Finding Meaning by Redefining “Prosperity”

How much is enough?

Posted Jan 12, 2019

Source: CC0/Pixabay

It seems that some of us don’t really know what we want in life. We pursue wealth, power, and things. We’ve been conditioned to believe that these are symbols of success—the more the better. “After all, whoever has the most toys wins.” Having money and things has become the end goal because we can count it, keep score, and use it to compare ourselves to others. But when we don’t look the way we should, or if we don’t have the same amount of wealth or abundance of things as others do, we trap ourselves into thinking we ourselves are not enough. Such feelings of inadequacy typically lead to stress and depression.

Money, of course, is needed to pay for our necessities; however, the challenge that many, if not most, of us face is that we keep redefining what our necessities are. We get one thing and determine that we also “need” the next. We reach a certain level of wealth and materialism and then worry that it isn’t enough. Happiness and living the good life, under this scenario, are always just one thing away.

We justify it by saying that this is the “American dream”—work hard, earn lots of money, buy lots of things. Soon we start to identify ourselves with our money and material things. I am what I have becomes our subconscious mantra for living even if we are also unaware of what we’re really doing and what impact it has on our lives. This situation creates envy—we want something so badly that we may go into debt to get it, we may manipulate others to get it, or we may even steal it. The elusive end, in other words, justifies the means—with the end being defined in terms of financial and material wealth and the means referring to anything that can be done to reach it. We all know people who can’t seem to control this urge for more and who can provide ample justifications for their obsessive-compulsive behaviors, even if they can’t or won’t see them as such. They want everything they see in a store or at a buffet or at their neighbor’s house. It becomes a quest with a life of its own, a deep-seeded insatiable need. And in the real end, they lose their souls in the pursuit of more money and more stuff.

Greed, of course, comes in many forms. However, greed, in its most fundamental sense, stems from fear—the fear of not having enough, of not being successful enough, or of not being seen as valuable enough. Greed also comes from a perception that we live in a world of scarcity, not abundance, and that survival requires competition over cooperation and collaboration

The question is, “how much is enough?” We hear all too often, “When I reach my number, when I have a million dollars, I will feel secure, I will be free, I will be happy.” Others focus on hoarding things, believing that they will be, or at least feel, more secure if they get and keep just one more thing in their always-growing supply of material stuff. Still others fill their lives with an overabundance of food, sex, and other addictions, believing they will feel more secure and happier if they just have “one” more of whatever it is they feel they need. 

The costs, both intended and unintended, obvious and hidden, of the hunt for more, are staggering. We postpone true happiness while we are busy seeking and trying to get more. We ignore our relationships while we focus on accumulating more. We overlook our health in our chase for more. Getting more is actually making us sick from all the stress of worry and overwork. And the sad thing is, we are spending our valuable time making money to buy things we might not even need!

Wealth can be lost like the bubbles in a bottle of champagne. Money and things can be taken from us at any time and, often, for any reason. Unfortunately, some people spend so much time and energy accumulating wealth, only to then turn around and spend even more time and energy trying to protect what they’ve accumulated out of fear that they may lose it, along with, sadly, their “identity.”

Our money habits reflect how we view and relate to the world. If we hoard money or material things, we may be feeling insecure about our long-term future; feeling like a frantic squirrel worried about whether it has put away enough acorns to make it through the winter. Alternatively, we may spend money recklessly, wanting to show others how much we have or to try to fill a void of meaning in our lives. Or we may choose to let the money flow through us, to use it for the good of others. Anyway, how we save or spend money is a magnifier of how we feel about ourselves, how we relate to the world around us, and what we find to be meaningful in our lives.

We must be mindful that, while we can possess money and things, we should not be possessed by them. Focusing on creating a meaningful life — cherishing your health, spending time with people you like, along with using your talents to make the world a better place, will give you more prosperity, more fulfillment than any pot of gold.


For more information, see: Pattakos, Alex and Dundon, Elaine (2015). The OPA! Way: Finding Joy & Meaning in Everyday Life & Work. Dallas: BenBella Books.