Thursday, May 28, 2009

Thoughts on Money

I spent the day involved in activities whose goal was making money. When I got home, ready to relax and not think about money I got a call from a friend who wanted to talk to me about money. He had just suffered what to him was a major financial setback and he wanted to share his pain a little. He is presently living on social security. He gets five hundred sixty two per month. He was expecting to get another two hundred fifty bonus this month as part of Obama's stimulus package. When he got his check, though, the $250.00 had been deducted because of a student loan he had taken and not paid back over twenty years ago. He really needed and was counting on that two hundred fifty.

My friend believes that "money is god". It is the most important thing in life and that if he had enough money his life would be perfect. He believes that money would enable him to do whatever he wanted and this would enable him to always be happy. As much as he desires money, though, he has done very little in his life to get any. He has no money at all, spends every cent he gets and works as little as possible.

There is something about the attitude that money is god that rubs me the wrong way. It has always seemed to me that there has to be more to life than making and spending money. However, if I am honest with myself I cannot understate the significance of money or deny how important it is to me. Matter of fact, when I got home tonight, wanting to relax I was thinking about playing poker. Poker would be no fun at all if it wasn't for money.

I don't think that money by itself is the answer to life's problems. I do believe that developing a healthy and balanced attitude towards money is a key to happiness. This is not a simple thing, though. I find myself constantly calculating in my mind my financial situation. I am always considering 1- how much money I have, 2-how to get more, 3-how much more I will be definitely getting, and 4-what to do with my money. Even when I had more money than I needed I still thought about these four things. My level of addiction to the these thoughts about money is high.

On one hand I can't control the endless stream of thoughts about money and my finances. On the other hand putting too much emphasis on money doesn't seem right . I wake up one day with the motivation to make a lot of money and with the atttiude that I can and will do whatever it takes. The next day it seems meaningless to be wasting my time making money when I presently I have enough to survive and why should I worry about the future. I don't beat myself up about this conflict, though, because from my observations of other people this is normal. The fact that I am aware of this battle helps me in dealing with it.

I don't think that there is a correct attitude towards money. I don't think that there are even general guidelines worth following. These guidelines are artificically created by people who want to influence us for there own reasons. We come to believe that our attitudes towards money are our own when in fact they are a result of our being programmed. It is so easy to get trapped in a lifestyle that has been created by following the beliefs, atttitudes, and goals of others, and that is not really based on a clear understanding of what we really want. This is one of the big challenges that we all face. What is important, I believe, is that we try first to understand our present attitudes and behavior in regard to money and then honestly determine what it is that we really want in our lives and how we can use money to best achieve these goals. We might be surprised by what we learn.


  1. The question might not be about money at all. It might be about living in tension between equal opposites:
    - desire for money/freedom to be as is
    - desire for sex/desire to be alone
    - excitement/peace
    - judgement/mercy

    How do we accept both and find ourselves in both without judging ourselves as inauthentic?

  2. What an interesting topic. Of course money is something we all need and I wouldn't be able to enjoy the lifestyle I do without it. So I personally can't say money is not important, but my perspective on money and life in general has changed greatly since first visiting and also living in Tanzania. My wife comes from a small village called Saba Saba near the shores of Lake Victoria in western Tanzania. I have had the opportunity on numerous occasions to spend time there and it is always enjoyable. It might be my favorite spot on earth. Saba Saba and the surrounding villages have no electricity, no running water and no plumbing. People make their livelihood as farmers and raise livestock and poultry. There are some small shops and places selling food and warm beer. Most people live in 2-3 room houses made of mud brick with thatched roofs. A daily meal consists of boiled down flour made from maize and cassava root. My wife estimates that villagers on average make between $40-$100 a month. These are absolutely the happiest people I have ever met in my life! They seem to live life without a care and are always laughing, smiling and joking. They can sit for hours in each other's company without any modern convenience and are content. It amazes me because I can find myself bored. People arise early in the morning and tend to the farms for 3-5 hrs each day during the growing seasons. The rest of the day they socialize, visit neighbors, collect water and cook meals. They move about without a hurried pace. They share freely with their neighbors and guests.
    Their lives aren't without difficulty though; infant mortality, malaria and dependant upon the rains for a satisfactory harvest. My wife says people in the village are happy because they are "practiced in difficulty." When you comprehend life and all its frailty, I guess it's hard to worry about the little things that can consume the daily thoughts of many Westerners.
    The world though fails to recognize this gift many African cultures have to share. If you can't make money from it.....
    The sad fact is that same machine that has programmed us here in the West, capatalism and the consumer culture, is quickly filtering its way to even the smallest villages in Africa. I have been in the middle of nowhere and seen a lone Coca-Cola delivery truck rumbling past.
    In Tanzania many people calculate "development" by money and what money can buy. A new cell phone that costs $400USD or hair extensions and skin lightening creams for women. Lighter skin is not only more beautiful it signifies "development" because you have the means to afford such creams.
    The people who I've met in Tanzania who were the least hospitable and tried to take advantage of me were always those who already had enough money to make thier lives comfortable. They needed more though because they were just "poor Africans."
    If "keeping up with the Jones" is a such a powerful phenomenon in the West that it keeps people who already have everything and more unable to ease their minds, imagine the affect it is starting to have when it reaches the village in Africa without running water.
    Here are a group of people who already have what so many in the "first-world," in the "developed nations" of " enlightened intellectuals" are searching for -Peace of Mind- and they are loosing it because it is not a commodity that can be bought and sold.

  3. This month's issue of The Atlantic has a feature article about the Grant Study, one of the longest running longtudinal studies of humans.

    It talks all about this as well as other things. Completely fascinating.