Sunday, November 30, 2008

Looking Beyond Materialism.

Looking Beyond Materialism

Recently I had someone ask me whether there is any greater meaning in this world beyond just making money and living the high life. She said it seems the whole culture is just obsessed with becoming rich. And nobody really cares what we're here for or whether there is meaning in this existence.

Here's a little event that set me thinking: While I was in Borders bookstore, an old man sat down beside me and began to talk. He had kind eyes – a very dignified old man. Looking at him, I recognized a friend, even though we had never met. Norman shares with me some of his life experiences and I began to understand how a man of his age might see the world. Then I ask, "Norman, do you think that… at your age, you have achieved your purpose in life?"

"Well," he replies. "My life is in God's hands… I go where he takes me. But I can tell you this: The world today is too materialistic… no good… no good at all." Then he goes silent, as if in some sort of deep thought. His words echo in my mind. This is from someone who has lived seven decades more than I. So it really makes me wonder what we should value in life and where we should channel our energies.

Out of the entire world's population, most of us will never live the high life. That is reserved for the top 1% of rich and wealthy – about 60 million people. Let's not forget that the world has approximately 6 billion people, so there are another 5.9 billion who form our middle and lower class. Economists have discovered a problem: The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, creating greater disparity between the haves and have-nots. World Bank reports show that many people do not have enough money to ensure a comfortable retirement, and that there is not enough funds stored in pension plans to cater for the aging baby-boomers.

In China, social trends like aging population, longer lifespan, and the one-child policy, predict disaster: Soon China will have less and less adults supporting more and more old people. Everyone will be clamouring to earn as much money as they can to pay for hospitals, day care, medication, treatments and more. The population is desperate to build wealth. The frustration is incredible – on one hand, they want to live the good life; on the other, their financial responsibilities are heavy, so they are denied the ideal lifestyle. This trend exists not only in China, but many first world countries with aging populations. So perhaps now it makes sense why everyone is obsessed with becoming rich.

So it looks like most of us will never get to see the yacht and mansion lifestyle of the rich and famous. However, I have an alternative view of life. When you look through the world through this point of view, you will never frustrate yourself about not making enough money. You will earn your money in a stress-free manner, which allows you to enjoy your life before it's over.

The truth is like this: Like infants who suckle on mothers' breasts, we expect Mother Earth to make us content; we expect God to fulfil our needs; we expect the world to be as we want it. When we awaken to the harsh reality of 'earning a living' and 'working to survive', then we see money as our only buffer against the pain of poverty – the key to having all that we want, the way to the luxuries and experiences which will bring us joy and contentment.

Without enough money, it feels like we are being denied all the nourishment and joy which was promised. So like mad dogs we enter the rat race, studying for 16 years then rushing out to the working world where we spend another 40 years climbing the corporate ladder, while raising a family at the same time. The whole world does this – every single person fortunate enough to go to school. So can you imagine every single human wanting to make money and hump each other's brains out? The futility of it!

The fundamental problem comes from doing things for the wrong reasons. Most people do not understand their inner desires. That which drives us to do what we do, is mostly animal instinct. The instinct to procreate, the drive to earn as much as we can – for example: to prove I'm a capable man worthy of procreating with. "Look, I can protect the children. Look, I can bring home the bacon. Look, I'm a sexy guy – I work out – good in bed!" So with this survival, mating, or animal instinct creating desire within us, we tell ourselves, "I must be rich! I must be good-looking! I must be better then them!" And all these 'musts' cause us much frustration, especially when we don't have deeper reasons for why we 'must be' something.

I don't mean that we should give up trying to self-actualize or become who we are meant to be… what I mean is that we should do it for the right reasons. Go beyond your survival and mating instinct and find real reasons for doing what you do. If you want to become rich, don't just do it to attract the opposite sex or because you like shopping, do it because you want to contribute to society in a great way; for the security of your family, or because you want to experience the world and money is the ticket. Know your reasons because they are the true driving force of our achievements. If you just do things out of sex or pleasure drive, soon you'll run out of steam because as you get older, procreating isn't important anymore. Look beyond pleasure and materialism.

In the material world, everything is death-bound, meaning that it will come to an end. Stars like Marilyn Monroe and Elvis died at the peak of their careers. They had everything – money, good looks, great career, fantastic house, boyfriends, and girlfriends – but in the end, it is all death-bound.

If you want true inner peace, then practice non-attachment. Realize that there is nothing you really have to do in this lifetime, only that which you want to. All the material objects and concerns that we chase are illusions which keep you trapped in a never-ending struggle and pursuit for more.

If you can understand that material luxuries and pleasures are all death-bound, then you can approach life in a different way. No longer will you sacrifice your life to chase the almighty dollar, but stop and consider what's your purpose and mission on Earth. For if everyone that's born on this planet just needs to earn enough money and hump each other's brains out, then that is a mundane existence indeed. There is something special for you to do in this world, in this lifetime. But it's not for me to tell… even if I tried, I can only suggest what it might be. Ultimately, you have to discover it for yourself.

So to answer the question set out at the beginning of this article: there is nothing wrong with wanting to make money, it's necessary for survival. However, it's important to look at what you're contributing your life towards. When you are old, like Norman, can you look back on all you've done and appreciate the contribution you've made? Beyond just making money and raising a family, can you say, "I've achieved my life's purpose"?

In a conversation with a friend yesterday, he asked a good question. He said, "What constitutes a life purpose?" I said, "Contribution – something you give to society or the world. Something you love. Something you are willing to suffer for. Something you will do even if no one pays you. That's a life purpose."

December 9th, 2007 by Lance Ong

1 Comment:

  1. carol stanley said...
    Hopefully when you are in the aging process you are in the shedding of material values process. Life is not about what we have but about what we are doing

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