Poverty And Wealth

Posted by on Aug 21, 2007 in Philosophy | No Comments

I read an article called “In Silicon Valley Millionaires Don’t Feel Rich” from the New York Times about two weeks ago. The gist of it is how the people who live in Silicon Valley have a rough net worth of several million dollars, which places them in the top 2 percent of families in the United States. Yet they still work hard and don’t think of themselves as rich.
Here are some of their comments:
Mr Steger says, “I know people looking in from the outside will ask why someone like me keeps working so hard. But a few million doesn’t go as far as it used to. Maybe in the ’70s, a few million bucks meant ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,’ or Richie Rich living in a big house with a butler. But not anymore.”
“Everyone around here looks at the people above them,” said Gary Kremen, the 43-year-old founder of Match.com, a popular online dating service. “It’s just like Wall Street, where there are all these financial guys worth $7 million wondering what’s so special about them when there are all these guys worth hundreds of millions of dollars.” Mr. Kremen’s estimated his net worth is $10 million. That puts him firmly in the top half of 1 percent among Americans, according to wealth data from the Federal Reserve, but barely in the top echelons in affluent towns like Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton. So he logs 60- to 80-hour workweeks because, he said, he does not think he has nearly enough money to ease up. “You’re nobody here at $10 million,” Mr. Kremen said earnestly over a glass of pinot noir at an upscale wine bar here….

Naturally Zen Buddhism has a similar story:
There once was a farmer who worked very hard every day. One day he went to work in the mountain wilderness as usual but this time he dug up a very valuable gold Buddha statue. His family, relatives and friends felt very happy for him. They knew that after he sold this statue he could get anything he wanted. But this farmer was not happy. He pulled a long face the whole day and kept on sighing… His friend who saw him doing this questioned him: “You are now a millionaire. What is there left for you to be depressed about?” The farmer replied, “It is because I heard some people saying how gold Buddha statues usually come in threes but I don’t know where the other two are to be found. How depressing!”

Everyone defines how much wealth is needed to make one feel rich differently. It usually depends on how big the person’s desire is. Desire can be a bottomless pit that can never be filled up, especially if one is never content with what one has had and always wants to compare with others.
Many people believe that “Wealth Can Buy Happiness.” I find this vainglorious and simple-minded. It is not the essence of happiness. For instance, these people quoted in the New York Times article think they need to get a boat to feel happy when they sees their neighbour’s new boat. What happens if, one day, their neighbour buys a private jet? Then they will need to own their own jet to feel happy. We all know Earth’s natural resources are limited. The United States uses up the most natural resources of any other country in the world. If everyone decides they need a big house, boat, or private jet airplane… then one day these natural resources will be exhausted. And these people will bring the blame upon themselves.

Life can be very simple, especially when we see that there are still many people who spend less than 1 US dollar a day to live. We don’t actually need a lot to live a good life when we have the basic necessities (food, water, shelter, health). I do not mean that living in real deprivation is the ideal. What an individual defines as necessary for life is flexible. Many people live happily with less than 1$US a day. They do not compare themselves to others and feel poor when they must walk 20km to get water when someone else simply turns on a tap. If all of their energy is expended to provide their basic needs and these needs are met, many do not feel poor. This can be true in any country. What of the situation where everyone dies around 20years of age from AIDS? If this is the norm and all these villagers didn’t compare themselves to people who live to be 80 what is to make them unhappy? They find things in their life that bring them contentment and are not poor.

When we ask for too much we bring unhappiness upon ourselves. A Chinese maxim says, “Ignorant people disturb themselves.” Someone who is never content lives in poverty whereas contentment from the heart brings wealth.

Danny

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