While it’s certainly one thing to know that money is a way to fulfill your requirements in life, it’s quite another when money becomes your primary motivation and measure of success, or when you come to equate happiness or worthiness with your wealth.
While there nothing characteristically wrong with material wealth or its pursuit, it’s easy to expect too much from money.
The New Testament (1 Timothy 6:10) reminds you to be aware of the difference between need and greed, “love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” Money can push you to take on or keep you in unhealthy relationships and unsatisfying careers. It can lead you to neglect your social life and undervalue the importance of relationships. Besides, money can adulterate your soul, germinate dishonorable conduct, and make you unworthy regardless of the wealth you accumulate.
Status Is the Enemy of Passion
Prestige, cachet, status, wealth, and approval as dominant extrinsic motivators are appropriate and can be life-affirming in the short term, but they eventually confuse and undermine you from the things that do offer deeper rewards for a life well led. The British-American venture capitalist and essayist Paul Graham wrote in his stimulating 2006 article “How to Do What You Love” discussed the hollowness of pursuing “prestige”:
What you should not do, I think, is worry about the opinion of anyone beyond your friends. You shouldn’t worry about prestige. Prestige is the opinion of the rest of the world.
Prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like.
Prestige is just fossilized inspiration. If you do anything well enough, you’ll make it prestigious. Plenty of things we now consider prestigious were anything but at first. Jazz comes to mind—though almost any established art form would do. So just do what you like, and let prestige take care of itself.
Prestige is especially dangerous to the ambitious. If you want to make ambitious people waste their time on errands, the way to do it is to bait the hook with prestige. That’s the recipe for getting people to give talks, write forewords, serve on committees, be department heads, and so on. It might be a good rule simply to avoid any prestigious task. If it didn’t suck, they wouldn’t have had to make it prestigious.
Materialism is Shallow
As a modern society, we are remarkably driven by status—because we regard ourselves more worthy of others’ respect if we possess a home in a status neighborhood, a vacation property, brand-name or even designer-label clothes, luxury watches, expensive jewelry, and so on. But the pursuit of a materialistic lifestyle comes at a high cost.
In a culture where the possibility of wealth and the acquisition of things is so defining of success, we end up pursuing things that, even if we are successful, can never deliver what we envisioned they would. The reason riches become such a snare is because we end up evaluating life in mercenary terms and being seen by others in such terms, and life is just not so.
Money can buy lots of things that make us feel good and important. However, people preoccupied with money and status are never satisfied. Often, their desires and debts grow faster than their means. The more they have, the more they think they need. Discouraging gluttony and lavish spending habits, the great Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca wrote (per Dialogues and Essays,)
Shun luxury, shun good fortune that makes men weak and causes their minds to grow sodden, and, unless something happens to remind them of their human lot, they waste away, lulled to sleep, as it were, in a drunkenness that has no end…. Although all things in excess bring harm, the greatest danger comes from excessive good fortune: it stirs the brain, invites the mind to entertain idle fancies, and shrouds in thick fog the distinction between falsehood and truth.
Idea for Impact: You are rich if you think you have enough
Put the value of money and the pursuit of wealth in perspective. Feel rich and have a soft spot for certain indulgences. But, don’t get trapped in the spectacle of riches.
Being rich and seeking status can cost a fortune—the things that you may have to do to flaunt your wealth can cost almost as much as your wealth itself. As the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau once said, “The money you have can give you freedom, but the money you pursue enslaves you.”