“Money often costs too much.” ―Ralph Waldo Emerson
Today, in most societies, the pursuit of wealth has become inevitable— almost as if the desire to be rich is already a forgone conclusion in our lives.
The prevailing view is that wealth is good, that it should be pursued, that material possessions and riches enhance our enjoyment in life, and that wealth provides opportunity to find greater fulfillment in life.
But recently, I have come to realize the pursuit of riches is based on a faulty premise. It is based on the incorrect rationale that the presence of money is always good—that it always brings benefit into our lives. This is not always the case.
Once our basic needs have been met, money contributes very little to our overall happiness and well-being. But more than that, there are actually a number of inherent dangers in possessing riches. Or maybe I should say, at the very least, there are better things to be than rich. And we’d live more fulfilled lives if we began chasing after them with as much intensity as we seek riches.
Consider just this short list of Things Better to Be Than Rich:
Content. Contentment is far more valuable than riches because whoever finds contentment is always satisfied. Money comes and goes—sometimes quickly. But contentment rises above our circumstance and offers happiness regardless of our financial state.
Generous. Jeff Shinabarger says it well, “Anything we find that is more than enough creates an immediate opportunity to make others’ lives better.” Our resources can accomplish great things in this world—but not if we keep them to ourselves.
Free. Jim Sollisch has recently come to this understanding. Often in our pursuit of wealth and bigger bank accounts, we sacrifice freedom. We think riches will provide greater freedom for our lives, but we rarely recognize how much freedom we have actually sacrificed in our attempt to simply find more of it.
Selfless. Choosing to live selfless lives that seek the benefit of others brings meaning, purpose, and lasting impact to our short lives. While living selfish, self-centered lives is neither attractive or fulfilling.
Honest. No compromises, no regrets. Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and harmful desires. Given the choice, we should choose honesty, integrity, and character any day. It makes laying our head on the pillow each night that much sweeter.
Passionate. It is far greater to have a career and life we love waking up to in the morning than a high-paying job that brings no satisfaction, provides no positive contribution, and provokes no passion in our day.
Dependent. There is greater security to be found in lasting, trusting relationships than wealth. Dependence on others teaches us this truth. But even more importantly, it also allows us to experience the goodness of other people.
Compassionate. The statistics continue to hold true. The more wealth we obtain, the less compassion and empathy we feel towards those without. And as a result, the less we contribute.
Humble. Wealth often brings with it a certain level of pride—or at least, a more-necessary intentionality to remove prideful tendencies. Sometimes this pride comes from within and sometimes it is encouraged by others. Meanwhile, humility quietly calls us to embrace its hidden power and freedom. It would be a shame to miss it at the expense of riches.
Resourceful. Learning how to live with less is an important pursuit. It teaches us the value of the things right in front of us and forces us to appreciate them even more.
Connected. Riches do not result in deeper relationships. In fact, often times, they have the opposite effect. But intimate, connected relationships continue to provide the joy in our lives money can never produce.
Perseverant. Perseverance is a powerful characteristic that can only be discovered through trial. And while riches cannot remove every trial in life, they can often remove just enough to keep perseverance from ever taking root in our heart.
Happy. As I mentioned, once our basic needs have been met, money contributes very little to our overall happiness and well-being. Gratitude, generosity, and contribution produce far more. And that is the real goal: to live lives of joy and fulfillment and help others to do the same.
Now, please don’t misread me. I am not contending that those with riches cannot also be content, generous, humble, or connected. I know many incredibly generous people who could also be described as wealthy. And I would never contend that those without wealth are better simply by the nature of that qualification. Lastly, I would never confess to have arrived fully in any of the categories listed above.
But I do believe with all my heart the pursuit of riches can lead to great danger. It is not a pursuit to be automatically accepted as the wisest course of action for our lives. In fact, as soon as it is removed, we provide greater opportunity for these better things to be true in our lives. And there are indeed, far better things to be than rich.
Image: Daniele Zedda