“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.”
Far from Epictetus’s venerable advice, the usual conversations that dominate our social interactions are:
“How much money do you have?”
“I have millions.”
“Do you need more?”
“Yes, I need, certainly.”
The answers are almost similar. You know why. If one has a Land Cruiser, he aims for a Jaguar. If he has one house, he wants to have a second, then a third. It is very rare to find someone saying: “I am happy with what I have.”
Some people get so madly involved in the pursuit of wealth that they lose their health and finally meet a painful end. They live for the psychological solace of seeing their bank balances bulge. Yet they are left in their autumnal days with a wrecked heart, when it is too late to regret. As some wise sage said, “It is good to have the things that money can buy but before it is too late one should make sure that one hasn’t lost the things it can’t buy.”
The great essayist G.K. Chesterton makes us understand that when we lose a valuable possession, we realise its real worth. The lesson is that we must remain content with our condition — for there is always a condition which may be worse than that. Chesterton had sprained his leg, and during the time it healed, he found how his life was disrupted owing to the injury. As he puts it beautifully, “All surrender of life, all denial of pleasure, all darkness, all austerity, and all desolation has for its real aim the separation of something so that it may be poignantly and perfectly enjoyed.”
According to Ben Franklin, “Contentment makes poor men rich; discontent makes rich men poor.” Contentment does not lie in expanding or shrinking our universe. It has to be cultivated in our minds. It cannot be sought in the world around us. There are two ways of being happy, he emphasises. We can either diminish our wants or augment our means.
The wealthiest class of people may be the least contented and the poorest ones may be the ones most contended. The answer lies in a life of moderation. The pursuit of material life has to be sobered with spiritualism so that we can guard against the corruptive influences of the world. As Gandhi exhorted, “There is everything in this world for every man’s need; but there is little in the world for one man’s greed.”
Creating boredom out of his own affluence, impotence out of his own ennui, and vulnerability out of his own strength, man is fast inching back into hopelessness. We have banished so many old scourges like tuberculosis, cholera, smallpox and plague only to find them replaced by more horrific new ones. Alienation and despair are the biggest epidemics which no medicine can heal.
Tolstoy’s brilliant short story is the best description of how greed drives a happy man to death. The best days of his life are the ones when he has the barest amenities, but once he is infected with greed, life begins to grow uneasy and he starts craving for more, yearning for insatiable goals. When he finally breathes out his life to death in pursuit of a fortune, he is granted the six feet land that he finally needs to get entombed.