Your Money or Your Life?

You may have heard about bandits who waved guns in their victim’s face, demanding: “Your money or your life!” Today, this legendary demand is echoed in a challenging dilemma facing all of us​—especially those of us living in affluent lands. This time, however, it is no bandit that presses the demand. Rather, it is the increased emphasis that society places on money and material success.

SUCH emphasis has raised a whole new set of issues and concerns. At what cost should money and material things be pursued? Could we be content with less? Are people actually sacrificing “the real life” on the altar of materialism? Is money the ticket to a happy life?

Money Mania

Among human desires and passions​—legitimate or otherwise—​the love of money vies for the lead. Unlike the desire for sex and food, the mania for money can be constant and unending. Old age does not seem to assuage it. In many cases advancing years may actually increase a person’s interest in or concern about money and what it can buy.

Greed seems to be escalating. The main character in one popular movie said: “Greed works. Greed is good.” Although many referred to the 1980’s as the Age of Greed, what came before and after shows that human reaction to money has changed little through the years.

What probably is new is that so many people see opportunities to satisfy instantly the desire for more. It seems that much of the world most of the time spends most of its energy producing and acquiring more and more things. You may agree that having material possessions and spending money have become a passionate​—and often most imaginative—​endeavor in modern-day life.

But are people happier as a result? Answering that question, wise and very wealthy King Solomon wrote 3,000 years ago: “A mere lover of silver will not be satisfied with silver, neither any lover of wealth with income. This too is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 5:10) Modern social studies provide similarly interesting conclusions.

Money and Happiness

One of the most surprising findings regarding human behavior is that the accumulation of money and material things does not necessarily provide a corresponding increase in satisfaction and happiness. What many researchers have come to realize is that once a person reaches a certain level of affluence, his sense of well-being is independent of how many material goods are available to him.

Thus, the unbridled pursuit of material goods and money leaves many wondering, ‘We seem to enjoy each of the new things we  buy; yet, why is it, when all is said and done, that these pleasures do not add up to any greater sense of satisfaction?’

In his book Happy People, author Jonathan Freedman notes: “Once some minimal income is attained, the amount of money you have matters little in terms of bringing happiness. Above the poverty level, the relationship between income and happiness is remarkably small.” Many have come to realize that what really matters for individual happiness is that one has spiritual assets, meaningful pursuits in life, and moral values. Also important are human relationships and freedom from the conflicts or constrictions that could prevent us from enjoying what we have.

Many see at the root of most of the present social ills the tendency to try to use material prosperity to solve what are really inner troubles. Some social commentators speak of a general mood of pessimism and discontent. They also note the increased tendency of people in affluent societies to consult therapists or to seek meaning and inner harmony from gurus, cults, and quasi-therapeutic groups. This attests to the failure of material goods to add real meaning to life.

Power and Powerlessness of Money

Granted, money has power. It can buy fine homes, elegant wardrobes, and dazzling furnishings. It may also buy adulation, compliance, or flattery, even producing a few temporary and obliging friends. But that is about as far as the power of money goes. What we need most, money cannot buy​—the love of one true human friend, peace of mind, a crumb of heartfelt solace in the hour of death. And for those who cherish their relationship with the Creator, money cannot buy God’s approval.

King Solomon, who had all the good things that money could buy in his day, recognized that trusting in material possessions does not lead to lasting happiness. (Ecclesiastes 5:12-15) Money can be lost through bank failure or inflation. Real estate can be destroyed by severe storms. Insurance policies, while partially replacing material losses, do not make up for emotional losses. Stocks and bonds can become worthless overnight in a sudden economic crash. Even a well-paying job can be here today and gone tomorrow.

How, then, can we keep money in its place? What role should money or possessions play in our life? Please examine the matter further to see how you can possess something that is truly valuable​—“the real life.”

[Pictures on page 4]

Material possessions do not bring lasting happiness