Why does it seem as if money is the measure of all things in life? I’m not saying that that’s what I believe – only that it’s the clear signal that comes from our culture. It’s widely believed for example, that whatever the problem is, money is the answer. There is a certified worship of the rich and famous, and an obsession with building wealth, acquiring things, and retiring early. If you don’t buy into that kind of thinking, you’re dismissed as being hopelessly lost. After all, if you’re so smart, how come you’re not rich? But are we really happy with that kind of existence? If not, do we dare to contemplate ending the money chase by creating a less money-centric life?
These questions are more relevant now than at any other time in our lives. In my opinion, the biggest story of the 21st century is the decline of the middle class. While I think that most of the middle class have an understanding (based on real life experience) that the decline is real, I’m not sure that we’ve reached the point where we are accepting it, and the implications that it has for our lives. It’s a game changer – it means that the vast majority of the middle class can no longer afford the trappings of the “good life”.
The top 5%, 2%, or 1% can and will continue living the lifestyles of the rich and famous. And they will continue to extol its virtues to the remaining 95% to 99% of the population who can no longer afford it. This is creating a tension in the middle class that has us struggling between striving to be prosperous, while confronting the reality of an economic landscape where that goal is increasingly difficult to obtain.
If you’re middle class, it may be time to re-define life and everything that you believe is important. If you don’t, you can fall into the trap of believing that your life is empty because you‘ll never be rich.
But that doesn’t have to be anyone’s reality.
Money really doesn’t buy happiness
There is much that money can do and, in general, things do tend to go at least a little better when you have at least some extra. But at the same time, it really is true that money doesn’t buy happiness. Think of it this way… if money and happiness really are the same thing, then a little bit of money is good, and a lot is even better. Question: where does that cycle end? Does it end?
It actually sets you up to live your life in a Catch-22 where no amount of money is ever enough. If you set your sights on Level X, you then need to go on to Level X-plus. Is it any wonder that so many people participating in the money chase are dealing with unhappiness and depression? It’s a game that cannot be won, because there is no finish line.
Yet that’s precisely the game that the world plays, and wants us to play too. You always need to make more money. Your investments must always go higher. Your retirement plan must always be bigger. Your house must always rise in value.
Sound familiar? You probably read, hear and see versions of this thinking every day. The message is relentless. If one or more of these components of financial success fail, we fall into despair. Alas, only money can save us from a money problem.
Have you already forfeited your soul?
In Mark 8:36, Jesus asks the question, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”. I don’t think that most of us seriously consider this question, or when we do, we think of it as applying to other people.
For example, we might think of it as relating to some billionaire captain of industry who owns factories staffed with child labor, and dumping toxic waste in local rivers – all for higher profits. But no, Jesus poses the question to us all, and to no one in particular – how much are you willing to sacrifice for money, for comfort, for power, for fame?
We may not be members of the rich and famous, but if our dreams and goals in life center around something like a growing six-figure income, a seven figure investment portfolio, a $5 million retirement “nest egg”, and a house that’s worth ten times more than we paid for it, we may have already forfeited our souls.
That doesn’t read like a happy life, but the thinking – or some variation of it – is very typical in much of the Western World, if not the entire world.
You can live a happy, worthwhile life, with very little money
Most of us have been conditioned to believe that we “need” a high-powered career or business, a suburban homestead with all of the relevant trappings, a late-model car, and a great big retirement account.
Has it ever occurred to you that all those might be more of a burden than a benefit? After all, you have to feed money into every one of them. You are owned by a lifestyle that you cannot entirely control.
That doesn’t sound like a happy, worthwhile life to me, yet to many millions of people, life wouldn’t be worth living without them.
What would your life look like if you didn’t have any of that? Consider the possibilities of the life you could have:
- Unrestrained by suburban lifestyle standards, you could live anywhere you choose – even a foreign country.
- You could do work that makes you happy, rather than always straining to make the last dollar.
- You could concentrate on being productive – rather than meeting monetary quotas.
- You wouldn’t have to worry about impressing anyone – not neighbors, not coworkers and not family.
- You can develop a lifestyle that makes you happy at the deepest levels. If that means working four days a week, and having three day weekends – or working part-time seven days a week – so be it.
- You might lose some old friends, but some people might respect you for daring to be different, for doing something they aren’t brave enough to do.
- You’ll meet and become friends with people you never thought you would – inter-dependence makes that happen.
- You might start to see people for who they are, rather than what they have. People start to look different – even better – when you do.
- You might come to appreciate that you are valuable as a person, apart from your possessions.
Because of our conditioning, most of us think we can only do these things if we have a lot of money. In truth, only freedom of thought can make them happen.
Am I suggesting that swearing off money and possessions and taking an oath of poverty is a better way to live? No. But I am suggesting that we need to de-emphasize money if we want to find out who we really are, and even to find true happiness. I’m also suggesting the much of the deterioration we’re witnessing with regard faith, family, community, social structures and morality is directly linked to the concept of money as the measure of all things. As the belief in the importance of money grows, everything else in life weakens.
Money is like a suit of armor; it can protect us from outside threats, but it constrains us at the same time.
On Friday, we’ll cover strategies to live a less money-centric life in Creating a Worthwhile Life – that Doesn’t Rely so Heavily on Money. I hope you’ll come back and check it out.