As a financial adviser, I regularly meet the “haves and have-mores.” One thing I have learned for sure: Having more does not necessarily mean having more happiness.
Barbara Walters interviewed billionaire media mogul David Geffen in a conversation published in More Than Money magazine: “She said, ‘O.K., David, now that you’re a billionaire, are you happy?’ He shot back without hesitation: ‘Barbara, anybody who believes money makes you happy doesn’t have money.'”
Of course I think to a point, money actually does buy you happiness, or at least in our society money provides the mechanism to get basic human needs met. Take someone who is truly in poverty and a bit of money will actually, truly, make that person and his/her family more happy – they’ll get food, shelter, some labor saving devices, they’ll get education, they’ll get leisure time.
What’s right is to say that after basic needs are met the marginal return of happiness per dollar declines rapidly, at some point every additional dollar means virtually nothing.
Our civilization has conditioned us to believe that more is better, because we believe simply more makes us happy. We all know it’s not true, but many of us are not willing to do the “shadow work” to overcome our consumer addiction in our day-to-day lives.
I find that many in our circle of friends in the sustainability movement – myself included – are living lives of accumulation and consumption even with a “modest” lifestyle. Yet ultimately we know that more “stuff” won’t make us happy.
I was speaking about this matter with my friend Marc Barasch, an accomplished author and Executive Director of the Green World Campaign. He said: “The Buddhist tradition states that craving keeps the world of Samsara [eternal suffering] turning. What people want is love and community and the society tends to systematically undermine the means of attaining that, and consumerism is the addictive substitute. The pleasure of the addiction becomes dry and insipid and becomes simply maintenance dosage to avoid greater and greater pain. And it is this collective maintenance of our consumerism addiction that habitually and automatically devours the planet’s resources.”
So, since you and I have grown up in this system, we are best able to recognize the heart of the matter and begin to deal with the problem at its core – inside us. Simply put, in order for us all to manifest the sustainable world built on loving kindness to all beings, we just have to get down to this crucial “shadow work” inside of our own heart of hearts. Simply, we are nourished by fulfilling relationships, by love, community, beauty, nature. To find these pleasures, we need not consume something, or spend money. We just need to reorient our means of gaining satisfaction in our lives, and that requires a shift in consciousness.
Ultimately, this work of overcoming our rampant consumer addiction can only be done inside ourselves. We don’t need anyone else to know what I am referring to, and we don’t need anyone else to do this work inside us. The opportunity is right here, right now.