Writing in the Dec. 10, 2007 issue of Forbes magazine, Paul Johnson, eminent British historian and author, explored the relationship between success and happiness in an article titled “Pursuing Success Is Not Enough.”
He cited as an example Somerset Maugham, who once wrote, “When I was 18, I desperately wanted to be rich, successful and famous. Now I am all three, but I am not sure I am any happier.” Johnson also observed, “When I look at the Forbes 400, the billionaire and celebrity rich lists, I wonder how many of the people on them are actually happy.”
The foregoing, and a bit more, was a prelude to his thoughts on how one could be successful and truly happy. But first, a few of my own experiences with policyholders who had difficulty balancing that equation.
As I read Johnson’s article my first thought was of a policyholder who was facing the end of life. He called me to go over his insurance to be sure his affairs were in order. A very successful businessman, he had accumulated a substantial estate including a significant insurance program. He lived in a beautiful home atop one of the small mountains surrounding our valley.
As he and I looked over his assets he became very nostalgic and talked about his life today and yesterday. Among other things, he said that without question his happiest days were when he and his wife operated a truck stop in a small town. He said they struggled, but it was a happy and rewarding time. He went on to say that in recent years he lived comfortably, but not happily. He did not explain why.
When he died a few weeks later his son (also a policyholder of mine) took over the business. If ever there was a person driven by the desire to become wealthy it was the son. He went on to become one of the wealthiest men in our city. But I never had the impression that he was at all happy, and the turmoil in his marriages would seem to bear that out. He died young and as near as I could tell, his only accomplishment was that he made a lot of money.
Another couple also came to mind; they owned a very prosperous business and numerous commercial buildings in the area. When I would call on them, I would first make a presentation to the wife; then she would lead me into the husband’s office where I reviewed the proposal again. While I was making my presentation he never looked up, never stopped pricing invoices and never uttered a word. He did make a series of grunts which she was able to interpret as yes or no and she made the purchase based upon his grunts. They were difficult to deal with, but when you are selling you have to take the bad with the good. Eventually they retired, sold the business for cash, and took a trip back east. On the trip he contracted meningitis and died in a Midwestern hospital. When I called on the wife to settle the death claim she said, “What was it all for? We were retired three weeks after a lifetime of work.” They were unhappy before, but now bitterness compounded her condition.