Why do we get so righteous about being anti-money? Why do we single out money? Why not go all the way?
The Dalai Lama is proof that turning your back on money and material things is the path to happiness.
I don’t know this first hand. This is just something I’ve been told.
In fact, I’ve been told it many times, over and over, whenever I talk about how I’m a property investor, or an investment mentor… or even just as someone interested in getting a decent return on their time and energy.
“Money can’t buy you happiness, Dymphna.”
And it’s true. I’ve had a look on ebay. Nothing there.
And in this context I’m often helpfully given the example of Gandhi, or Mother Theresa, or the Dalai Lama, or St Mary MacKillop…
(I wasn’t aware of any of these people!)
Through their example, I’m meant to realise that turning your back on money and material possessions and pursuing a life of selfless service is the real key to happiness.
And look, I totally think it is. If you were to fully model your life on any of these role models, I think you would have a profoundly beautiful life.
What I don’t get though is why people focus on the money story and ignore everything else. It’s only part of the equation.
I mean, Gandhi turned his back on clothes, but no one criticises me if I decide to wear pants to the supermarket, like I do most days.
The Dalai Lama turned his back on having a hair cut that didn’t make him look like a kiwi fruit, but I don’t get a lecture if I tell people I’m going to the salon.
The saints’ relationship to money was just one aspect of the beautiful example they offered the world. And if you’re not wearing sandals and tirelessly lobbying for political reform in India, I’m not really interested in being lectured about the road to saint-hood, thanks.
There’s no point being a partial prophet. It’s all-in or nothing.
My point is, why do we single out money in this story? There is this idea that of all the things the material life has to offer, of all the things it uses to seduce our ego, if we could just tame the temptation of money, we’d be sorted.
As if we could just save our souls by creating psychic blocks to money all around us.
(I’ve seen some people give it a red-hot go.)
But if you’re worried about a fragile sense of self-worth, renounce Facebook.
If you’re worried about becoming too vain, renounce fashion.
If you’re worried about anxiety and nameless fears, renounce the news.
There are many, targeted and strategic steps we can take to improve our overall levels of happiness.
Renouncing money, on its own and in isolation, is not one of them.
Now obviously I’m not here to say that money is the path to happiness. I’m only pointing out that there’s a trap here for the lazy-headed (and we’re all lazy-headed). And that’s the idea that simply being a martyr when it comes to money is all the work that’s required.
You’re not tackling the real issues.
It is true that money can help energize the less-awesome aspects of a personality. It can give vain people the power to buy ridiculous cars and trophy boats. It can give envious people the ability to lord their position of power over others. It can fund a lifetime’s addiction to porn.
But if these problems exist, removing money from the equation doesn’t change anything. (If anything, the pressures of poverty can make it worse! Now you’re robbing old ladies to buy dirty magazines.)
And if you look at Gandhi and the like, the real example they offer is not about how awesome life is without money. It’s about what a beautiful human you can be if you’re willing to muck in and do the deep work with your soul.
If you’re willing to tackle vanity, sloth, anger… what are the other deadly sins? Choc-macadamia?… wherever they rear their ugly head.
So don’t kid yourself that being a martyr with money is in anyway useful.
And unless you’re wearing sandals and doing a truckload of work with your insecurities, don’t lecture me on the supposed dangers of developing a functional relationship to money.
It’s not going to wash, Mahatma.
Ever been a martyr to money? What did you do about it?