I’m not a fan of being poor. Unlike Mother Teresa I don’t think poverty is a gift from god. Being poor sucks, and I would remove myself from this income level as soon as blink. However, I do have priorities. I know where on my list things like dining out and theater tickets lie; which is to say, near the bottom. While wanting certain amenities, I do not begrudge lacking them.
Some might respond that I lead a life lacking in beauty or joy, due to the fact that I have not yet attained that which I want. How much better, they say, to live a life full of symphony seats, succulent steaks and socks without holes in them. To these rebuttals I really can’t argue. If I had my choice I would have season tickets to the Opera, Denver Center and Symphony. I would have regular reservations at my favorite sushi spot, and have my name known at my local brew house. These are things I want and to then add that having them would bring joy to my life should also go without saying. So does it not follow that lackingthem I should be unhappy?
No. I am content without them. I lack them, want them, and am not unhappy at not having them.
The answer to this is two fold. The first reason is due to being brought up with a strong sense of reality. Or to put it another way, my expectations of what life will bring are not the same as most. I do not believe that I have a luck in life better than anyone elses. My chances of hitting the lottery are as small as yours. I came to this view due to my upbringing and also due to the Stoics. Much in life is outside our control and therefore we shouldn’t waste time worrying about it. Focus only on what you can control and have the good sense to know exactly what that is and isn’t.
Second, I find joy in places where most do not. Tonight Rachel made Lemon Pepper fish, with potatoes and salad. We barely were able to afford a bottle of wine. We had a baguette and olive oil for dipping. I saw the table as a thing of beauty; simple, hand-made, orderly, colorful. It reminded me of Chardin, a painter known for finding beauty in everyday items.
And it was there in our simple dinner table that I saw something most people ignore in their search for more wealth and status. I found joy in a dinner table, and wealth in spending that time with someone I love. So while I may be poor in material things am I not rich in life? This is not to argue like Plato and say that we all should simply accept our place in society, or that an impoverished Haitian can live a life as rich as a bankers. Hell no! I only mean to say that while I may lack large amounts of money, that is not all there is in life and so we shouldn’t despair, lacking excess of it. Many rich bankers also lack something: the ability to be content in the midst of their strivings. Money cannot purchase peace of mind in all life throws at you. It can in regards certain obstacles, true, but once we have enough money to fend off starvation and homelessness, money fails as a buffer for those problems that are left.
We then are both impoverished, the banker and I. Myself only in excess of things, but for them it is a poverty of the eyes. Owning the world does not buy you the ability to see its beauty, nor can it purchase a true companion to share it with. A simple stock market crash demonstrates how fickle a thing money is and how far outside our control. But the ability to step back and find joy in a plate of fish, or bowl of strawberries, is a thing in life I wouldn’t sell for any fortune. And while I still strive to gain wealth, I am content not having it yet and I will continue to be content, even if I never do.