Buddhist Wisdom: When Wealth Costs More Than It’s Worth
Guest Post by Dr Bob Rich, Psychotherapist for 20+ Years.
Virginia was the Principal of an exclusive girls’ school. All the ‘Best People’ sent their daughters there. She had a high income and superior status in the community. She made an appointment at my psychotherapy practice and told me she couldn’t stand it anymore.
She loved teaching; contact with students, but now she rarely saw them. It was all administration, bureaucracy, politicking, fundraising, conflict resolution, buttering up wealthy parents and alumni. I told her about burnout, but she answered: “It’s more than that.”
I asked her to brainstorm what she could do to maintain what she valued about her job while removing the objectionable parts. She cancelled the second appointment, and I thought I’d failed her. Six months later, she sent me a lovely email:
I cannot thank you enough for what you did for me. I resigned and got a job as an English, Geography and History teacher in a State high school, at a quarter of my previous salary. It’s like coming alive again. I inspire my students (well, most of them), have the joy of organising the annual school play, and have time for fun in my life again. Bless you!
Virginia’s high salary and status had cost her much more than they were worth.
Lessons From My Greedy Uncle
I’ve known the potential perils of wealth since my teens, thanks to my uncle. We arrived in Australia in 1957, completely penniless as far as I was aware. Within two years, he’d bought a block of flats in Sydney. When my mother was dying in 2000, she explained. My stepfather had wanted to get rid of me. So, he gave my uncle a fortune for my upkeep and tricked my mother into sending me away with him, while he kept the rest of the family behind in Hungary.
When he died, my uncle left an inheritance of AUD$20 billion, and a trail of wrecked lives. He had two aims in life: to screw as many women as possible, and make as much money as possible. So his rather pointless legacy to the world was a ton of money and an equal measure of misery.
Early on, I decided to be his opposite in every way, so he’s been one of my best teachers. You can read the rest of this story in Ascending Spiral, my fictionalised autobiography.
The Stress of Wealth
In 1967, I encountered scientific evidence of the cost of wealth while doing my Honours in psychology. One of my fellow students wanted to know if winning a fortune would lead to happiness. She followed up all the winners of the Sydney Opera House Lottery, which would be worth AUD$15 million in today’s money.
In her study, she determined how many winners were known to have attempted suicide, divorced, suffered from cancer, digestive ulcers, cardiac problems and other stress-related diseases, alcoholism, or addiction to illegal drugs or medications. On every one of these measures, the instant millionaires were worse off than the general population a couple of years after their windfall.
But you don’t need to be rich to be miserable. Most people manage it very well without wealth.
The Secret to a Good Life
It’s not actually a secret, but part of the message of all the major religions, including Christianity and Islam. Even atheists can use it to improve their lives. I find the Buddhist version to be the clearest: All suffering is from wanting. Bill, the hero of my forthcoming science fiction series The Doom Healer puts it this way:
There are various reasons for suffering, and one cure for them all. The worst is greed and envy. You may have something I don’t, so resentment and even hate eats me up. I’m suffering. But the suffering doesn’t come from the situation, from what’s out there, but from my reaction to it. It’s the wanting that hurts, not the lack.
Or I may have something I really, really like. But I know that all things change, and this won’t last. So, I’m afraid of losing it.
Bill is not alone in his recipe for a good life. Jesus said, “It is easier for a rope to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.” (Mistranslations of the Bible say “camel”, since the word “rope” is very similar in Aramaic.) But wealth is not the bar — the attachment to it is. You can be a millionaire and follow this teaching.
Humanity is destroying the entire life support system of this planet, because the global economy rewards and encourages the worst in nature, particularly greed. If you can live simply so you may simply live, then you can divorce yourself from this insanity, gain ongoing contentment, and play your part in building a better future for all our children.
Bob Rich, Ph.D. worked as a Counseling Psychologist for over 20 years. He’s also been an academic, researcher, and an applied scientist.
When Bob retired, his pro-bono email counselling gifted him with hundreds of “children” and “grandchildren” who still stay in touch.
Bob’s major joy in life is to be of benefit to others. Get to know him at his blog Bobbing Around.https://www.wiseism.com/buddhist-wisdom-money-greed-attachment-wealth/https://i1.wp.com/www.wiseism.com/wp-content/uploads/money-greedy.jpg?fit=283%2C250&ssl=1https://i1.wp.com/www.wiseism.com/wp-content/uploads/money-greedy.jpg?resize=150%2C150&ssl=1Wise LivingWise MoneyWise Wordsbuddhism,buddhist wisdom,greed,money,money and attachment,social responsibility,wealth,wise books,wise philosophy,wise ways of livingGuest Post by Dr Bob Rich, Psychotherapist for 20+ Years. Virginia was the Principal of an exclusive girls' school. All the 'Best People' sent their daughters there. She had a high income and superior status in the community. She made an appointment at my psychotherapy practice and told me she couldn't stand it...The WiseistBeth Burgesswiseism1@gmail.comAdministratorMy name is Beth Burgess. I don't claim to be the wisest, but I am 'The Wiseist' - someone dedicated to collecting and sharing wisdom that can help people live their lives more happily and successfully. I'm also the bestselling author of "Instant Wisdom: 10 Easy Ways to Get Smart Fast",, a therapist, coach, freelance writer, speaker, trainer, and workshop leader. And I'm still learning too.Wiseism