Buffett’s son Peter missed out on a lottery of his own.

Or did he?

As a sophomore at Stanford, Peter Buffett was given his inheritance — $90,000 in Berkshire Hathaway stock — and was told that he probably shouldn’t expect any more. His father wanted him to earn his own living.

Peter did what a lot of 19-year-olds dream about doing in that situation. He dropped out of school, cashed in the stock, and set off to pursue his true love — music.

After several years of struggle, Peter found his niche — writing songs for movies and television. He went on to success and a very comfortable living as a musician.

Over a dozen albums and an Emmy award later, Peter Buffett has found what money can’t buy — self-earned success and contentment.

In the time that Peter Buffett took to produce those albums and earn that Emmy, the $90,000 in stock that his father gave him was hard at work too. Thirty-five years later, it was worth $100 million.

Does Peter regret his decision? Would you?


The Science of Happiness

Scientists have been interested in happiness for a long time. In a study done about 40 years ago, researchers found evidence for a happiness baseline.

Studying amputees and lottery winners, they found that while short-term happiness was impacted by these life-altering events, overall happiness eventually returned to pre-incident levels.

Assume you and I are friends, and that in general I’m happier than you. 
I’m more optimistic. I see the good in the same people that you complain about. I laugh at my mistakes while you blame your circumstances.
The same day I lose an arm in a horrific accident, you hit the Powerball jackpot.
I spend a couple of weeks in the hospital and months in physical therapy. You spend your time with realtors and yacht salesmen.
A couple of years later, I’m back to being happier than you.

Can this possibly be true?

Maybe the point isn’t the final destination. Maybe it’s the journey — the journey inside ourselves to find purpose and meaning. The journey to self worth.

The journey to put something back into the world instead of expecting and hoping for the world to keep giving us stuff.

Is this it?

Maybe we should ask Peter Buffett.


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