The Agony of Getting Everything You Want

Newly minted billionaire Markus Persson of Minecraft fame (if you don’t know what Minecraft is, […]

R-J Heijmen / 8.31.15

Newly minted billionaire Markus Persson of Minecraft fame (if you don’t know what Minecraft is, ask any boy aged 8-12) is not happy. A series of tweets from early Saturday morning went as follows:

4:48am: The problem with getting everything is you run out of reasons to keep trying, and human interaction becomes impossible due to imbalance.

tumblr_nknc0fx4fl1s4bcbxo1_12804:50am: Hanging out in ibiza with a bunch of friends and partying with famous people, able to do whatever I want, and I’ve never felt more isolated.

4:51am: In sweden, I will sit around and wait for my friends with jobs and families to have time to do shit, watching my reflection in the monitor.

4:52am: When we sold the company, the biggest effort went into making sure the employees got taken care of, and they all hate me now.

4:53am: Found a great girl, but she’s afraid of me and my life style and went with a normal person instead.

4:59am: I would Musk and try to save the world, but that just exposes me to the same type of assholes that made me sell minecraft again.

Poor Markus! I mean it. There’s a moment towards the end of the wonderful Gene Wilder version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1971) when Willy Wonka turns to Charlie and asks “You know what happened to the boy who got everything he ever wanted? He lived happily ever after!” As Persson has discovered, nothing could be further from the truth.

In her 2003 commencement speech at UC-Berkeley (GO BEARS!), Anne Lamott observed the following:

I got a lot of things that society had promised would make me whole and fulfilled — all the things that the culture tells you from preschool on will quiet the throbbing anxiety inside you — stature, the respect of colleagues, maybe even a kind of low-grade fame. The culture says these things will save you, as long as you also manage to keep your weight down. But the culture lies.

Of course, she’s not the first to note that getting what you always thought you wanted won’t make you happy, as so many mid-life crisis sufferers have discovered. And yet we don’t seem to get it. In a recent Pew survey of 18-25 year-olds, 81% responded that being rich was their #1 or #2 life goal, with 51% saying the same thing for being famous. Just last night, my own 10 year-old son said that he only wanted to be “a little famous.” Praise God! We are a culture that worships at the altar of exceptionalism, with dire consequences. If you need any proof of this, check out the list of best picture nominees from this year’s Oscars. There is only one movie that does not center on the life of an extraordinary person – someone who is the absolute best at what they do.


The ambition of our culture, the obsession with wealth and fame, is a double-edged sword. The many who will never attain it will be haunted by a sense of worthlessness, which contributes to anxiety, depression and suicide. To those few who do, they will find, as Markus Persson did, that it ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.

The truth is that we have no idea what will make us happy. Contentment is always a gift and not an achievement. I once asked a group of newly married people to raise their hands if their spouse was just about the opposite of what they always thought they wanted. It was 100%. For this reason, I always tell single people that if they have a mental image of their perfect mate, to blow it up ASAP.

In the end, as we seek contentment in this life, I find the 2nd and 3rd stanzas of Reinhold Niebuhr’s famous Serenity Prayer exceptionally helpful:

Living one day at a time, Enjoying one moment at a time, Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, Taking, as Jesus did, This sinful world as it is, Not as I would have it, Trusting that You will make all things right, If I surrender to Your will, So that I may be reasonably happy in this life, And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Maybe Markus was on to something with his final tweet from early Saturday morning, after 17 minutes of reflection:

5:16am: People who made sudden success are telling me this is normal and will pass. That’s good to know! I guess I’ll take a shower then!