It would just seem to be so obvious that being reasonably wealthy should bring greater happiness. And perhaps for many of us middle-class types, a bit more in the way of material resources might enhance our lives and families in some positive ways. But being extraordinarily wealthy does not often get the happiness quotient in life to rise at all … maybe just the opposite.
I don’t know when the last time was that I did a Google search for illustrative material on a subject that brought up such a plethora of stuff as did a search for “wealthy but miserable.” There was an immediate listing of articles and research studies that demonstrated the general pattern of the marriage of wealth and misery.
One of these was a very interesting article in The Atlantic just a few years ago that revealed information from a survey of super-wealthy people on the realities of their lives. The descriptive, lead paragraph said …
Does great wealth bring fulfillment? An ambitious study by Boston College suggests not. For the first time, researchers prompted the very rich—people with fortunes in excess of $25 million—to speak candidly about their lives. The result is a surprising litany of anxieties: their sense of isolation, their worries about work and love, and most of all, their fears for their children.
The average wealth of the respondents in the study was $78-million. And I loved this sentence: “Most of the survey’s respondents are wealthy enough to ensure that in any catastrophe short of Armageddon, they will still be dining on Chateaubriand while the rest of us are spit-roasting rats over trash-can fires.” Now that’s quite a word picture!
The writer describes the folks in the survey as a rather miserable lot of people who are subject to a tremendous number of anxieties and life complications. It is as if Solomon came back to write an article for The Atlantic.
For example, whereas most of us find joy in doing something luxurious—like a dinner at a fine restaurant or the European vacation of a lifetime—the super wealthy have lost all ability to gain any psychological benefit from such an experience.
Having excessive wealth puts an odd and awkward strain on relationships. One said, “Very few people know the level of my wealth, and if they did, in most cases I believe it would change our relationship.” Another commented, “I start to wonder how many people we know would cut us off if they didn’t think they could get something from us.”
Raising children in such an environment can be a nightmare. Efforts to build a work ethic are terribly difficult in a world of servants at every turn. And parceling out shares of the family fortune or inheritance at points of achieving certain ages does not work, for the person knows the money is out there and coming to them sooner or later.
By the end of this article, you are so thankful to not have the curse of riches in your life.
Solomon notes in today’s reading that it is a terrible evil to see a person who has been allowed by God’s providence to attain great wealth, but that God’s blessing to enjoy that wealth is not also present.
At the end of the day (or life), there is only one way to have contentment and happiness in life that is deep and genuine, and that is to have a relationship with God that grants a bigger picture of true and eternal realities. Apart from that, all riches or any other material resource can provide is a temporary pleasure … usually followed by longer and darker periods of misery.
The past two Sundays have led us to give two big words to move our minds beyond a pair of myths common to mankind.
- The myth of permanence—talking about the “dust to dust” nature of our material lives—has the actual impermanence of life mitigated by our adopting a bigger picture concerning our CITIZENSHIP. When we see ourselves as citizens of an eternal kingdom, it changes the way we look at everything in this temporal world.
- The myth of joy in abundant riches is answered by our commitment to strive toward CONTENTMENT in whatever circumstances we have in life. We can trust God for our basic needs, seeing ourselves as servants and our resources of whatever size as tools to be used for kingdom work.
Having these perspectives leads us to the ability to enjoy what God gives us as our prosperity. Without it, we can never truly experience happiness in this world.
Ecclesiastes 6:1 – I have seen another evil under the sun, and it weighs heavily on mankind: 2 God gives some people wealth, possessions and honor, so that they lack nothing their hearts desire, but God does not grant them the ability to enjoy them, and strangers enjoy them instead. This is meaningless, a grievous evil.
3 A man may have a hundred children and live many years; yet no matter how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity and does not receive proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. 4 It comes without meaning, it departs in darkness, and in darkness its name is shrouded. 5 Though it never saw the sun or knew anything, it has more rest than does that man— 6 even if he lives a thousand years twice over but fails to enjoy his prosperity. Do not all go to the same place?
7 Everyone’s toil is for their mouth, yet their appetite is never satisfied.
8 What advantage have the wise over fools? What do the poor gain by knowing how to conduct themselves before others?
9 Better what the eye sees than the roving of the appetite. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
10 Whatever exists has already been named, and what humanity is has been known; no one can contend with someone who is stronger.
11 The more the words, the less the meaning, and how does that profit anyone?
12 For who knows what is good for a person in life, during the few and meaningless days they pass through like a shadow? Who can tell them what will happen under the sun after they are gone?