Recently I was skimming over a blog post. A destitute blogger was discussing her plights and struggles in life. She began saying how it was the little things in life that brought her joy like starting her day with a rich, homemade cup of coffee and a pack of cigarettes. I wanted to comment, “But isn’t it really the little things in life—the little day to day, inexpensive pleasures—not the big purchases—that give us ALL the most pleasure?”
One might say “Well, at least the rich have the constant buffer of financial security where the poor do not have this same sense of security.” This is true. But let’s also think of the word “rich” or “wealthy” as a set of moment to moment experiences that add up and affect one’s life.
Being monetarily rich comes with its own set of problems that take the mind away from the present moment and degrade the chance for contentment. The rich have a lot to lose. They might struggle to find peace in the moment because they must constantly be concerned about maintaining their money and status or worried about losing it.
According to the psychological literature, it is deeply embedded in the psyche to act in ways to “avoid loss”. In fact, humans tend to be more rigged towards avoiding loss than striving for potential gain—and the rich certainly have more to lose—so there’s that.
I also tend to think that the super-rich are inhibited from the enjoyable pursuits of creativity and ingenuity. They have everything they could ever need or want so their minds are prevented from going down more industrious, creative paths. These creative paths are the exact things that produce flow—this “in the zone” sensation which produces a calm, relaxed feeling of wellbeing—a sustained pleasurable state.
Let’s also not forget that there are plenty of wealthy people who are (or were) unbelievably miserable. The late actor and comedian Robin Williams was one of them. There are plenty of Hollywood stars who live lives of persistent addiction, rehabilitation and shattered relationships but their bank accounts indicate they’ve accumulated a significant amount of wealth.
Wealth gives people the ability to smother themselves in constant sources of pleasure—constant dopamine rushes. They can indulge like gluttons on whatever piques their interest at any given moment. The down side is that they quickly acclimate to such heightened levels of excitement. They inevitably set themselves up for a cycle of addiction sooner and more intensely than the rest of us—who can’t always afford the latest drug, prostitute, or designer outfit.
Financial wealth also presents another interesting feature—the diminishment of challenge(s). How hard are you going to strive for something if you can instantly buy it? Of course, all challenges are a two-part package. The first part is where you are striving diligently towards your goal—working long hours, researching, networking, exhibiting patience, asking questions, chalking up lots of physical and intellectual labor. The second part is where you reap the rewards of your challenge, or, you learn something new that may catapult you in a new direction. When you are rich you are sheltered from both the challenge and the reward that come with difficult pursuits.
The point is perhaps wealth should not be thought of simply in monetary/financial terms, but really as an enjoyable/relaxed state that bequeaths a strong, trenchant sense of vitality for the life you are living. By this definition, Robin Williams was not wealthy. No` matter what our income or financial state, we can all experience wealth.
One of the things I was recently thinking about is that thanks to the internet and our ability to binge on entertainment or information—at all hours of the day—people in western societies are beginning to know what it’s like to have no limits. This is a form of wealth or freedom. But it also presents its own problems. You now are forced to think about how you are going to manage your time and make value judgements as to what is most or least important to spend your time on. Sure, this has always been an issue for humans—but even more with screens everywhere that give us access to anything, all the time.
Alright, so I digress. Happiness comes from having goals and pursuing them. It comes from having sufficient challenges in your life that you are in the midst of conquering. How do I know this? Once you buy that car or that house or you find that “dream job” your excitement will soon wear off and you will adjust to where you were before. In other words, pursuing the challenge is where the happiness lies. Now go forth and pursue something slightly challenging today. You will be glad you did.