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This is The Most Expensive Thing

Daily Stoic Emails

Since Stoicism was founded, most of the Stoics have been wealthy…and yet almost to a letter, most of them have warned of the dangers and perils of wealth. No one embodies this paradox more than Seneca. The Stoics have warned again and again about the downsides of abundant wealth. He accumulated a net worth of three hundred million denarii (for context, Judas received thirty denarii to betray Jesus). He famously owned three hundred ivory tables for entertaining. He made so many enormous loans to colonists in Britain, that when the debt was called in around 60 AD, it destabilized the entire region.

Yet in Letters From A Stoic, written during the final three years of his life, Seneca would warn again and again about the burdens of becoming rich. “Very often,” he writes, “the things that cost nothing cost us the most heavily.” He adds that in the quest for and acquisition of money, most people think one has much to gain and little to lose, Take a sales rep in our modern world, they might see only the increase in pay and status that comes with the promotion, not the decrease in autonomy and peace of mind that comes with the responsibilities of being a manager of an entire sales force.

But if I accept the promotion, I will have more money, Seneca anticipates you will reply. “Yes, and more trouble.” And more people bringing you problems. More things taking up your time. More possessions to worry about. More time wasted thinking about how to own more and more money.

“You have to reflect,” Seneca writes, “not only when it is a question of gain, but also when it is a question of loss.” You have to think not only of the upsides, but also of the downsides that come with money. You have to think about the time, freedom, and happiness wrested from your hands and replaced with money (which you have less time to freely spend on the things that make you happy). You have to think about the burdens of becoming rich.

You have to try to be a bit more integrated (and ethical) than our friend Seneca.