“I don’t care that much about money,” I told her.
“I don’t believe you,” she said. “You say it but I know it’s not true.”
I guess she’s right.
When I go broke, I am desperately upset. So upset I want to die.
When you google “I Want to Die” there are 36,300,000 results.
I’m sort of proud that I’m somewhere between #2 and #5 of those 36,000,000.
But I used to be #1.
Money makes me anxious. I don’t ever want to go broke again. The first time I went broke I lost all my friends, a house, and self-respect.
The second time, I lost my friends, my house, and my family.
I’ve had plenty of mini-brokes. I lost a lot of things during those times.
But finally during those times I realized there are things more valuable.
Actions > Words > Thoughts.
In other words, if you value something more than money, take ACTIONS to improve those things in your life.
Don’t take actions om the things you value less than money.
Money will be a side effect. Not a goal, or a wish, or a thought.
Make your list of 10 things you value more than money. Then you will see also.
I’m not trying to convince anyone. Just saying my list. Particularly #10.
10 Things I Value More Than Money
When I have friends I am happy. Friends make me laugh. The also laugh at my problems. They also laugh at my insane stories.
I love my children. Children are very difficult. NO GROWN MAN wakes up and says, “I can’t wait to drive 80 miles to see 300 10 years olds dance in a ballet recital.” And yet that’s what daughter’s make you do.
I go to the ballet recital and sit in the back and play “Backgammon NJ” on my phone until the 4 seconds where my daughter is on stage.
Because I love her. Because it’s magic to see her dance. Because I won’t admit it, but I value magic more than money.
There’s evidence that strong community leads to a longer, smarter, quality of life. So I value this more than I value money.
Brian Koppelman told me the other day, “the greatest decision I’ve ever made for my career is choosing my wife.”
So there’s that.
I used to day trade every day. Sometimes I’d put on a trade at 9:30am and by 9:35am I’d get out of the trade with an extra $2000.
Sometimes I’d lose money. And that was painful. I’d hate myself. I’d hate my life.
At 3 in the morning I’d be pacing around, adding up numbers, subtracting and dividing and selling assets and re-dividing. “X months before going broke.” “Y days before going broke”.
I made a discovery: doing one thing, anything, the smallest thing, creative, made me happy.
Writing an article. Starting a book. Making a video. Making a joke that would make people laugh.
Coming up with ten ideas that would help a friend. Coming up with 10 ideas for new things I could be doing in my life instead of mindless day-trading.
Would creativity help me make money? Is this why it made me happy?
No. One act of creativity doesn’t make you more money (Unless you are either JK Rowling or “John Kenneth Rowling”).
But getting into a mindset that I VALUE creativity makes me happier, improves my idea muscle, and over years makes me money.
And creativity is NOT “thinking about creativity”. I have ideas for children’s books all the time. But writing a children’s book made me very very happy.
Did it make me money. No. It cost me money. But it made me happy.
This feels like a cliche. And I don’t want to share any story. But here’s the trick:
Give without anyone knowing what you are doing.
Find someone who is in the newspaper, or someone who is a friend of a friend, or find random people or situations who don’t know anything about you.
Figure out how to help them in ways that could change their lives but they can’t possibly figure out who you are or how they got help.
In the past two days I did four podcasts. Three were on mine, one was on another’s.
If you ask me on your podcast, don’t think this is going to be “business as usual”.
I’m taking over.
The three people I interviewed were: Frank Shamrock, greatest fighter in UFC history, went from hard-core jail as a troubled kid to mastering every martial art and becoming the world champion 10 years in a row. Anthony Ervin, mega Olympic gold medalist.
And a friend of mine with terminal cancer who is going to die in six to 30 months and yet is ridiculously happy and wise.
I asked him, “when the drugs stop working, how will you eventually die”. I didn’t know the answer.
He told me the cancer cells thrive in the bone marrow. So when the drugs stop working, the cells will keep replicating and the cancer area will keep getting bigger and bigger until, from the inside, they one by one break all his bones. He will be in ridiculous agony, go paralyzed, and eventually die.
“Or,” he said, “the cancer cells will grow in the brain and all my brain functions will go away until I die.”
I asked him, “If the drugs work GREAT and you find you’re going to live longer, would you be depressed?”
What a dumb question! But I wanted to know. And he thought about his answer for awhile.
I was also a guest on a podcast about divorce. Mara Mareks’s excellent podcast. What fun! I got to ask all sorts of questions to the hosts.
Next week I get to talk to one of my favorite actors, Stephen Toblowsky. I get to talk to Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped 15 years ago and lived through the worst horror story. I get to interview Tim Ferriss, Dan Harris, and several others.
When I interview someone, I study everything I can about them, and then I ask them everything I still want to know.
Because I want to learn how to be better. We’re never perfect, but we can always move in the direction of perfection. We can have the INTENT to be perfect.
All of these people contain their own clues of how they achieved excellence. I want those clues to become mine. I want to own them.
Curiosity is the bridge from mediocrity to excellence.
#5 ) SADNESS
I don’t want to be depressed. And I don’t want to be anxious. No matter what people say, meditation won’t cure chronic anxiety. At least with me it didn’t.
In 2009 I had to take Klonopin to reduce horrible anxiety. I would wake up so anxious I’d hold my head and start crying, “please please stop thinking so much”:.
My brain was like in the middle of this intense game of life chess, looking 25 moves ahead in the worst direction over and over.
Klonopin stopped my anxiety. It was the strangest experience. It was like a wall went up in my head whenever my brain wanted to be anxious. BOOM! You can’t go there.
Klonopin lasts in the blood for 12 hours. Then I’d be anxious again. So I’d take more.
I was up to an insane amount per day. And then I honestly didn’t need it anymore.
The thing I was most anxious about (money) started to go away as a worry, mostly because I spent my days valuing these other parts of my life.
These other parts of my life, as I get better at them, had an incredible side effect: making more money. As well as having a happier life.
So the Klonopin stopped working for me. It didn’t stop anxiety. I had built resistance.
So I tried to stop taking it and then something bad happened. Lots of bad happened. I was physically addicted.
If you stop, you get panic attacks, you get seizures, you can’t sleep. I tried to stop cold. All of the above happened to me.
One time I sat in a chair, on day three, and I tried to just sit still but my mind was racing further and deeper into insanity than ever before.
“You have to reduce one quarter of a milligram every quarter,” I was told.
“That’s more quarters than it takes to do my laundry,” I said. Even though I’ve never actually been in a laundromat.
Being addicted to Klonopin sounds like a wimpy addiction.
Why couldn’t it be heroin. I love the idea of a drug that makes you happy. But I’ve never taken heroin. I’ve taken Klonopin.
For me, I was never fully depressed. But I had chronic anxiety.
But I have been sad.
After I interviewed my friend who was dying, even though we’ve spent much time together after he told me he was going to die, I was very sad.
I had never spent two hours with him simply asking him about the terms of his death. Hounding him with every question.
So I was sad. I cried afterwards. Not sobbing. But tears when I thought about it.
I called a friend. She was saying maybe I should meditate.
“It might make you happier.”
But I thought about it. First, I didn’t think meditation would make me happier.
Second, I liked being sad.
I’m not sad that often. Lately I’ve been very happy. I don’t know why. It’s like my baseline of happiness has gone up.
My friend and I used to spend hours every day together in our 20s.
Talking, laughing (he has a much better sense of humor than me), playing chess (I was much better than him, ahem), making dreams about our future.
I could die any day of course. But I don’t think I will. But we do know he will die.
And that makes me sad. Sadder than I’ve been in a long time. I wanted to experience it.
I didn’t enjoy it. But I don’t enjoy going to the gym either even though it makes my life better.
I don’t enjoy those moments before I go on stage when I do standup comedy. But it makes my life better.
I don’t enjoy sadness. But it’s s special emotion. It’s another way to connect to the world around me and realize that there are things much more important than my daily life. Much more important than anything I can possibly understand.
Sadness is not depression. Sadness is not anxiety. Or fear.
Sadness is a deep connection to…I don’t know. I can’t explain it. But it’s more valuable to me than money.
Helping is different than giving. Again, words don’t have to explain. Let’s say that giving is a form of charity.
But sometimes you can help and make something bigger than yourself and even make money from it.
#BlackLivesMatter is an important hashtag that went viral this past year.
The idea is: law enforcement kills many more innocent black people than white people.
61% of those killed are also mentally ill. For a variety of reasons this is an issue that is not only important to me but scary to me.
I don’t want anyone I am close to to ever risk getting killed.
It turns out that the only “non-lethal” weapon is Taser. But Taser is not “non-lethal”.
A friend told me the other day that Tasers kill 1-2 innocent people a week. I don’t know if it’s true or not. But I do know that Taser is no longer considered by law enforcement to be non-lethal.
So because I have community, and because I have creativity, some friends of mine (and I like to think I helped but I didn’t really) figured out a way to create a true non-lethal weapon. And law enforcement agrees.
I’m not a billionaire. I’m not Jeff Bezos or Larry Page who can say the world with a point and a click.
But Richard Branson told me on my podcast, “Look around and see who you can help. It doesn’t matter if you are an employee or an entrepreneur”.
If you can help people you can create things and you can potentially start businesses that will make a lot of money.
Anyone can do this. Every rich billionaire did this when they were dirt poor. I did this when I was dirt poor. I did this the second, third, and fourth time I was dirt poor.
I was at a party. There was a girl that I thought I might have liked. I told her a joke.
She was in the middle of drinking a glass of wine and she was mid-gulp. She burst out laughing.
The wine in her mouth spit out all over my hair and fast.
She was horrified. She kept apologizing. I kept saying it was ok. But I was literally soaked. It’s like she had a gallon of wine in that mouth.
I wanted to keep talking but she was too embarrassed. And it ruined the party for me because she was so horrified at herself that she kept walking around and telling other people about it and I felt a bit shy about it now, standing there soaked.
But when she spit the wine all over me, because she couldn’t control this laughter I was bringing out of her: I said to myself, “I want to do this for the rest of my life.”
The average child laughs 300 times a day. The average adult…5.
I asked my therapist at the time, in 2014 about this. He asked me why I thought this was true.
I guess responsibilities? Worries. But I don’t really know.
Some people count how many steps they take a day. I don’t know if this makes them healthier or not.
But I try to ask myself at the end of the day, “Did I laugh 300 times today?” I’m happy when the answer is a probable yes.
I always make my podcast guests laugh. I call up friends and try to make them laugh. I’m about to go into a personal training session. I’m already thinking of ways to make her laugh. It makes the gym session easier to watch her laugh.
I’m trying every day to learn the amazingly difficult skill of standup comedy.What a hard skill! I’m up there 3-6 times a week. More on this in a second.
But I try all day to figure out what will make people laugh and then I do it. And in order to practice, I watch a lot of comedy that makes me laugh.
Did I make it to 300 yesterday? Yes, I did.
Do you know how laughter started?
Two million years ago, quasi chimpanzees that were our ancestors would jump to the trees when they thought danger where was around. Maybe there was an unusual sound, an unusual rustling in the trees.
And then when they realized the tension was nothing (“it was just the wind” are words no chimpanzee ever said), they made a sound that is the ancestor of today’s laughter.
They were going to live longer!
And that’s what laughter is.
I’m on the middle of my list of ten ideas. For 15 years, like clockwork, #7 always seems to be the number where I look back and ask myself, “am I done yet?” And I realize I only hit #7,
#8 ) LEARNING
Learning is sort of the same as “improvement”. Or “success”.
Success is not winning the lottery. That’s “making money through luck”. Nothing wrong with that.
But learning provides so many other benefits to the mind, the body, and the soul.
It’s very hard to learn a new skill. I know this because I’ve spent my life torturing myself learning new skills. Torturing!
Because nothing ever worth learning is fun while you are learning it.
I had a friend once who played chess every day. He wasn’t bad but he wasn’t good either.
I said to him, “Bob, why don’t you read a book about endgames and get a chess coach? You’ll be so much better in just six months.”
But 20 years later he plays at the exact same level than he played 20 years ago.
For me there’s no enjoyment in that. It’s just escapism. Which sometimes we need. Life is hard.
Learning is a path to excellence. And excellence – seeing the subtleties and nuances of a craft you love – and seeing the effect your excellence has on others, like going from writing bad poetry to beautiful songs – is a great feeling.
It’s dopamine straight into the brain. Rather than taking cocaine or Adderal, you can experience the benefits of both completely naturally by simply learning a hard skill and sharing what you’ve loved with others.
Kaizen – the Japanese notion of small incremental improvements is an important concept to understand in learning.
If I want to shoot a bullseye from a 100 feet away, maybe start with 5 feet away, then six, etc.
There’s two benefits to this:
A ) it works. It’s how you get better.
B) dopamine. Each success fuels you on to the next one. This is why kids take Adderal. The artificial dopamine fix keeps them studying.
This is not a good reason to take Adderal but it is a reason kids often take it, because the scam academic / industrial complex rewards a society of drug-ridden 22 years olds greatly in debt.
There are many other ways to learn, and it’s worth a whole post but I have to mention one that has been fascinating to me lately.
Any hard skill that is worth learning, is not ONE skill but many micro-skills that are independent of each other and have to be mastered individually in order to achieve true excellence.
In chess, nobody is simply “a good chess player”. A good chess player knows the openings, knows the middle game, knows the end game.
In mixed martial arts you might need know to know boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, karate, and so on.
In business, it’s not good enough to know how to make a good product. You have to know negotiation, sales, management, design, testing, copywriting, customer service, motivation, persuasion, networking, money raising, pricing, and on and on.
Any hard skill worth learning probably has at least 50 micro-skills.
Learning the “Language of Learning” is how you can get good at many hard skills and find happiness and success by constantly being in a stage of improvement and learning.
I will write another post on this. But the latest thing I’ve been trying to learn is standup comedy.
I’ve now interviewed about 100 comedians. I’ve DRILLED. I’m obsessed.
Here are some of the micro-skills: likeabililty, commitment, crowd work, stage work, timing, voices, act-outs, absurdism, dealing with hecklers, dealing with low-energy crowds, identifying what type of crowd you have, one-liners, misdirection, reversals, and on and on. At least 50 skills.
Success in a ten to fifteen minute set in a comedy club, humor probably ranks third in skill you need to learn with likability first and commitment second.
Although when someone spits wine in my face, humor is probably #1.
I can’t wait to write more on this.
#9 ) FREEDOM
About three years ago I gave away all my belongings.
I told my friend Lisa: “go up to my house, take a truck, and you can do one of four things with ALL of my belongings: Keep it for yourself, give it away, sell it, or throw it away”.
She took her husband, her mom, her kids, her nephew, her cousin, and a truck. And it took them a week.
She just told me (today, in fact), that she gave away almost everything. “You had a lot of things”.
Was I free for doing that? Not really. Not as much as I thought I would be.
Freedom is a feeling inside. You can be free in a prison.
What is freedom?
Freedom from anxiety and regret. How do you get that freedom? I’ll tell you for sure when I’m there.
I think you can always move closer, but never fully get there. And that’s fine.
Just being aware of thoughts as they hit you: that’s one anxiety, and that one’s regret. And try to replace them.
The most successful people have many things to worry about. They have many prisons in the mind. But success comes when you fight through those prisons that try to chain you.
Prisons created by society to enslave people: politics, institutions, demographics, ways of life. Prisons created by bosses. By romantic partners. By children. By ourselves.
But the doors are always open. This doesn’t mean “LEAVE a relationship”. Or “LEAVE your kids.” That might be a prison also. It might simply be: be aware that the door is open. That’s freedom.
Let’s be clear. I value kissing more than money. Kissing feels really good.
And having that life partner, one that you want to kiss (this sounds mushy) leads to freedom, companionship, success.
10 things I value more than money
James Altucher is the author of the bestselling book Choose Yourself, editor at The Altucher Report and host of the popular podcast, The James Altucher Show, which takes you beyond business and entrepreneurship by exploring what it means to be human and achieve well-being in a world that is increasingly complicated. Join the 136,000 readers getting a dose of my best and controversial content. Join here.