Today I’m feeling a bit philosophical, and this is a good post-Christmas topic, anyway.
I read a report about a study someone did recently concerning what people regard as their greatest source of happiness. The result was extremely depressing. The most common answer was about having more material wealth than one’s neighbors. In India, this inevitably brings to mind the new Mukesh Ambani residence in Mumbai—a billion dollar home for five people, towering over the largest slum in Asia. This is a man who has more material goods than all but a few people in the world, and who certainly has the most over-the-top, in-your-face residence.
But is he happy? Has all that wealth, and all that extreme display of one-upmanship brought him happiness? Or is he busy planning what he can do to top that? Is he satisfied with all his wealth or is he continually engaged in making more and more? I think the answer to those questions is pretty obvious.
What real happiness can there be for a person who is so insecure that his entire feeling of self-worth is tied up in his possessions. If he felt satisfied, he would not be aggressively pursuing more and more wealth. Moreover, he would surely be using the bulk of his fortune to do something for others because, ultimately, that’s a whole lot more satisfying than acting only for one’s own personal benefit. I feel rather sorry for him and his family, actually. The irony is that he would be much more highly regarded in the world if he gave away most of his billions to help others. While there are undoubtedly people who envy his new abode, I’d guess that many more are disgusted by its extreme vulgarity.
Wandering around India as I’ve been doing, I’ve met all sorts of people from many walks of life. Some of the poorest I’ve met have been far happier than the vast majority of the wealthy. I’m not putting down wealth, by any means. I know some wonderful people who know very well what wealth is to be used for, and they use it wisely and for evolutionary purposes. And they are almost invariably the happiest of the wealthy people I know. They give where it’s needed most, and they do it without condescension. And they are also, without exception, devoted to spiritual development, because they know that enlightenment is the source of supreme happiness and bliss.
One couple that comes to mind is Howard and Alice Settle. They aren’t famous, nor do they figure on any top wealthiest lists, yet they donate at least $12,000,000 per year towards what they believe in. It may be a lot more, actually. They are deeply spiritual people who do this in a simple and heartfelt manner, without condescension or selfish motives. They understand the true purpose of wealth. As a result, just about everyone—including many people who have never even met them—loves them for who they are and not just because they are wealthy.
Although the situation is changing as India embraces Western values more and more, the extended family is still extremely important to most Indians. Cultivating and maintaining relationships is one of the most important aspects of life in India. So it’s really strange to see this small nuclear family having walled themselves off from the rest of their family and the rest of the world as they have done. Do you suppose anyone actually loves these people for who they are in themselves?
Wealth can’t in itself be considered a source of happiness, though when used wisely it can provide favorable conditions. But using it to create the maximum disparity between oneself and others can only lead to a cold, lonely existence. If everyone is fawning all over you to get what they can out of you, how can your heart be open? How can you trust anyone? Without an open heart, what happiness can there be? Love unites people, but money tends to create divisions, whether intentionally or not.
In any case, you just can’t buy love and happiness. The media aggressively promotes the idea that the clothes you wear, the car you drive, the computer you use are essential to being accepted and loved. It’s completely false. When kids are ridiculed at school for not wearing the right clothes or not having the latest iPod, they can easily become obsessed with having these things, even though it may create hardships for their families. In too many cases, they turn to crime to support their obsession. It’s tragic. We all know people who spend their time pursuing the latest, trendiest everything. But they are never satisfied. Every new possession loses its charm as soon as something new comes along. In fact, often the only charm in an item is that other people said it was something said should be coveted. There’s a lot more to life.