My dad would say to me. The above is a Chinese idiom that means, “Money is not everything, but without money you have nothing!” It’s funny how he stresses the importance of money to me at times. I know that money is central to our lives. It is something we use every day. We use money to pay for the foods that we eat, the home where we live in, the clothes that we wear, and the various other things that we do. But regardless of the situation, I have never considered money to be something of central importance.
Yes, I fully understand that money is essential for living our lives. There are so many things you can do with money. But at the same time there are also so many things you can do without money. I can enjoy nature, a run through trails in the woods, meditations, writing, connecting with certain loved ones, and many other things. To me, money doesn’t have anything to do with lasting values that make life worth living.
The views that I held about money are in constant contrast with my family members’. They believe that money is a means to an end. Without money, we can’t do anything. We can’t have nice things. We can’t go on any vacations. We can’t raise a family. We are simply impaired and crippled without money.
The idea that money equals happiness is extremely prevalent in their lives. That’s why the majority of my relatives came to America. They believed that without money, they will never be happy. They believed that without money, they will always live a life full of hardships, wondering when can they afford their next meal. So my uncles, my aunts, and my parents all worked extremely hard and sacrificed much to become affluent business owners today. They have achieved their goals of accumulating wealth, but their fear still drives them every day; the fear of not having enough money.
But that is not the problem. Money is not the problem. It is their flawed notion that money is the solution to all problems that is feeding their fear. If we put so much emphasis on accumulating wealth, we tend to neglect other important aspects of our lives. I can see for myself that that is not the path for me. I don’t want to be solely fixated on accumulating money and wealth. I don’t want my life to be controlled by fears and greed of not having enough. I choose to see things differently.
Money is a Tool, Not the Master of our Fate
We all use money on a regular basis. In today’s age and society, money can buy us our most basic needs in the form of food, shelter, and clothes. Once our most basic needs are met, what else can money give us?
Money can also give us a sense of security and safety for our future. If our basic needs are satisfied, then having enough money to satisfy our future needs is just as important. As long as we live, we need food to eat, a place to live, and clothes to wear. That’s why people work so hard. We work hard to earn more money because we are afraid of unexpected problems that may arise. We are afraid of losing what we already have.
All those are good reasons why accumulating wealth is important, but I want to stress another point. Money is a servant. Money is a tool. It is a medium through which people exchange values. If we put an objective view on money, we know that it is just a piece of cloth made of 75% cotton and 25% linen. Money is subjected to personal views of importance. We give it value, not the other way around.
What happens if another catastrophic depression occurs and the value of the dollar plummet even more? It would be a no brainer that money would become worthless. To add to this problem, inflation is driving the value of money down. So why do we focus so much attention on accumulating something that is predetermined to become less valuable over time? Why do we trade so much of our limited time working for money?
The way I see it, money should never be the main reason for the actions we take and decisions we make. Money is something that comes and goes. Having a lot of money means that we can exchange a lot of values. We can buy the products or services that we want with ease. However, it is important to keep our reality in check because the things that we want may not be the things that we need.
I remember something that my mom told me a while ago about her childhood.
“When I was a kid, our family used to be very poor. And my favorite time of the year was when I received a piece of Chinese sweets during holidays. I was incredibly happy with just that as a kid…”
When my mom said those words, I can see her deeply in thoughts, reminiscing about her past. What she said that day many years ago still echoes in my mind repeatedly whenever I think about money. Money doesn’t hold any sentimental values to me. I already know for myself that happiness is not a function of how much money you possess. It is a function of the simple appreciation you have, just like my mom did when she received her special treat as a kid.
I asked myself this really important question when I thought about my mom’s response.
Do I really need a lot of money to be happy?
The answer is no. I don’t need millions of dollars to be happy. Heck, if all my basic needs are satisfied, I am fine with having no money at all. I can enjoy all the simple things I already have. I don’t need status artifacts, designer clothes, or any other expensive things to justify my worth as a human being. My success in life is not determined by how much money I can accumulate. It is determined by how happy I am with what I already have.
I could picture myself living in a huge mansion owning dozens of sports cars. I can imagine being an incredibly affluent person with a net worth of over one billion dollars. I can see dozens of incredibly beautiful women all over me due to my status. I can feel my desires flowing and my visions clouded. I can hear my arrogant voices high on power. And from my imaginations of having all that wealth, I choose to believe that I don’t need it.
I understand that money can make our lives easier. In a general sense, it is much more likely that a person who is financially secure will be happier than someone who is not. I don’t doubt this fact at all. But my main problem is the preconceived notion from many people that you have to have a lot of money to be happy and successful in life.
If our worth as a human being is determined by how much money we make, then it is surely a sad way to live our lives.
I am not trying to say that money is the root of all evil. In fact, that statement is incredibly baseless. How does an inanimate object have the power to be evil? The truth is it doesn’t. Neither does money have the power to change people, unless we yield it the power to do so. It is our willing permission, our consent to the belief that money possesses that kind of power, which changes us. Saying that money is the root of all evil is no different than abdicating our personal responsibility by putting the blame on something else.
Money is a tool used to satisfy our basic needs. Once those needs are met, we can use money to achieve our personal goals and desires. It is our responsibility to make sure that those goals and desires are not trivial and unimportant in the grand scheme of things.
How do we do that? Well, it’s all about balancing our needs.
Balance our Needs
As human beings, we have several levels of needs. What are those needs? Well, the best way I can describe them is by borrowing an idea from American psychologist Abraham Maslow. Maslow created a hierarchy of needs that perfectly describes what I want to show. And those needs are outlined in the pyramid below.
As you can see, there are five categories of needs in this hierarchy. The first four layers of the pyramid are known as deficiency needs which consist of esteem, love/belonging, safety, and physiological needs. These needs are important because each of them rely on another. For instance, your safety needs can never be satisfied if your physical needs are threatened. How can anyone ever feel secure if their basic needs for food, water, and oxygen are threatened? It is impossible.
What does any of this have to do with money? Well, what can money buy from these layers of needs? From my personal interpretations, money can probably satisfy the first two layers, safety and physical needs. It can possibly satisfy our esteem needs if money is something that can give us confidence and respect from others. The rest, however, requires more than money. And this is the point that I want to make.
We have so many needs. And money doesn’t cover all of them. We have to find a way to balance our needs and apply the other ones that are also important in living our lives.
I will give a personal example of this.
I have two uncles and they are brothers. I will call one of them Big Li and the other one Little Li. Both of them are wealthy in that either of their annual income should place them above the 1.5% household income in the USA.
Big Li, my older uncle, is well known for his spending habits. The more money he has, the more money he will spend. His basic needs are satisfied. He will never have to worry about food, water, employment, and others. Every month he receives money from his share in the restaurant business. However, he is a mess when it comes to other aspects of his life.
Big Li is a very materialistic person. He loves to gamble and fool around. It is well known in my family that he is a player. In fact, he is dating someone who is nearly half his age currently. The worse of all, he is doing this while still married to my aunt. My uncle does not know anything about personal responsibility. He doesn’t raise his kids. Instead, he lets my other relatives do that.
How does one live their lives only caring about money and nothing else? Is it simply better to boast about one’s wealth than to have a loving family at home? Is it better to prioritize money and the things that it can buy instead of the moral standards that he should have? The answer is no. His loving connection with his children and wife is nonexistent. His esteem needs are brought with money, not build through trust and loyalty. Perhaps, I am getting a little ahead of myself. The problem does not reside in money. It is more about my uncle’s lack of moral beliefs. I think a better example can be given through the perspective of Little Li, my other uncle.
Little Li is very different from Big Li. He cares about accumulating wealth and providing for his family. My uncle worked extremely hard and expanded his business several times during the past few years. He is very frugal and spends little. The only thing he does is reinvesting his money into his business. He is a smart and financially successful man.
Now, he spends the majority of his time working to manage several restaurants and shops. His main motivation is to provide and take care of his family’s needs. Despite his efforts, he often times complain about my cousins. He whines about my cousins’ poor academic skills and their lack of planning for their future.
But I can see for myself that my uncle’s needs for a loving family are restricted by his personal stubborn and strict background. If he truly cares for his kids, then he should take his time to get to know them. Don’t neglect them and expect them to learn everything that life has to offer. Teach them about what it means to work hard and succeed in life. Don’t constantly shelter them from hardships. The only thing that that does is weakening them when they eventually have to face challenges in reality themselves.
If Little Li took some of his time and efforts from accumulating wealth and put them towards building a great relationship with his kids, I can guarantee that he will be much happier. Currently he doesn’t know how to listen to them during their times of need. He complains about them and undermines what they do. He hardly ever spends quality time with them. He wants to be a good dad, but I can see that he lacks the understandings and patience of a good father.
Both of my examples are based around love and family needs that are not satisfied by my uncles. I am not saying that love and family is the only thing that people should focus more of their time on rather than money. Instead, it is one of many main components that people should focus more of their time on. And a good place to start is to balance out our needs by prioritizing our focus on areas where we can improve.
Money is important and I know that, but there is much more to life than money. If we look at money as one component of need that makes up life, then we know that there are other components just as or even more important. And I will focus my attentions on them because the neglected ones are the hardest and most rewarding of them all. How about you?