The Futility of Wealth
A decade ago, I was living in Melbourne while directing a personal development and leadership-training program at Deakin University. Each semester, I would have about 50 students to work with, and I trained them on character-based leadership principles.
One afternoon, I invited my friend Steve McKnight onto the campus to speak. The students were enamored by his stories of success, both as an author and an investor.
I’ll never forget what he said to them that afternoon. Just as they were on the edge of their seats, waiting for the pearl of wisdom that would help them cash in on their desires for massive wealth, Steve offered this advice:
“I have more money than most of you will ever make in your lifetime. So trust me when I say to you, money will never meet the deepest need of your soul.”
One of the richest men in history, King Solomon of Israel, wrote a philosophical work three thousand years ago called Ecclesiastes. In this short book, he shared the story of his quest to find the ultimate meaning of life. One of his more profound conclusions is found in chapter five:
“Those who love money will never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness!”
Solomon was certainly qualified to speak on this subject. If anyone could have found ultimate happiness and meaning from money, it would have been him. Historians estimate his net worth to have been around AU $1 trillion.
He learned by experience, like Steve did, that money will never meet the deepest need of the soul. In fact, according to Solomon, money’s impact on the soul can be just the opposite. If you value it too highly, it can enslave you, making you feel that you never have enough.
When I first read Steve McKnight’s book, From 0 to 260+ Properties In 7 Years, it came with an audio CD in the back. On the CD was a recording of an interview that Steve conducted where he talks about the personal and emotional reasons for setting long-term financial goals. Echoing Solomon’s thoughts he says:
“You must first decide how much is enough, because if you don’t, enough will always be just a little bit more.”
Those who seek their ultimate fulfillment in money will be forever doomed to chasing an illusive fantasy of satisfaction. They will always lack the contentment that comes from a gratitude for the more important things that one already has – like family, friendships, health, a home to live in, food to eat, wine to drink and meaningful work.
In chapter five of Ecclesiastes, Solomon goes on to share at least three insights that can help us develop contentment, and get a little closer to finding life’s ultimate meaning.
1. “The Rich Seldom Get a Good Night’s Sleep.”
According to Solomon:
“The more you have, the more people come to help you spend it. So what good is wealth – except perhaps to watch it slip through your fingers. People who work hard sleep well, whether they eat little or much. But the rich seldom get a good night’s sleep.”
Money cannot solve all your problems, but it certainly can make your problems bigger. In fact, if you have a problem that more money can solve, it’s really not all that big of a problem.
I remember thinking about this deeply when Steve Jobs was dying of cancer. I was trying to imagine how frustrating it must have been for him to have an almost endless supply of wealth, but to be completely powerless to heal himself of his illness.
What do you think he would have said if you could have asked him at that time, “Steve, how much money would you be willing to part with to get rid of your cancer?” Certainly he would say, “I would give it all.”
An over-concern for money causes us to stress and lose sleep. If you’ve ever had problems at work or found yourself on the losing end of an investment deal, you’ve experienced this stress first-hand. I know I have.
The sooner we realise that money can not solve life’s greatest problems, the sooner we will stop over-valuing it and find contentment in the good things that we already have.
2. “We Can’t Take Our Riches With Us.”
Solomon expounds upon this truth in this way:
“Hoarding riches harms the saver. Money is put into risky investments that turn sour, and everything is lost. In the end, there is nothing left to pass on to one’s children. We all come to the end of our lives as naked and empty-handed as on the day we were born. We can’t take our riches with us.”
Last month I taught a session called “How To Die Without Regret” at PropertyInvesting.com’s Millionaire Apprentice Program workshop. I said that the most ultimate goal-setting question we should ask ourselves is, “What will I care most about in the days before I die?”
Several years ago, an Australian palliative care nurse named Bronnie Ware wrote a book called, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. In it, she shared what she learned about the meaning of life by caring for patients in the final 12 weeks of their lives. You can read a summary of those top five regrets in this article.
Interestingly, none of the top five regrets she listed was, “I wish I had made more money.” In fact, one of the most common regrets she listed was, “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard”. Why? Because by the end of our lives we intuitively know that money doesn’t matter. We know we can’t take it with us. But few of us live today based on what we will care most about at the end of our lives.
When we value wealth creation above the greater, more important things of life, we rob ourselves of the joy and contentment of today, and make regret at the end of our lives all the more likely.
3. “Enjoy Your Work and Accept Your Lot in Life.”
Solomon says this:
“It is good for people to eat, drink, and enjoy their work under the sun during the short life God has given them, and to accept their lot in life. And it is a good thing to receive wealth from God and have the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life – this is indeed a gift from God.”
I’ve mentored hundreds of investors in Steve McKnight’s Property Apprenticeship course. Virtually all of them are seeking greater financial freedom, but not everyone does so for the same reasons. Some people say, “I love my job, and even when I hit my goal, I don’t plan to quit.” But others aren’t even sure that they can make it one more year in their current job.
If you’re chasing financial freedom because you hate your job, perhaps a better idea is to first find work that you love. We spend most of our lives working to provide for our families and our futures. What a waste of our short time here spending it doing something we hate.
When Solomon says to “accept your lot in life,” I don’t believe he means that we should be passive and accept a mediocre life. We should have big dreams, set big goals and take massive actions to achieve them.
What Solomon is saying is that if you can’t find joy and happiness in your current circumstances, then there is a deeper problem, and changing the circumstances won’t make you happier.
According to a 2010 Princeton University study referenced here, a household income of more than US $75,000, or about AU $100,000 per year, won’t increase your day-to-day happiness. What this study teaches us is that our emotional well-being has little to do with how much money we make. Emotional well-being comes from something deeper.
As Solomon taught, one of the greatest gifts in life is to have work that we love, and good people with whom we can enjoy the fruit of our labours.
Spend a few minutes right now reading Solomon’s thoughts in Ecclesiastes chapter five, then ask yourself these six key questions:
- What stands out to you the most from these ancient writings?
- Have you ever found yourself thinking, “If I only had more money, all my problems would go away?”
- If you continue down the path that you’re currently on, do you think you’ll die without regret?
- What does the way that you live your life reveal about what you value the most?
- Do you love your work?
- Are you able to tap into a joy and happiness that transcends your circumstances?
Take a moment to leave your thoughts on “The Futility of Wealth” in the comment section below.