Money is the gasoline of life. We need it to buy all of life’s necessities, and more. Whether you love it or hate it, you will probably agree that there is no doing without it.
So, it stands to reason that almost all of us(save perhaps the chronically apathetic) strive to make a comfortable amount of it.
This collective pursuit of money seems to have its own merits. People learn not to depend on others, there is more personal space. The power to live ones dreams comes into ones own hands. Money gets us our most prized possession, freedom.
The flip side
This life style seems to lead to some problems as well. The pursuit for money leads many to loneliness. I saw this evident in New York, the seat of money. People appeared more lonely than I had seen anywhere else.
A strong focus on money also takes many away from doing what they really love doing, because they don’t think it can make them money. An overwhelming number of people get into just a few professions that supposedly make a lot of money. Many of these people don’t have an aptitude or inclination for their professions. There is a lot of competition, stress and disillusionment.
Once a person has enough money for all necessities, some basic comforts and a few luxuries, the pursuit of money increasingly seems to yield less and less satisfaction. One needs to do more and still more for the same amount of fulfillment. Purposelessness and meaninglessness creep in.
Why does this happen? Why does money not keep providing happiness? For answers, I suppose one has to ask even deeper, more fundamental questions.
What exactly is money? We all know that it is powerful, but exactly how powerful is it? Are there other, more satisfying alternatives?
For all our focus on it, I think a lot of us have a distorted idea of money.
What is money?
When we think of money, most of us think of the amount of currency we have stored in our bank accounts and as cash with us. Some may also include what they think are their assets – house, car, gold, valuables etc etc.
If you think of it, currency is only a piece of paper or a small lump of some metal. It has value only because we all, as a society, have agree upon it.
It is a means for exchanging value, no more. It is a convenient, mutually agreed upon way for people to show they have given something of value to society, and are taking back value commensurate to what they gave.
Is money the only means of exchanging value?
In a household, we don’t charge for our tasks, we do them because we know that other family members also do something. This exchange may not be immediate. The other person may not be doing something at the very instant you are doing something. But you have faith that he/she will do it, in time.
I’d like to share a personal example…
When I came back to India from the US, an acquaintance gave me his motorcycle to use for a few months. Here is something to observe, I did not pay my friend any money. To rent such a motorcycle, for those many months, would have cost a considerable amount. But my friend gave it to me for free, out of goodwill. He reads my blog and likes it a lot. It was his way of expressing his gratitude and satisfaction. There was value exchanged, but no money was involved. Notice also that no one demanded any compensations.
Value can be exchanged through good will as well.
Money Vs Goodwill
The thing with focusing on accumulating luxuries is, our material needs are not really as many. Beyond basic necessities and a few comforts, money cannot add more to life. With our focus on money, we ignore some other serious needs we have. One such is the need to be a contributing member of society. Contributing, helping others makes us happy. Yes, you read that right, it is not a sacrifice to contribute. To help others, to make others happy, is a deep, inherent need. It is actually selfish to be selfless.
When material comforts start to provide less and less satisfaction, when they lead to loneliness, realize that you need to make the lives of others better, to feel better yourself.
And, as we have seen, good will is a way of exchanging value too. It doesn’t quite work the same way as paper money does, it is not ‘give this, get that’. But it provides deeper and more meaningful satisfaction. It provides deeper connection with others, it gives us the satisfaction of providing something that people genuinely like and appreciate, and it satiates that ancient, most basic of our needs, the need to belong.
Until next time…