Philosophy Friday: Money Problems
What do many of us want? Lots of money. Life on Easy Street. The idea that with more money, all our troubles will be gone is appealing. But is it true?
The media’s depiction of aspirational wealth is unceasing: Kim and Kourtney living it up on ‘Keeping Up with the Kardashians‘. On social media, we are allowed to admire rich friends and influencers seemingly having the times of their lives, spending obscene amounts of money on luxury holidays in exotic locations.
Our society is not the first one mesmerised by conspicuous consumption. In ancient Rome, the wealthy put on massive orgies featuring dishes of exotic roasted animals from the far corners of the empire. Super-rich Romans had palatial mansions that would compete favourably with the homes of billionaires today.
“The acquisition of riches has been for many men, not an end but a change, of troubles.” — Epicurus
Were the wealthy Romans happier than the regular citizens? No, often not. Philosopher and statesman Seneca comments in his writings how miserable many of the Roman elite were. He noticed that the most troubled and sad characters were the ones who relied on their money to make them happy.
“The wise man regards wealth as a slave, the fool as a master.” — Seneca
Seneca—who was himself very prosperous, his wealth second only to that of the emperor—knew how to stay ambivalent about money. A few days each month, Seneca practised living contentedly on very little—a course of voluntary poverty. He slept on the floor, wore simple, rough clothing and ate tasteless gruel.
Seneca put himself under such hardship to ensure he didn’t need his riches to live a happy, fulfilled life. True happiness, Seneca wrote, comes from within, not from wealth and property. Therefore, unlike money, it is a possession that fortune cannot take away from you.
Sure, make lots of money and get rich. Just don’t try and make it the basis of your life and happiness.