Every spiritual tradition describes happiness and explains how to obtain it. The great teachings of the world suggest that the whole purpose of our existence is to live happy, meaningful lives, and they all give definite directions on how to achieve this blissful state.
The great masters teach what we intellectually understand—that happiness does not come from accumulating wealth and material goods. Rather, it is a result of sharing our gifts and appreciating what we have.
Yet we seem to have this instinct that keeps us pushing for bigger and better. It seems like no matter how much we have, it is not enough. Actually, we are wired to be discontent so we will keep striving for more. It is part of the evolutionary process. If we live in a state of constant dissatisfaction, we will keep looking for ways to make things better. This is not a bad thing; in fact, it has proven to be a very good thing. We can look at the advances humankind has made since we crawled out of the evolutionary muck and see that life is much better than when we were part of the food chain. Yet our advances have come at a huge cost, mainly at the expense of our happiness and overall satisfaction.
Contributors vs. Consumers
Maybe we have arrived at the stage of our evolution where we can continue to advance and be happy at the same time. This is possible when we strive to be contributors to life rather than consumers of things. We can tell the difference by examining our motives. If we act from our cravings, then we are attempting to get something in order to feel better, which will never work.
The religious traditions are very clear about getting stuff just for the sake of getting stuff. Jesus tells us that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God. Mohammad says, “The richest among you is the one who is not entrapped by greed. … The miser is the poorest of all.” And from Buddhism we have, “You are deceived by your addiction to and desire for sensuous objects, as is the moth by the flame of a lamp.”
Now this does not mean that having material wealth is wrong. It is when we crave these things and pursue them at the expense of what really matters that perpetuates unhappiness. When we chase money, things, security, prestige or power, above all else, the things that matter get lost. So because our attention is misdirected, we miss out on what is really important to us.
It is possible to simultaneously have wealth and be happy. We have wonderful examples of people who have generated unimaginable amounts of wealth and who use their prosperity in ways that make a difference in the world. Bill and Melinda Gates are prime examples of this. Bill Gates started a business doing what he loved and became wildly successful at it. He then started a foundation where he shares his wealth in a way that makes a real difference to people all over the globe. He demonstrates a wonderful balance of someone who enjoys his financial success while sharing it in meaningful ways with others.
Most of us do not have the kind of financial success that the Gates have. Yet we, too, can create happy, meaningful lives right where we are with what we have. We each have our own unique gifts that, when shared, make a difference in the lives of others. When we understand that we have something to offer others and we share our talents and our wealth freely, our focus turns from getting to giving. This gives our lives meaning. Our actions and decisions are then guided by our overall purpose rather than driven by our cravings.
Living from purpose gives meaning to our success, our wealth and our actions. We appreciate what we have more. The world becomes a friendly place and we begin to lead happier, more satisfied lives.