“Money does not buy happiness.”
How many times have you heard this? Lots of times, I am willing to bet. Our culture sends us two very conflicting messages about money. The first, a message that tells us money is everything. Celebrity culture, the rich and famous, Wall Street greediness, the twinge of jealousy we feel when we see a house bigger than ours, a car newer than our car.
Then, there’s the completely opposite message, the one that treats wealth – and the wealthy – with suspicion, that works hard to teach us NOT to envy them, to see the limitations that wealth has and the potential trouble it can cause. In some families, it gets to the point of feeling that money is somehow dirty, that it’s not a proper topic for conversation, that flaunting what you’ve got is tacky and that being poor is almost a virtue.
Can We Agree That Money Is Important?
But money IS important, and here, today, I’d like to get all of us to agree on this one basic assumption. Whatever we feel about money, people with money, or the pursuit of money, can we at least agree that money IS important? Very important, even? We can go into more detail later on, try to define what exactly it means, to say that money is important, or what kind of money is important. But for now, will you agree with me that dismissing money as unnecessary is a mistake?
It’s Not Having What You Want. It’s Wanting What You’ve Got
“Wealth consists not in having great possessions but in having few wants” is one of my favorite quotes. Having few wants is probably the best insurance against greediness, because it’s human nature to keep wanting more, and the more you have, the more you want.
It’s a simple psychological process: you have the basics (shelter, food, clothes) and are fairly happy, although you do worry about dealing with emergency situations; you become wealthier, and you enjoy the extra luxuries very much for a few months, but then it becomes your new “normal.” Now, surrounded by wealthier people, you look around, and you feel unhappy. They have more than you. You want more. But when you get more, you’re unhappy again.
It’s a never-ending cycle and this is what explains why so many ultra-wealthy celebrities keep doing commercials. They have so much, but they always want more. They never get to a point where, if offered a million dollars for doing a commercial, they simply say, “You know what? No, thank you. I have enough.”
Money is an Important Tool
Another quote that I like: “Money on its own is neither good nor bad. It is a means to an end.” Again, this is not to say that money is not important. It is to say that money is not “dirty,” but money is also not everything. Money is a tool that enables you to protect yourself, to build yourself and your family a better life, and to give back to your community.
Money is important because having money means that you will not be destitute. It means that you are not dependent on being employed, living paycheck to paycheck and having to put up with abuse by your boss because you badly need your job.
Money is important because it enables you to have more control over your life, more freedom to carve out your own path and less constraints on your choices. How many of us are stuck in a career or in a job we hate, but cannot afford to lose, because losing our job would mean losing our house and our health insurance? My own mother, a brilliant young woman with a bright future and scholarships to the best universities, back in the sixties, had to give up her dreams, forget about college and start working as a clerk because her parents were so poor and needed her to support them. It’s a sad story of an unrealized potential, and the only reason she did not realize her potential was that her parents were poor.
Money is important because it means being able to give your children the best – the best education, the best health care, the best start in life. Of course, when it comes to kids, money can also greatly spoil them, so it’s up to wealthy parents to find a way to give their kids the best, while still teaching them the value of money and not giving them so much excess that their view on life is forever skewed.
Money is important because it means less financial worries. Sure, the wealthy worry too – they worry about losing their fortune, for example. But this is not the same as worrying about being able to put food on the table.
Money is important because it enables you to give back to your community, to pick the charities and causes you believe in and support them.
Money is important because having money means that life is not a constant effort at keeping your head above the water. Having money enables you to live life to the fullest, enjoy adventures and textures and tastes, make the most of the ~80 years you’ve got. This paragraph, more than any of the above paragraphs, is about luxuries – money buys you a more comfortable lifestyle – but is that such a bad thing? Humans are hardwired to seek warmth, safety and comfort, and having money is a great way to get those.
I Rest My Case
What do you think? Can we agree that money is important, or do you object to any of the points I’ve raised?
David’s Note: I completely agree that money IS important. Though more is not always worth the trade off, it’s incredibly comforting to know that you are well on your way to financial freedom.