Acceptance is the key to happiness

When it came to money, I never wanted less. I always wanted more. So I was surprised to see that someone who has millions in the bank wants to hobnob with the working class and live the simple life.

British actress Keira Knightley, at the tender age of 29, has more cash than those Goldman Sachs hotshots who strut around in Brioni suits. She’s one of the richest young people in England, estimated to be worth $50 million, and yet she limits herself to a $50,000 salary.

I don’t know how far $50,000 goes in England, but I’m sure it can’t pay for her wardrobe and a London apartment. You would think that it must just be her beer allowance. Yet she told Glamour magazine, “I think living an expensive lifestyle means you can’t hang out with people who don’t live that lifestyle. It alienates you.”

It’s hard to imagine Keira Knightley as “ordinary” with all that money, fame and beauty. Does this mean she’d go out for chili dogs and martinis at Seaside Park? Would she sit in the bleachers at Yankee Stadium? (Box seats would wipe out that $50,000 fast.) Would she visit the Orange Country Fair to watch the tractor pull? I guess she can’t afford to socialize with Kim Kardashian, Kanye West and baby North.

The other international celebrity who wants to be “ordinary” is Pope Francis. He drives a 1984 Renault, wears beat-up loafers, does his own laundry, lives in a one-bedroom suite and shuns papal pomp and circumstance. He loves hanging out with the little people and he loves to taunt the big people.

Francis has made a habit of reprimanding clerics who are lavish spenders, particularly bishops who live in mansions and savor the finer things in life. He suspended the Bishop of Bling in Germany, who treated himself to a $20,000 bathtub and a $43-million home improvement. (What kind of priest needs a $20,000 bathtub?) So they’d better cool it if they wear expensive French cufflinks and patent-leather loafers or own luxury cars and penthouses.

The pope, who has also criticized excessive CEO compensation and global income inequality, took Francis of Assisi as his patron — a 13th Century Italian saint who was heir to the family textile business but snubbed it all to live in poverty, even though he could have been the Ralph Lauren of his day. Instead, he became a “fool for Christ.”

Francis of Assisi has inspired many others, including recording artist Rich Mullins, a singer and songwriter who died in a car accident at age 41. Mullins, best known for his song Awesome God, was so obsessed with living a simple, unpretentious life that he took an average worker’s salary and gave the rest of his money to charity.

Mullins, who is the subject of the movie Ragamuffin, was influenced by his Quaker roots. He never knew how much he was worth because profits from his record sales and concerts were distributed to the poor.

The rest of us find it hard to follow St. Francis or even Keira Knightley, although we’d sure like to get our hands on a few of her millions. The truth, however, is that most Americans have less craving for excessive compensation than those overpaid CEOs, who insist they deserve what they make. Over half of the people surveyed in CNNMoney’s American Dream poll said less than $100,000 would make them happy. (I doubt any of them live in Manhattan or San Francisco.)

Almost a quarter of the people polled said between $50,000 and $74,999 would be sufficient. A previous study by Princeton concluded that “emotional well-being” increased with income but only to about $75,000, which probably means most of us realize money can’t buy happiness. That’s a far cry from the $27.5 million Jamie Dimon makes every year at JPMorgan Chase.

Twenty-three percent said they could be happy with between $100,000 and $199,999 while 10% said anything under $30,000 would be fine. And 6% said money doesn’t buy happiness.

Whenever I was obsessed with what other people had, my mother always told me, “Be happy with what you’ve got.” There’s a word for that. It’s called “acceptance,” and it’s the true source of happiness regardless of your income.

Joe Pisani may be reached at