Earning our big pot of gold

By Alvin

After I started working and earning my own living, I began to wonder how much is enough for me to enjoy a good standard of living while saving for the future. I have dreams of becoming wealthy, but I pondered, “What does it really mean to be wealthy? What does it cost to become wealthy?”

Defining Wealth

Firstly, let’s discuss how personal wealth is measured. We typically define our personal wealth based on the amount we have in our bank account or the number or type of assets that we own. We spend a significant portion of our lives chasing the dream of becoming wealthy; a dream that has become distorted by modern society’s disproportionate expectations and never-ending comparison. On a daily basis, we always compare with our peers who are doing better in life. These comparison is often done subconsciously. Money is important in life, but are we forgetting the other types of wealth that we have, or we need to accumulate?

Cost of Earning Money

I remember seeing a photo of a frail and haggard looking Chinese Kungfu star, Jet Li with the caption saying: “when young, we spend our health to earn our wealth, now when we are older and with sickness, we spend our wealth on our health”. This is the best example to illustrate the point that we are giving up too much just to make more money. Earning a living becomes living to earn money, and then living to spend the money. Money becomes the basis of our life rather than us living our own life in the way we want. We have to consciously ask ourselves: is it worthwhile to work like slaves just to have the ‘richer’ lifestyle and to be like our peers who owns fancier material things? We must make these life choices consciously. 

Many people work excessively so as to achieve their financial goals. However, we should consider how our lives are revolving around work and how it consumes our time. Whenever possible, we must manage our time so that we have time for other things in life besides work. However, if we lose awareness of our mind, we tend to allow work to occupy our mind even during non-working hours, and work stress affects us continuously. I am also guilty of this, perhaps especially so because I am not working a 9-to-5 job. I have to constantly remind myself that time is irreversible and I cannot allow work to occupy my whole life. However, I am not advocating anyone to do a YOLO (You Only Live Once)! Yes, we should live life to its fullest, but we need to live it wisely.

The Essential Wealth

It is obvious that there are other types of wealth, such as kinship and friendship, which are very important in our lives. However, there is an essential wealth, which other wealth depends on. I am not referring to the ‘wealth of knowledge’, although being knowledgeable is crucial in our knowledge-based economy. To me the most fundamental form of wealth is the ‘wealth of wisdom’. Being wise, we will know how to better spend our time, identify better ways to earn our living, select what to invest in, and decide how to spend our budget. A person can accumulate a tremendous amount of money, but without wisdom he can lose it easily, anytime. Being wiser, we can also improve our relationships with our family and friends.

Don’t be Greedy

Based on my existing wealth of wisdom, I am constantly reminding myself not to be too attached to money as I strive to enrich my pot of gold. When investing, I need to remind myself not to be greedy. For example, when buying a stock, we should not aim for the lowest price to buy and the highest price to sell. As long as we can make a profit, we should not regret that we could have earned more. This logic also applies to our daily groceries shopping. For example, after buying groceries from a stall, we discovered that the next stall sells it at a cheaper price. Some people will go back to the first stall and demand a refund, spending a lot of time and effort to make sure they do not lose out. Actually, we should take it as a lesson learnt for future purchases, but if we are feeling cheated and ‘heart pain’, then we are missing the point. Being smart means making good decisions to make sure we always make the most gains, but with wisdom, we avoid being ‘penny wise but pounds foolish’.

How to Accumulate Wealth of Wisdom

So, the next question is, how to accumulate wisdom? My advice is to be a Buddhist Practitioner who learns and applies Buddhist Teachings in our daily lives rather than just a ‘believer’. Even though Buddha’s teachings have been passed on for thousands of years, it still has much relevance to us. Personally, they have guided me in slowly changing my thinking and mindset. I have only just started my ‘wisdom accumulation’, but I have discovered that I am not as attached to chasing materialistic goals or being caught up in consumerism. I still feel the occasional work stress when there is a tight timeline, but I am enjoying more of my work. This is because, through my Buddhist cultivation, I am more aware of my choices in life, and I am more balanced when I seek my pot of gold.