People over Things

There is no one among the elders who does not prefer to be comfortable financially. What is clear from their lessons, however, is that they believe “enough is enough.” Time spent earning enough money is time reasonably well spent. Time earning an excess of money far beyond that required to meet one’s needs, however, is time wasted.

Very often, the elders pointed to a conflict between the pursuit of money and putting a priority on personal relationships. They stand firmly on the side of investing in relationships:

I have been poor, and I have been rich, but I feel best when I have a coterie of people who like and respect me for what I am, and not what I have. (Clinton, 67)

Surround yourself with people you love. It’s nice to have money and be able to live well, but loved ones are more important than possessions. (Malinda, 72)

Material things are useful, but good relationships with God and the people around you make life worth living. (Neil, 90)

Last but not least, money isn’t everything. Take time to have some fun in life. It’s not all dreary and dog-eat-dog. Stop and smell the roses. (Darren, 73)

Of all the elders who made this point, one in particular stuck with me, from Joshua, 74. He told me that it all comes down to making connections with and caring about others:

Well, who have you helped? What circles do you move in? Some people I’ve known, they never helped anybody. They were never in any circles – they lived their own life totally unto themselves. You know what? Nobody would go to their funerals. It would be as though they never passed by on earth. So if I stick my head in a hole and think of just myself, and I don’t try to do some good and get out and interact and use my braints to help people, then nobody will come to my funeral. And I’ll deserve it!

3 thoughts on “People over Things

  1. These comments remind me of the notion of “The Fulfilment Curve” found in “Your Money or Life” by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. It’s a simple graph that shows the relationship between the experience of fulfilment and the amount of money you spend. The authors describe four different levels of fulfilment: survival, comforts, luxuries and over-consumption. The horizontal line at the bottom of the graph represents money spent and the vertical line fulfilment. As you spend more money you go from just surviving, to attaining comforts and then having luxuries. The authors argue that you reach your peak fulfilment level when you have just “enough.” After that point you overspend, clutter your life and reduce your level of fulfilment. They preach the unpopular notion that bigger or more is not better, but rather less is more.

  2. Thanks for making that connection, and one I hadn’t thought of. That particular book is one of my favorites, and it really helped me reorganize both my thinking and my finances. It’s very true that the elders do echo many of those insights. Through the interviews, I learned that the view from later life has a lot to do with the preciousness of time and how to spend it. Time spent making on earning more just to buy more possessions is seen as wasted.

  3. People have a natural tendency to collect things – whether its coins, stamps, postcards, spoons, or more bizarre things like teabags, chocolate bar wrappers or traffic signs. We human beings seem inclined to be collectors.

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