If Bruce Wayne were a real person, he’d be Dan Bilzerian.
I thought I was really clever with that intro, until I saw GQ Magazine one-upped me. They describe Dan Bilzerian as, “a kind of Bruce Wayne-meets-Hugh Hefner for the social-media age,” which is much more descriptive and accurate.
And here’s what might be his most accurate title of all – “The King of Instagram.”
The nickname stems from his absolutely mind-boggling number of followers – 23 million.
For reference, the current President of the United States has 7 million followers. Among the A-list of other celebrities he’s beaten at the popularity contest: Mark Zuckerberg, Leonardo Dicaprio, Snoop Dogg, Floyd Mayweather, Kobe Bryant, Robert Downey Jr., Oprah, and Barack Obama.
What’s earned him all these followers?
Unlike the list of people above, he’s not a famous actor, businessman, or athlete. In a strange twist of the internet age, he became famous after he was spotted in the top left of a poker broadcast, with a girl hanging on his shoulder, apparently assigned the important job of stroking his beard.
Since then, he’s gained about 20,000 followers a day, simply by being a rich guy who posts insane photos of his life.
I put the following collage together after scrolling through his page for a little less than 5 minutes:
He claims to have earned his fortune as a professional poker player. For the purposes of this article, we’ll roll our eyes at that and ignore that his father was one of Wall Street’s most notable corporate raiders, who wisely set up a trust fund for his sons prior to being convicted of fraud and getting sent to prison.
Wherever Dan Bilzerian got his money, and however likeable or unlikeable you might find him, there’s one fact that remains blatantly obvious:
He’s been around money. More to the point – he has more money than he knows what to do with.
And with that comes a certain level of wisdom about something that so many are endlessly chasing.
Does Money Buy Happiness? Dan Bilzerian Weighs in
So what does our Instagram Batman say when people ask him whether money can buy happiness? In a recent podcast interview, he had this to say:
An example I like to give is when I was 16, my dream car was a Mustang Cobra. So if I got a Mustang Cobra, I would have been at a 10 [on the happiness scale]. But, a Ferrari would also bring me to a 10. And you can’t go higher than a 10, right?
So let’s say that I got the Ferrari when I was 16, and now we flash forward and I graduate college, and let’s say my dad gives me a BMW M5. If I had the Ferrari, now I’m probably going to be at a 7, right? Because I’m stepping down in a car.
But if I had the Mustang Cobra and now I get a BMW M5, I’m going to be back at a 10.
It’s the same car. You’re the same person. You’re at the same spot in life. The only difference is your perspective because of your previous experience.”
If you’re not a car connoisseur, the critical information here is that a Mustang Cobra costs about $50,000, a BMW M5 costs about $100,000, and a Ferrari costs $200,000+.
In other words, Dan is saying that once you’ve had a $200,000 car, it’s hard to “step down” to a $100,000 car.
Dan is voicing what I’ve long hypothesized; money is entirely relative. Trying to reach an ever-increasing amount of it is an exercise in futility.
When people ask why rich people aren’t as happy, I think it’s because they’ve upped the bar so far that only the best things satisfy them.
Another example, when I got out of bootcamp, if I went to Outback Steakhouse I would have been at a 10. Now, if I go to the best restaurant in the f***ing world, I’m at maybe a 6 or 7. I’d just be like satisfied. I mean, I’ve got three chefs, I eat the best food all the time. So that doesn’t make me happy any more.
If someone bought me a Lamborghini, I’d be like whatever. I’ve had them, I don’t care. But if you give it to the guy off the street he’d be at a 10.
I can’t buy happiness anymore. I’ve bought every f***ing thing that I ever wanted. There’s not really anything that I want. So I can’t buy any pleasure.
And also, if you gave me a regular car, or put me at a regular hotel, I’d actually be below the normal level. Whereas a normal person would just be happy to be on a vacation.
It’s kind of like the guy who wins the lottery. A year later, he’s statistically less happy than the guy who got his leg amputated the year prior.”
This is a pretty honest confession from a guy who’s entire PR strategic can be summed up as glamorizing the lavish lifestyle.
Why the Rat Race is a Losing Battle – Hedonic Adaptation
What Dan is describing here has already been figured out by science. It’s called hedonic adaptation, and the basic idea is that humans are awfully good at getting used to things.
From an evolutionary perspective, this makes perfect sense. In order for our species to not die out the moment some hardship comes our way, it’s reasonable that we’d come programmed with a little bit of code that lets us adapt to our environment, good or bad.
In fact, Dan’s last comment about the lottery winners is the exact study which coined this term. In 1978, psychologists interviewed 22 lottery winners and 29 paraplegics. In a result that doesn’t get any easier to believe the more I re-read it, within just months of their respective life-changing events, both groups reported similar levels of happiness.
Impossible? A faulty experiment?
Not quite. It turns out, the lottery winners quickly got used to their posh champagne and million dollar homes, and like Mr. Bilzerian, they actually found less joy in life’s normal things. On the other hand, accident victims found more happiness in life’s ordinary events, and were just as optimistic about their future as the lottery winners.
These things are counter-intuitive to grasp, especially when you’ve been raised in a culture that spends billions of dollars to convince you the latest $19.99 gadget is all that’s missing from your life.
But there’s simply too much scientific evidence to claim otherwise, and too many people at the top of the money mountain, adamant the view isn’t quite as amazing as we’re lead to believe.
“Money Can’t Buy Happiness, But You Can Buy a Boat, and a Boat Would Make Me Happy”
That’s not to say that stuff can’t make you happy, at least for a little bit. The lottery winners really were happy… for a couple months.
The rush of buying a new gadget is real. The trouble is, it’s entirely fleeting, and it can spiral out of control in a hurry.
Experiments show that money elicits similar brain scans as drug addicts high on cocaine. Further research shows a direct correlation that being too materialistic tends to make you less happy.
When we rob from our future to fund temporary happiness today, we’re only digging ourselves a hole.
Just like we don’t all start our days with a snort of cocaine alongside our morning cereal, because we instinctively know that’s somehow damaging to our future, we shouldn’t expect the adrenaline rush of a purchase to provide any lasting level of happiness.
So, we’re left with two choices:
- We can continue chasing the latest and greatest purchase, fiending for that next dopamine hit and bankrupting ourselves and our future in the process.
- We can side with science, recognize fleeting happiness for what it is, and pursue something a little more lasting.
The Lasting Sources of Happiness
What are those lasting factors of happiness? Meaningful work, health, friendships, optimism, and freedom, at least according to the experts.
All those things are available to us, without or without a Dan Bilzerian sized lifestyle.
As a car lover, I totally understood the analogy (FYI: My love of cars and car history does not match in any way whatsoever). Up until I was 31 years old I had never owned a new car. In fact, thinking back, I’m not sure I ever really owned a car newer than 10 years old. My first new car was a 2013 Hyundai Sonata. I drove and treated that thing like it was a brand new BMW M5. Every time I drove it, it made me so happy and so proud. I got it washed weekly and freaked out the first time I spilled coffee in it (even though I only spilled it in the cupholder). Now almost 5 years later I still have it and I still love it, but I regularly find myself cruising Autotrader for a luxury car (that I don’t need).
Another analogy I sort of thought of in regards to adaptation was to do with caffeine. My first cup of coffee when I was 17 at McDonalds sent my heart racing and I began manically talking to my friends like someone on meth in a movie. Eight years later or so I was having a Redbull or Monster in the afternoon, just so I wouldn’t fall asleep at my desk. Thinking back I find it insane that a small cup of coffee could do that.
The Money Wizard says
Nice analogy. It’s like our spending tolerance gets stronger and stronger as we get used to our stuff. An interesting explanation for lifestyle inflation…
Dave @ Married with Money says
This guy lives such a ridiculous life compared to most people 🙂 It’s a fascinating thing that it’s all so relative.
But I can definitely relate. We lived in a nice apartment when we moved back to Minnesota, and then when our house was being built we moved to a smaller, not as nice place. Realistically the place wasn’t THAT bad (except the kitchen) but it FELT bad because we were used to the nicer place. It’s like going from the Ferrari to the BMW.
The Money Wizard says
Like he said, you’re same person, it’s same car/kitchen… just a different frame of reference. Thanks for sharing.
Physician on FIRE says
I’ve never heard of the guy, but he looks and sounds a lot like the Dos Equis Most Interesting Man 2.0.
It is something to hear words like that from a guy like this. He really does have nothing to gain and a lot to lose by being honest and open about how his life isn’t that great anymore. Unless it’s all just one huge #humblebrag. But it sounds genuine, and it almost sounds like he needs counseling.
Or at least another beard stroker.
The Money Wizard says
My thoughts exactly. At first I heard it as a big ole humblebrag, then it sunk in as something a lot more sad.
Dr. POF, hurry up and prescribe this guy some more beard strokers… STAT!
I cannot really relate to the car thing, but I get it. However, the drug analogy is very accurate (not speaking from experience). It could be hard to live your life on a neverending quest of finding something which does not bore you to death. Same time it seems he does not die to try. He pretty much just indulging into luxury. There are billionaires out there who choose wisely and fighting for a greater good. I bet Elon Musk does not aim for the sky because he has to. Bill Gates does not try to vaccinate Africa because he is simply bored. Even Donald Trump went for presidency and won, however, this is a questionable example 🙂
I don’t think it gets talked about enough there is something else at play here in the “happiness quotient” and it is related to a spiritual condition. I really like the C.S. Lewis quote: ““If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” Nothing will ultimately satisfy us here until it finds its place in someone bigger than self.
Old School Coinage says
Nice point and quote. Sometimes I wish I had as much money as the guy in the post and then I remember that all this “stuff” is fleeting anyway…we should always look for fulfillment through selflessness rather than selfishness…although I’m guilty of being selfish quite a bit:/
Learning to smell the roses or enjoy what you have … health, family, nearby parks or beaches … living in one of the biggest cities in the world … sounds exotic to some … but it becomes common place later .. it is good to enjoy the things close by …. it is usually sufficient … from the far side of the planet … from a newbie rookie blogger
Great post! This is why I try to keep lifestyle inflation under control. Once you spend on nicer stuff, it’s hard to go back. But if you keep the lifestyle inflation small, you’ll keep being happy with incremental improvement. Occasionally splurges works pretty well too. We usually live a modest lifestyle, but once in a while we’d splurge on a nicer vacation.
I agree with PoF about the Dos Equis thing. 🙂
Mr. Tako says
Great post Money Wiz! I’ve always said that the best way to find joy in life is to actually remove important things for your life.
Try not eating for 4 days. On the 5th day when you eat again, a McDonald’s hamburger is going to taste might f**king fantastic.
Sick of your crappy car? Try walking everywhere for a month. You’ll love having that car when you’re done.
More money isn’t the answer to happiness. Reminding yourself how to appreciate the simple things in life does wonders for happiness.
Tracking Happiness says
Great read. I never knew the guy became famous just for being on television with a mighty beard and a hot girl. I wonder if it was set up lol.
The world is filled with evidence against money making you happy, both anecdotal and scientific. Like you, I think perspective is everything. If you are prepared to accept money doesn’t = happiness then you see that eveidence everywhere. However, if you are still on the hedonic treadmill you will see only that other have more than you and seem to be so much happier. I’ve posted a few topics on money and happiness, this is a fascinating topic and an interesting study on Mr Money Beard.
Shaun - Simple Wealth Playbook says
Great perspective and detail – thanks for sharing. I find regular trips to serve others helps to keep me grounded, and I’d encourage everyone else to do the same. Giving of your time, and seeing other less fortunate places/people first hand always bring me back to reality. I’d never heard of hedonic adaptation, but I like the reference! Thanks again
I’ve definitely found myself at the bottom of the “buying new stuff to make me happy” hole. It’s not a great place to be when you can’t really swing the budget for it. But I can definitely tell you that when I stopped feeling like I needed a new phone every month, a new TV every year, and a new computer every 3 years I started feeling a lot happier about life in general.
I love the perspective offered by the article and the comments.
There’s also a study or two that shows most people are happier making $40,000 a year if their peers all make $30,000 than they would be if they made $80,000 while their peers all make $90,000. How we feel about $X is relative to our experience and our peers. This makes choosing friends an important task.
I’d also note personally that I can find joy in the same things from another perspective. It helps to let other people meaningfully in your life. It doesn’t make me a ’10’ to ride my bike to the end of the block, but it might if I do it for the first few times with my son. I’ve spent some time investing in my own cooking skills and so has my wife, so most local restaurants in a small town don’t send me to ’10’ on food. It can be awfully nice to relax and be served, however.
The Money Wizard says
Fascinating study Robert, and great perspective too. In the end, it’s really all about people.
Tm Supportwave says
Great perspective! I like the reference and this is a fascinating topic. I think money isn’t the answer to happiness.