Money & Business – Why Wealth Doesn’t Buy Happiness

Money, business, wealth, these are the markers of success in our society.  Everyone is looking for easy ways to make lots of money.  Everyone admires the ambitious person. People do their best to educate their children to be full of ambition and “drive.” It has even been said that ambition is life itself.  But is this correct?

The Drive For Wealth and Material Things

Ambition is hunger. A hungry person craves food and an ambitious person craves the objects of his ambition. It is therefore a great mistake to think that ambition is life. Hunger is not life. it is merely the stimulus which the Almighty has implanted in his creatures in order to remind them to do the things necessary to keep themselves alive.  Similarly all ambitions are kinds of hunger. They are the emissaries of our heart’s inclinations, for good or for evil.

If we look at the animal kingdom we shall see that hungry animals eat until they are satisfied and do not eat again until they are hungry once more. The swine is perhaps an exception, for it eats all the time and is seemingly never satisfied.

The human being suffers from a similar disease. “He who loves money will never have sufficient money. He is eternally hungry. And it is not only the hunger for more money that dominates him continuously. It is the same with all physical desires and ambitions: the more one attempts to satisfy them, the more intense the hunger becomes. “If one satisfies it, it is hungry,” as the Rabbis said of one form of physical desire.”

If we reflect further we may note how God had mercy on the pig and increased its food supply in proportion to its appetite; its food is available everywhere since it eats other creatures’ refuse. (And if you wish you may see in this an example of the wonders of God’s creation: the constant hunger of the pig is a means of cleansing the world of unwanted refuse.) In fact the pig suffers no pain from its hunger; on the contrary, since it is always able to appease it, its life is one of continuous pleasure.

But this is not the case with the man who hungers for that which his inner greed craves. What he yearns for is far beyond his reach. He must fight a heavy battle and expend great effort to attain even a small part of what he craves. And even if he lives many years he will never achieve even half of it, as our Rabbis say, “No man leaves this world with half his desires fulfilled. ”

Building Wealth for The Future

But the situation is far worse than that. A person is not only hungry for what he actually needs at any given time. He hungers also for what he thinks he might need in the future, and his hunger is intensified by his concern for what may happen many years in the future—so far ahead that if the truth be told it is very unlikely he will still be in this world. His hunger extends also to the real or imagined needs of his children and grandchildren.

All these accumulated hungers compel him to devote years of back-breaking toil to provide for all these eventualities, not forgetting the worries which beset him regarding the possibilities of theft, failure and loss of all that he has. Of course, the more wealth he amasses and the more he tries to provide against the future, the more his worries increase and the more his hunger grows until it becomes intolerable.

These cravings to provide for the future stand in his way and prevent his making use of what he has for the needs of the moment. So even if it were possible for him to still his immediate needs at least in part, these other urges deny him this satisfaction. His life is nothing but one terrible hunger from all sides, until he dies, worn out and still hungry.

A Parable about Seeking Wealth

Many years ago, when I was wandering in the lands of the North, I observed a pack of ravenous wolves running in search of food. All of a sudden they found the carcass of a small animal lying in their path, and they all pounced on it in ferocious intensity.

But they were unable to devour the prey because each one attacked his neighbor, jostling him out of the way. They bit and fought one another until all were wounded and bled profusely.  And so they fought until all lay exhausted on the snow, and only a few of them, the strongest, at last got their teeth into the carcass. A moment passed, and these too began fighting one another, biting, clawing and wounding; until one of them was victorious, snatched the carcass in his jaws and ran.

As I reflected on this savage scene, I observed the victor running in the distance, his path over the snow marked by bloodstains from the many wounds he had sustained. I said to myself: “It has cost him blood; but at least he managed to still his hunger. One could apply to him the verse, ‘By his life he obtains his bread.’

Then I took another look at the others. I saw that their wounds were worse than the first one’s; they had lost blood; their strength was gone. And what had they gained from all their fighting? The shame of the vanquished. They had been beaten by their fellow, who had eaten and enjoyed, while they had nothing but their hurts; and their hunger, which had led them to fight in the first place, was still as intense as ever.

Now when I reflect on the hunger of the man who craves for material things, this memory from earlier times arises in my mind. It can serve as a parable for the human situation. The victor in the battle of life also comes out of it wounded, ill and exhausted. And what is more, his victory is a hollow one because his hunger is never stilled, but rather redoubled and intensified, as we have seen.

And if such is the lot of the victor, what shall we say of the fate of the vanquished? And most people in the world end up as the vanquished in the competitive rat-race.

The Rich Man

There is a kind of person for whom material things hold no attraction.  He is happy with what he has and satisfied with what he gets.  This ability is a blessing from God; as it says “and you will eat and be satisfied”  The one who is satisfied and never hungry can only be he who is working on himself spiritually. He is the only one who is happy with his material portion and has no ambition to add to it.  He is the rich one.  The others, the great majority of mankind, both the “haves” and the “have-nots” are inevitably deficient, poor and hungry.

He is happy because his life is filled with the joys of spiritual pursuits.  Firmly rooted in spiritual life, his eyes ever turn towards its heights, he sees in everything, great or small, the lovingkindness of God and his mercies which have no limit.  Consequently, his joy in these gifts knows no bounds and his life is happy.

Out of the fullness of this joy and happiness flow giving and love.  Thus the urge to do good to others, to make others happy, is not produced by a lack or deficiency, like the greedy desires discussed earlier.  It is an outflow of the ecstatic devotion by which the happy man is attached to God.  This is the spiritual level of the richest man, who consistently acts out of love.

R. Eliyahu Dessler

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