"I've never seen a sad person on a jet ski."
While the lighthearted reply to the question, "Does money buy happiness?" got a laugh out of me and was clearly all in good fun, I'll admit it also got me thinking.
After all, I'm writing at the end of a 6 week holiday that's taken me from the fairy-land Black Forest in Germany to the coral reefs around a fairly inaccessible Caribbean island called Providence. That money could be compounding. Surely, the only justification for such expenditure is that it buys happiness, right?
If you look beyond the superficial facts, the real reason for my journey betrays a deeper truth. I travelled to celebrate my father's 60th birthday with him, and to visit two of my best and oldest friends. One lives in a hipster suburb of Berlin, the other in Ecuador - but we met up in Colombia.
If anything, what my trip proves is that for me, personal relationships are the greatest source of my happiness. Money is just the means by which I can spend more time with, and do more for, the people who I love most.
And in an oblique sense, that may well include you. There's no doubt that humans have the capacity to love people they've never met. There are many many ways people express their love for people they've never met. Old men and women plant trees. People give money and time to help those who need it. Indeed, governmental programs like free healthcare and education express concern not just for society, but for individuals who need help from others.
Love for strangers and even future generations is also the driving force of ethical investing, and the main reason I'll always prefer a company like Cochlear Limited (ASX: COH) over a company like Woolworths Limited (ASX: WOW).
Woolworths may well be a "great business" but the cold hard truth of the matter is that the company is also the largest operator of poker machines in the country.
I could barely imagine a "better" business model. A poker machine costs very little to operate, and is specifically designed to take advantage of human psychology. Pokies literally take money off people. But it's worse than something for nothing. Thanks to human irrationality, gambling addicts are left with the impression they can win back their losses.
Companies like Aristocrat Leisure Limited (ASX: ALL) pride themselves on designing machines that keep people "playing" for longer. Imagine if the machine flashed the word "loser" and made a loud sound every time a spin failed to pay off? I don't think people would play as long. And the longer "players" stay, the more money Woolworths makes. And for the record, I'm not arguing for legal regulation against pokies. I'm just acknowledging they hurt people.
Because I care about people I've never met, the knowledge that children whose parents are addicted to pokies suffer multiple disadvantages bothers me. They simply go without. They go without their parents' attention, they go without trips to the football, and in severe cases they go without the basics. Evidence from 2011 suggests there is concern about the impact of pokies across the political spectrum, even if there's no agreement on how to mitigate the harm.
And here's the kicker, Cochlear is also a great company. But unlike Woolworths, the bi-product of its pursuit of profit is to improve people's lives. Woolworths leaves kids in poverty, Cochlear gives deaf kids the ability to hear again.
In my book, the whole point of having money is so that I don't need to hurt people to make more money. Because if you elevate profit over people, are you really rich at all?
Every day that I can afford to care about people that I've never met, including people that aren't even born yet, then I'm already wealthy, no matter what the value of my share portfolio. That's why I advocate for ethical investment, and that's why I try to practice ethical investing myself.
The bottom line is this, whether you're an ethical investor or you express it in other ways (and I acknowledge there are plenty):
The true measure of wealth is the capacity to love.
Nothing on this website is every advice. I do not hold an AFSL.