What are your priorities? Not the ones you automatically tell people as part of your ego’s pose in the world. What does your life indicate your priorities are? Where are your actions in life and to what end? Do you spend your day actually trying to get happier, or are you mostly focused on affording what you either have or want?
Recently the New York Times did a piece on John Osburg, the author of Anxious Wealth: Money and Morality Among China’s New Rich. It’s an interesting article in which Osburg is asked about how the wealthiest Han Chinese respond to their success and he notes that, “…there’s no question tastes are evolving, albeit somewhat slowly. Now that every Shanxi coal baron’s mistress can afford Louis Vuitton, in order to differentiate themselves, other new rich are moving on to other pursuits and tastes.”
That trend isn’t exclusively Chinese of course. When I was head of creative at the network in the 1990’s we did a two-part movie-of-the-week with Richard Chamberlain called The Lost Daughter. It was about the Order of the Solar Temple cult, which included many extremely wealthy families from Europe, North America and Australia. Much like the Chinese noted above, these people were very successful in the materialistic world, but once you can buy all the things you’ve dreamed of, how do you distinguish yourself?
So why do people want to be distinguished? Why do they want us to admire them? Because much like victims employ sympathy, admiration is a shallow refection of love, which what they want but don’t feel they can get without achievements. And so in their desperate attempt to find greater meaning, wealthy, educated people were encouraged to not only commit mass suicide, but to murder their own family members as well. Can you see how this unhealthy lust for love can manifest? Because remember, those murders were viewed by the parents as acts of love.
None of that is much different than a victim sacrificing their enjoyment of their own short time on Earth to instead focus on garnering sympathy. Not loving someone is seen as reasonable, but not giving someone sympathy is seen as cruel and the people who use sympathy subconsciously know this. And so they tell their sad story and they get their imitation of love.
Now if their attempts to find value in themselves is what leads them to healthy spirituality then that’s great. If some crazy-rich Lamborghini-driving 29 year old Han ends up discovering true enlightenment by hanging around Monks for status, then the route up the mountain isn’t what matters—it’s the view once you’re up there.
So do you see that you can save yourself from trying to achieve material success in your own life? Can you see that you’re just on some kind of weird treadmill-ladder where no matter how long you climb you still get off at the same height? So you might as well jump off now. Think of how developed you’d be if you invested the same time on your spiritual development as you do in making, saving and spending money. When you think about it, that’s the vast majority of your waking day.
What I like about all of this is that it’s media-friendly. These stories will travel well. And these are stories of the richest people in the world who are placing their spiritual development above their material success. Material success is simply not enough anymore. Not in an age where someone like Ambani can build a billion-dollar 400,000 square foot (37,000 square meter) 27 story house for a family of six. Once you get to that kind of ridiculous excess you literally start to look crazy instead of successful and so people realize that they need to find something that people can genuinely respect. And in the end, when push really comes to shove, the only thing people will ever wholeheartedly respect is if you unconditionally love them.
If it continues like this we’ll either destroy the world or we’ll come to the realization that ever-increasing wealth isn’t the answer to happiness, satisfaction and ultimate success and it may very well be the super-wealthy that signal this change. If they start being honest, humble and public about how disappointing their lives are, then that may be the signal for the next big change, which is not a political revolution, an industrial revolution, nor a technical revolution—it’s a spiritual revolution. Not a revolution of religion. One of compassion. Of prioritizing the happiness and security of people rather than focusing on economies. We can invest in ourselves instead of in the stock market. In the end the investment in yourself pays far better dividends.
Look at your life honestly. How much of it is spent shopping or working? How much of it is about money and how much of it is about happiness and life and meaning? Because far too many people wait until they’re seriously ill or dying before ever considering these questions and that’s unfortunate. Because most people who do consider them end up realizing that they’re not actually living the life they truly want and they begin to make changes. Don’t be brainwashed by your society. Don’t have silly, meaningless priorities because that’s what some business needs. Live your life by being present in it. It doesn’t matter what you wear or drive or where you live. What matters is, do you feel connected to other people and do you find it easy to give love? If you have those two things then you have everything that anyone ever truly wanted or needed.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.