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10 things that money can't buy
Siddhartha Sharma
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August 07, 2008

This rich miser... but you have heard that one before. No? Alright. This rich miser is about to die, so he tells his family to lug up a suitcase full of cash to the terrace. Says he will grab it on the way up. So he 'cashes his cheque', as the saying goes. The wife goes upstairs and finds -- what else -- the suitcase still where she left it.

"The fool," she says, shaking her head. "I told him we should keep it in the basement."

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Here is how mankind tells money, quoting from the Book of Job: "Thus far shalt thou go, and no farther." Here are the ten things money can't buy.

1. Family and friends

The greenbacks won't bring you any closer to your family if you are far too busy earning them. Nor will they guarantee your family understands you at all. (Mummy's cooking is a sub-group in this 'things you can't buy anywhere' list.)

There are exceptions to this. You might just pay off irritating in-laws to stay out of your hair, or order a hit on them. But in the normal course...

With friends, it works the same way, only more so. If your wealth draws them, they aren't real. If they don't stay, or your life has no place for them, you are on your own. With real friends, you've almost got it made.

2. Home

Get married, start a family, have kids. Will they grow up into fine people? Have you got the hang of father/motherhood? Is your home really your castle, a cocoon of comfort? Or is it just a house with people in it? The card really stops here.

3. Happiness

Alright, cliched, but it gets truer as the years pass. There is always something missing whether you are on the beach at Algarve or adding the newest antique wood furniture to your collection. If you can't get at the root of it, everything you can get is merely a narcotic.

4. Peace

Here is the big one, ever since they started asking smart questions to beauty contestants. The small peace is inside your head and that is elusive enough to come by, for which you have antacids and Ketorol, which only push it away for another day. Also think world peace and other big matters. What if they nuke the city? Kidding.

5. Immortality

If you can make it for three decades on top of the Forbes list, that is a measure of fame. But to be truly immortal requires other things, other ways of striving. Ever wondered how some dirt-poor hardscrabble guys have instant recall value centuries afterwards? And literal immortality is yet several pages farther in human civilisation's sci-fi book. Best you can do is get a ticket on Sir Richard Branson's [Images] space taxi.  

6. Respect

You can smirk at the poor ants down below on the street, but they will pull faces behind your back if you are the sort who is perpetually asking for it. Dignity is the most fragile of public possessions. And God help you if they know about the skeletons in your closet or that you were called Stinky as a kid. This is one asset you really need to work on all the time to earn...

7. Talent

Another cliched, misused, misunderstood word, like creativity, and maybe no one knows what it is anymore, but you are either born with it or not. No way you can get a bill of sale on this one. What you do with it is of course your business. History has been very frequently marked with astonishing examples of creativity outdoing... well, money and everything else. Possibly the best example is Lenoardo da Vinci and a certain portrait of a woman. He took 16 years to paint it, did not bother to name it, packed it with himself wherever he travelled in Europe, refused to sell it to kings and counts. It was ultimately sold by his assistant after he died. Someone down the line decided to call it the Mona Lisa [Images].

At the other end of the example is Vincent Van Gogh. All that talent and he sold just one painting of the nearly thousand he made, struggling with poverty all along. Didn't make a difference either way: in 1990, his Portrait of Dr Gachet went under the hammer for a current equivalent of $ 136.1 million, making it the fourth most expensive painting ever sold.

8. Health

Sure healthcare costs being the way they are, you need all the money you can lay your hands on when it comes to facing the bills and pills and the doctor scaring you with a dozen different possible diseases you have never heard about. But, viewed sanely, a good efficient treatment is not that much of a substitute for a good healthy life. Isn't it better not to need healthcare in the first place?

9. Love

It matters, that little empty feeling when you are sitting with a Sauvignon Blanc (for choice) on your balcony on a Saturday evening and twenty sober thoughts in your head, and no one to tell them to. That feeling of intense loneliness can neither be bought off, papered over or told to keep quiet and leave the room. Someone says, "Money can't buy love, but with all the other things it can, I'll give love a miss." Your call. You still have the Sauvignon Blanc...

10. Character

In case it matters. It is a sneaky creature, goes by other strange names like virtue and righteousness and at one time, if we remember reading correctly, a certain generation used to call it "true wealth". We don't really know whether it is around in these times but if you are looking to have it, it has to come from within. Or some such thing...

Meanwhile, enjoy what you have, but as John Buchan says, "Sit easy on your comforts."

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