“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” –Matthew 5:3
Is money the key to happiness?
In our society of ‘more is better,’ it seems that many of us are stuck in a constant cycle of trying to gain more, make more, and have more in hopes of achieving some better status in life. But I have been realizing that having more does not necessarily make you happier, nor does it make you a better person– in fact, it is often the opposite. Some of the happiest people are those that are comfortable and content with what they have in life, and likewise, those that seem to have more are often some of the most discontent individuals. How many fabulously rich people have committed suicide or have experienced declines of others sorts?
Not only does money not buy happiness, but it can also make you less likely to be in touch with others and reality in general. How can you really empathize with the struggles of those less fortunate if you have never personally experienced their fear, their uncertainty, or their difficulties? If life has generally been easy for you, how can you relate to those who have experienced life at its hardest? False optimism is lost on those who have no reason to believe that things will ever get better, because things characteristically have gotten worse in the past. It is very difficult to empathize with others, and often impossible to those who do not care enough to even attempt to increase their understanding.
On a personal level, I have been noticing this lack of empathy and compassion in our society, and often it does not just come from the extremely wealthy. Rather, anyone can consider themselves better than someone else due to income level, education, race, political stance, employment position, or simply due to their own thinking that they are better, even if not based on any verifiable reason. That’s why I was interested to read this article from LearnVest about studies performed that indicate that those higher in income level, education, or social status are actually lacking in crucial social skills, primarily in the compassion department:
Without any formal studies, I have realized this trend over the last few years as I grew increasingly more tired of the corporate competition, the judgement, the struggle to keep up appearances, and the prejudice. I have gotten to the point that I do not want to be around people like that both in societal and employment settings. All the things that they consider important are not important to me, and therefore I do not fit in with their criteria. Their mindset only leads to categorizing people and tearing them down.
I try to teach my kids not to look down on anyone because of the job that they work or because they only have a certain amount of education. In our local community, the schools are suffering from decreased numbers due to community members that feel that their kids are “too good” to go to school with the increasingly culturally diverse student body. The kids have no choice but to be aware of this racism, and develop a protective counter-prejudice against the original perpetrators.
A few months ago, I wrote an article about local resources for the poor. It was by far one of the most enjoyable and meaningful pieces that I have ever written. Spending that time researching options to help those in need forced me to focus on normal people like me who are just experiencing struggles. Though it was a very minor step, even in writing that story, I felt like I was bringing hope to those who needed it by letting them know that there are people out there that care enough to help.
Around the same time, I put up a post about holiday movies worth watching, and I suggested that everyone should watch Where God Left His Shoes, a sad movie exploring how easy it can be to lose everything, despite your good efforts. There are many small ways that you can seek to increase your own understanding and level of compassion– often it just involves opening your eyes a little more.
Even if we are blessed (whether financially or in other ways), we should focus on increasing our understanding about the needs and struggles of those who are not. We need not be poor in reality in order to be poor in spirit– it’s all about our outlook. Choose to be poor in spirit rather than rich in attitude.
With everything, there is a balance to be achieved. Last year, I heard the term “noble poverty,” and it intrigued me. My husband describes it as a poor mindset, and sometimes accuses me of it. Basically, it involves the concept that you are better off depriving yourself of financial wealth in order to be a “good” person or to be better than others who value wealth. You can read more about it in this DailyWorth article:
This article cautions against an alternate snobbery that can occur in those that have had to live without, and, who, in turn, choose to look down on those who do have more. They may also choose not to have better, even if is available, due to their “pride.” Personally, after experiencing the disadvantages of wanting too much too soon or keeping up with what others have, I am more likely to resort to this tactic.
If you want to be poor in spirit and help others, you will be in a better place to do it if you have established a pattern of empathy and compassion, in combination with some financial resources to allow you the possibility of assisting others in their journey. If you are not on stable ground yourself, how can you save someone else? It’s not so different from the in-flight recommendation that in the case of an emergency, you put your own oxygen mask on first. so that you can, in turn, help others. Likewise, you should strive to put yourself in a good position so that you can lift others up.
When I get confused about this concept, I try to remember that this is not about monetary wealth, but rather about your attitude. There is a difference between frugality and purposeful deprivation. Choose to be poor in spirit, regardless of your financial status, educational level, or social standing, and you will be blessed with rewards that extend beyond monetary dollar amounts.
Maybe we are best positioned at the intersection of wealth and poverty, rather than choosing to go in one direction or the another.