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Defining The Good Life

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CBS/PHOTODISC
Steve and Michelle Kirsch have all the trappings of wealth: the custom built house, the art collection and all the computerized gadgetry befitting someone who has started and sold three Silicon Valley tech companies.

"The first one sold for $10 million, the second one sold for $500 million and the last one sold for about $4 billion," Steve tells CBS News Correspondent Rita Braver.

So Steve decided to start a foundation, giving away tens of millions of dollars to charity.

"He said, 'You know, wow. Let's, let's do something incredible with this.' You know, you only need so much really to live comfortably," Michelle says.

And the Kirsch's say that underwriting projects such as an energy efficient environmental center at a local community college has made life richer.

"The whole idea is to take, take what you have and make the best of it," Steve says. "And if you're not enjoying yourself then you ought to be doing something different."

And research shows that people like Steve Kirsch who give money away are happier.

What's more, despite popular notions that suggest the key to personal fulfillment is acquiring more money to buy more and fancier stuff, it turns out that "as long as you're not in poverty, money has nothing to do with whether you find happiness or fulfillment in life," explains author Greg Easterbrook.

Easterbrook wrote "The Progress Paradox," a study of American prosperity in the past 50 years.

"Surveys show that Americans are no happier than they were in the year 1950 even though our house size has doubled since then. Our income has tripled since then," Easterbrook explains.

Rich or poor, about 60 percent of all Americans say we are happy, but not because of our net worth.

Easterbrook says, "If your goal is to get a new iPod or a new boom box, you know how to do that. If, instead, your goal is to find a meaningful philosophy of life, that may be much more fulfilling, but it's also a lot more work."

Just ask Brett and Denise Isenhower, now wandering the vineyards of Walla Walla, Wash., where they fled from their lives as hospital administrators in Denver.

"One of my offices was basically a janitor's closet and the fire officer for the hospital made me keep the door closed at all times," Brett recalls. "So I'm locked in this cubical, tears streaming down my eyes thinking 'My God, I'm a lousy employee and I have no desire to work for other people ever again.'"

Today they are owners of a fledgling winery. But pursuing the good life has come at a high financial price. They used to taken in about a $120,000 a year. This year they cleared $30,000.

Nevertheless, their fantasy is not about making more money.

"I dream about how I can make the best product I can and bring joy to peoples' lives and that's what makes it fun," Brett admits.

He continues, "We get plenty of Microsoft people that come over and they say 'Oh, you know, boy, I'd love to do this.' I was like we all wake up every day and you can. We choose the rest of our life at that particular moment. And, and there are no excuses. Either you choose to or not."

Of course, lots of the rest of us dream about winning the lottery to attain the good life, even though we've all read about winners who are miserable with their newfound wealth.

"Because the things that we all want the most: good relationships with our family and friends, a sense of purpose in life, these things don't have a price. You can't buy them in a store," Easterbrook says.

But money doesn't have to make us unhappy.

Donna Anderson carefully shops the grocery store sales. "Some of our favorite potato chips are on sale so I'm going to grab a bag," Donna says.

Just a few years ago, this former teacher's aide and her new husband, Andy, a retired police chief, were struggling to make it month to month. In 2003, she won the Oregon lottery, worth $18.2 million.

"We couldn't, we could not fathom that," Andy says. "What was the -- the odds were what?" he asks his wife.

"The odds were 6, 153, 759 against us," Donna answers laughing.

And they have also beat the odds on being happy, keeping close ties with friends and family. The Andersons now draw $728,000 a year. They are still careful with their money, though they've indulged in a new house and some antique cars.

Is it a dream come true?

"Absolutely. Well, actually my knight in shining armor walked into my life. That was the first dream and that's the truth," Donna says. "And this was just icing on the cake and it's been awesome."

Of course we wondered if the Andersons still played the lottery.

"I do, I play the lottery because I'm going to win again," Donna says. "See, I'm going to win again and this time I'm going to win Powerball. That's hard to win though, you know. Now I do win a few bucks here and there, nothing big, but one of these days I'm going to hit it."