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Wealth should free us, not enslave us

Jun 24, 2012 Success, Sunday Nation

Picture yourself at the funeral of a very rich person. This person owned much land and had plenty stashed away in plenty of bank accounts. There are many people present at this funeral, as there always are when a wealthy person passes away. The now-expired man of means is being given a fitting send-off.

But here’s the thing: no matter how many thousands of acres of land the late tycoon had in his possession, he is now confined to the only piece of land left to him: the six-foot plot that houses his grave. That tiny plot is all that anyone has at the end, and even that can’t be enjoyed. Those who are cremated don’t even get the final little plot of land.

That’s the thing about wealth. No matter how much of it you accumulate, you can’t take it with you. All those bank accounts, homes, cars, jewellery, shares, clothes – all come to nothing. Your years of amassing finally come to a dead halt. You exit as you entered, with a big zero on your balance sheet.

So there’s a question you have to ask yourself while you’re still alive: what’s the point? Why engage in the money madness that I described here last week? Why look for more, and more, and more – only to leave with nothing?

It’s rarely the case that the wealth brings you genuine happiness even when you’re alive. Or when was the last time you met a contented looking rich person? They have a superficial glow, yes, and they do bask in the insincere applause of sycophants. But inner peace? Not really.

I observe two things in the really rich. The first is that they can never seem to have enough. They might work for years to achieve a particular personal financial target, but do they feel any real satisfaction when they hit it? Not at all, for it is immediately replaced by an even bigger number. Reaching a financial peak only reveals the presence of taller peaks.

My second observation is that money seems to bring much insecurity in its wake. Once you have something, you fear its loss. The wealthy folk also tend to be worried folk, for they worry every day about not having the wealth they have. In the worst cases, a nasty paranoia grips them. Their mistrustful eyes say it all.

So I ask again: why is it that this thing, which brings unhealthy tension during life and is taken away in toto at the end of life, is the only thing that matters to so many of us?

Even wealth that is bestowed on your descendants is often a poisoned chalice, one that weakens the recipients and robs them of the joy of achievement.

I wrote here years ago: focus on the thing that you do, not on its outcome. Happiness lies in focusing on a job well done. If you do things uniquely well, the reward tends to follow in any case. Not thinking about money will not impoverish you; it will release you to be better in what you do.

Let’s be clear: this is not an argument for the benefits of poverty. Being very poor is nothing to wish for; it is a desperate and unpleasant state. Money does bring benefits in its train: the freedom to not be enslaved by others; the luxury of not having to worry about essential comforts; the dignity of being independent. I value those things, and wish them for everyone.

But those who pack their lives with senseless accumulation will not enjoy those benefits. Unless they can place their wealth in its true place in their lives, they will be deranged by the engorgement. We should toil to be free of money worries, not to be enslaved by them.

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