Karl Rabeder, the Austrian businessman who last year decided to give away his large fortune, because he realized money didn’t make him happy, now lives on just $1,350 a month.
It was one of the most shocking headlines of 2010. Karl Rabeder a millionaire from Telfs, Austria, announced he was in the process of selling his luxury properties and businesses because he had realized money is counterproductive and actually prevented him from being happy. His goal was to “have nothing left, absolutely nothing”. Mr Rabeder, who came from a poor family where the rules were to work more and achieve material things, confessed that for a long time he believed more wealth automatically brings more happiness. But lately he kept hearing a voice telling him to stop what he was doing and begin his real life. He started to feel like a slave working for things he didn’t actually want or need.
Karl Rabered’s new home (Photo © Spiegel)
For a while he didn’t have the courage to give up all the wealth he and his family had become used to, but he finally made the big decision during a holiday in Hawaii. Karl and his wife spent all the money they could actually spend, but realized they hadn’t met a single real person throughout their stay. They felt like they were all actors; “the staff played the role of being friendly and the guests played the role of being important and nobody was real,” the former businessman remembers thinking. He also experienced feelings of guilt on gliding trips over African and South American countries and says he began feeling like there was “a connection between our wealth and their poverty”. He suddenly realized that if he wasn’t going to give up his consumerist lifestyle then, he wouldn’t do it for the rest of his life.
Interior of Karl Rabeder’s Former House (Photo © DPA)
Rabeder raffled his beautiful Alpine home, selling 21,999 lottery tickets for €99 ($134) each, to people who hoped to once live in such a luxurious home, sold his vacation house in the Provence, his collection of gliders, an Audi A8, and the interior decoration business that helped him make his fortune. He set up an organization called MyMicroCredit, which helps people in third world countries, and transferred all the money in its accounts.
But this all happened last year, and I wondered how the former millionaire was getting along these days, after renouncing all his material possessions. Luckily, I came across an interview the 48-year-old gave for German newspaper Spiegel-Online, in which he explains how his life has improved since he adopted a more frugal lifestyle. Asked if his new life is as good as he imagined it, Karl Rabeder said it’s “better”. Looking at a photo of him, taken last year, standing in front of his old home, he says he looked ten years older, sadder and more tired than he does now.
The Old Karl Rabeder (Photo © DPA)
Rabeder admits money is a great thing in the beginning, because it offers real freedom. It allowed him to pursue his passion for gliding and pay for his studies, which his parents could not afford. However, he now realizes he made the mistake of thinking that having ten times an amount of money would make him ten times happier, which simply wasn’t true. When focusing only on financial success, one lacks the very thing that makes him human, the former millionaire believes. When he was rich people considered him a piggybank, and were only interested in interacting with him because of how much money he had, not because of who he was. Asked if there was anything he missed from his former life, Rabeder answered “time”. He spent 20 years living a life that didn’t really fit him.
Karl Rabeder used to live in a 321 square-meter house in the Tyrolean Telfs, but has now moved in a 19 square-meter wooden cabin, and lives on just €1,000 ($1350) a month. He is a lifestyle coach and gives seminars on themes like “Happiness can be learned” or “Enough money to be happy” to people willing to listen to his arguments, and has even published a book called “He who has nothing can give everything”. He doesn’t make as much money as before, but some would say there is still something left from the businessman he used to be. They would be wrong, because while Rabeder feels good about pursuing a career that’s fun and good for him, instead of sitting on the terrace every day with his feet in the sun, he donates all excess funds to his MyMicroCredit organization.
The new Karl Rabeder (Photo © Karl Rabeder)
Although he has done what other businessmen perceive as unthinkable, Karl Rabeder says he doesn’t judge those who decide to keep their wealth. “I do not have the right to give any other person advice. I was just listening to the voice of my heart and soul,” he said.