Steve Jobs: Money and Happiness
Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Inc., was a man of wealth and power whose companies played a key role in the advent of the modern digital age as we know it. In a culture that links prosperity to happiness, we may be inclined to reflect on Jobs’ successes and consider his life a happy one. However, what if we judged his life by a different criterion that undermines the presumption that wealth and power grant happiness?
In “The History of Herodotus”, written by Herodotus, the sage Solon offers a competing philosophy for judging happiness. Whereas Croesus believes himself to be the happiest of men because he is wealthy and powerful, Solon argues that he should consider himself only fortunate as anyone’s circumstances can suddenly change and bring them to ruin and an ultimately unhappy life (par 32-35). Solon reasoned that no one’s life should be judged happy until there can be a retrospective accounting of their life and death (par 35). According to Solon, we cannot simply look at the wealth and power that Steve Jobs came to have. Instead, we must consider a wider criterion and consider Jobs’ broader life and his successes, struggles, how he died, and how the greater community viewed his life and passing. Solon states, “He who unites the greatest number of advantages, and retaining them to the day of his death, then dies peaceably, that man alone, sire, is, in my judgment, entitled to bear the name of ‘happy’” (par 35). In the context of Solon’s philosophy, I believe that Steve Jobs lived a happy life because he successfully brought together numerous advantages that allowed him to have a comfortable, dignified life, a good death, and because his life inspired the admiration and praise of many.
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Throughout Steve Jobs’ life, he excelled in taking advantage of the opportunities around him and in creating opportunities. In an obituary written by John Markoff titled, “Apple’s Visionary Redefined Digital Age,” Markoff notes that Jobs’ forged beneficial relationships and secured himself opportunities for growth and advancement from an early age. In eighth grade, Jobs won himself a summer internship at Hewlett-Packard after he called the co-founder of the company about a missing assembly component (Markoff par 28). In his school years, he sought out learning opportunities and mentors who helped teach him about electronics and communications technology. This led to his first profitable collaboration in high school when future Apple Inc. co-founder Mr. Wozniak, a mentor, and Jobs built and sold devices used for making free phone calls (Markoff par 33). A year before starting the Apple company, Jobs and Wozniak attended computer homebrew hobbyist meetings and Jobs soaked up as much information as he could (Markoff par 36-37). Seeing the potential of home computing and the start of a new industry emerging, they started Apple Inc. and Jobs soon won the company their first major investments needed to begin production of Apple computers. Sales of these computers made Jobs a wealthy and influential man.
He used his capacity to make executive decisions and his ability to perceive the future electronics market to make Apple a continued commercial success. Jobs continually worked to create relationships with experts, funders, and the best and brightest in his field to contribute to his projects, forward his goals, and grow his businesses. Even when the company or certain products struggled, Jobs would switch gears and look for new advantages. For example, when he had a falling out with Apple and separated himself from the company for a while, he used his past monetary success and notoriety to secure Pixar because he perceived the potential in digital graphics (Markoff par 11). By surrounding himself with experts in the electronics and communications fields, Jobs again perceived the potential opportunities at hand and he organized a team to create the first iPods and iPhone following his return to Apple. These products were astounding successes and they secured Jobs and Apple positions as leaders of the digital communications revolution. Jobs complimented his skills with the skills of those around him. He united mentors, experts, and creatives to build strong, successful, and influential companies. By bringing together a diverse number of advantages, Jobs’ fulfilled a main criterion for a happy life set forth by Solon. These advantages and opportunities allowed him to live a life of greater ease and comfort.
Solon tells us that a happy life is one of few struggles, good fortune, and comfort, complete with the blessings of having a healthy family. Overall, it appears that Steve Jobs lived the majority of his life free of trauma or extreme hardship. In his obituary, little is offered to suggest the contrary. He was adopted into a household headed by a skilled tradesman in the 1950s, which indicates a middle-class upbringing (Markoff par 26). He was able to pursue his interests throughout his life and the struggles he encountered never brought him to complete despair or ruin. The success of his companies allowed him to fulfill his and his family’s basic needs while employing thousands. After the success of the first Apple computers, Jobs stood on secure financial ground and was able to experience the numerous benefits and comforts that being wealthy enables. Compared to most other Americans, Jobs was able to live a life of luxury. Many of the challenges and struggles of his later life were optional in that he chose to continue working instead of retiring. Outside of his career, Jobs had many friendships as well as a wife and children. His family was healthy and he was able to provide for them. For the majority of his life, Steve Jobs was quite fortunate and these positive aspects of his life stayed with him until his final breath.
Although Solon states that a happy man is one who is “a stranger to disease,” he emphasized that a heroic, honorable, or peaceful death is a good death. (par 35). Jobs was not a stranger to disease as he was diagnosed and would eventually succumb to pancreatic cancer. Still, I do not believe that this fact alone should override all the other considerations of Solon’s philosophy and cause us to judge Jobs’ life as unhappy. The survival rate for pancreatic cancer is low and most people die soon after being diagnosed. Jobs lived the majority of his life in a state of health and was able to survive for many years more than expected. I view Jobs final years as heroic because he persisted and stayed involved in working towards the betterment of his companies and his family throughout his hard-fought battle with cancer.
That perseverance is honorable to me. Although he died from the illness, he was never brought to complete ruin and he maintained the other benefits he had accrued for himself and those around him. A short life is not enough to make Solon judge a life unhappy, as he calls the Argive brothers happy and they died young (par 33). Dying painfully also is not enough to discount happiness, as Solon points to Tellus of Athens as being the happiest of men and he died on the battlefield (par 32). It is hard to say whether Steve Jobs died peaceably, however, in an article written by Jack Shafer titled, “The Apotheosis of Steve Jobs”, I’m led to believe that Jobs would have been satisfied with the life he lived. The article quotes Jobs’ as saying, “I want to put a ding in the universe” and “There is no reason not to follow your heart” (Shafer par 8). Steve Jobs certainly had an impact on the world. If he was satisfied with his life, his passing would have been more peaceful. Another quote from Jobs says, “Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent” (Shafer par 8). This could be further indication that he found some acceptance and made peace with death. Although he succumb to illness, Jobs fulfillment of Solon’s main criterion for happiness remained.
Through the examples of Tellus and the Argive brothers, Solon suggests it is important for an individual’s life and death to be deemed worthy of honors, praise, and remembrance by their community when evaluating if they lived a happy life or not. As we look at how the world has reacted to Steve Jobs’ life and death, it’s clear that he earned himself a place of dignification. His life and accomplishments are generally viewed favorably and with respect and admiration. Within the business and technology communities, he was praised as a revolutionary genius. Even his detractors admit that he was an extremely intelligent, resourceful, and effective leader whose businesses and life carried tremendous weight. In an article titled, “Steve Jobs Was A Jerk. Good for Him”, Gene Marks writes that although Jobs could be abrasive and controversial, he nonetheless was a brilliant leader and who deserved the praise and homages he received (par 2-3). Following his death, Shafer notes how people “[lit] candles and [tossed] flowers… at Apple Stores” in remembrance (par 1). Jobs’ success and leadership brought himself and his family honors and his life and achievements will be long remembered.
In reviewing Solon’s criterion for a happy life, Steve Jobs life should be considered a happy one. He was able to unite a number of diverse advantages and opportunities and this allowed him to create and maintain a dignified and fortunate life. His life won the praise of the masses and he left behind an enduring and extraordinary legacy.