Welcome back to Mid-Week Meditations, Lifehacker‘s weekly dip into the pool of stoic wisdom, and a guide to using its waters to reflect on and improve your life.
This week’s selection comes from Seneca in his Cosolation to Helvia, or De Consolatione ad Helviam Matrem, in which Seneca consoles his mother Helvia on his recent exile to Corsica.
He writes about the rich and the poor in section 12:
Consider in the first place how many more poor people there are than rich, and yet you will not find that they are sadder or more anxious than the rich: Nay, I am not sure that they are not happier, because they have fewer things to distract their minds. From these poor men, who often are not unhappy at their poverty, let us pass to the rich. How many occasions there are on which they are just like poor men!
What It Means
Seneca asks us to think about how many non-wealthy people there are in the world, and how many of them are perfectly content. In fact, Seneca goes as far to say that they are probably happier than the wealthy because they have fewer concerns weighing on their mind.
The truth is, he says, the rich are a lot like the poor. They have a lot of the same problems as those without wealth, and may have even more problems because of their money.
What to Take From It
Look, money can make many aspects of life easier – there’s no doubt about that. You can afford comfort, security and health. But for every perk that comes with wealth, several pitfalls make themselves known. You’ve undoubtedly heard the phrase “more money, more problems”, and there’s a lot of truth to it.
Consider the lottery winner. They go from poor and desperate to wealthy and satisfied in an instant.
But does this bring them happiness? Does this sudden injection of cash solve the problems in their life? No. They still have to deal with their family issues, they still might have to fight off depression, and they still must search for a direction in life.
Money like that, sheer wealth, is a distraction – and a magnet for the greedy, scheming and vicious.
There’s nothing wrong with seeking decent pay and a comfortable life for you and your family. This is the game you were born into and you must play.
But think upon Seneca’s words here. Money you may need, but wealth, the excess of money, you do not.
Why? Because while money can fix some problems, it cannot fix you. The only problem the wealthy are guaranteed not to have is the need for wealth. And, depending on what truly makes you happy in your life, that may not be a problem you have to worry about at all.
You can read all of Seneca’s Cosolation to Helvia for free here.