Reflections on wealth and happiness in a material world

INSIGHT

It has long been considered that wealth, or an abundance of it, is a key piece in the ever-complex jigsaw of a happy life.  Money pays for exotic holidays, the smell of a newly purchased car and the warm cup of tea on a chilly winter evening. It pays the bills, gives us a roof over our heads and paid for the device that has allowed you to read this piece.

Can we live without money? Possibly. Would we live comfortably? Probably not. It is widely accepted that we are moving towards a way of life wherein many of life’s pleasures would be wholly inaccessible without material wealth. Thus, the pursuit of happiness can in part be attributed to building enough wealth to provide for our families and fulfil our dreams.

Whilst we should be striving to live within our means, it can be all too easy to correlate our happiness with the ability to fund our dream lifestyles. As a result, anxieties over having “enough money” can predominate and ultimately control us for most of our lives. Attaching feelings of satisfaction to external factors and comparisons to others is perhaps the greatest weakness of modern society. We can become increasingly preoccupied with a numerical value or physical object and once we reach this goal, we find we are still not satisfied and chase that next milestone. What follows is an unforgiving cycle that continues until we wake up further down the line wondering where the years went. To this end, we must strike a delicate balance between a need for wealth and a desire for more of it.

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t appreciate the influx of wealth attributed to our pursuits and hard work. To the contrary, it would be wholly irresponsible to disregard one’s talents as professional recognition surges, and financial compensation becomes increasingly lucrative. But at what point do we step back and consider ourselves satisfied with where we are? Frankly, the urge to attach our happiness and self-esteem to external factors such as the number of zeroes in our bank account and the material objects we own is the easy way out. It saves us from having to honestly reflect on our innermost wants and desires and overloads the brain with worries and endless false milestones for satisfaction. It is therefore important for one to take a step back and exercise acceptance during these times.

An appreciation of the present moment and acceptance of the past and future can go a long way to alleviating the anxieties we associate with money. There may be a number we need to reach for financial freedom, but this has no reason to be so closely linked to our mental wellbeing. Stressing over a figure will not make that figure change, rather taking us out of the present moment and unable to truly cherish the moments we share with loved ones.

Financial responsibility and living in the moment can go hand in hand, as long as we appreciate the good moments and reflect on our learning opportunities. Life is a wonderful gift, there to be experienced in its full glory. With a focus on the here and now, we can reduce our dependence on money to enjoy life and instead find the beauty in the smallest things. A long walk on a summer’s evening, the birds singing as we wake up for a new day and the laughter of our loved ones – small, yet beautiful moments we can all experience. As long as we are truly “there” to experience them.

To this end, I leave you to reflect on this short story:

The industrialist was horrified to find the fisherman lying beside his boat, smoking his pipe.

“Why aren’t you fishing?” said the industrialist.

“Because I have caught enough fish for the day.” said the fisherman.

“Why don’t you catch some more?”

“What would I do with them?”

“Earn more money. Then you could have a motor fixed to your boat and go into deeper waters and catch more fish. That would bring you money to buy nylon nets, so more fish, more money. Soon you would have enough to buy two boats, even a fleet of boats. Then you could be rich like me.”

“What would I do then?”

“Then you could sit back and enjoy life.”

“What do you think I’m doing now?”

from ‘Timeless Simplicity’ by John Lane

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