What Wealth Teaches

In one of his essays, Seneca lists all the trappings of obscene wealth—a golden roof, purple clothes, marble floors. He describes the life of someone who has been blessed mightily by fate and fortune. They have imposing statues, the most brilliant art, teams of servants. They have country homes and fancy jewelry. What does having all these things teach? Seneca asks. “All you learn from this is how to desire more stuff.”

That’s the irony of material success. It’s a series of moving goal posts. You think having X will be sufficient only to find that 2x is better and that 3x is preferable still. “Prosperity is a restless thing: it troubles itself,” he says elsewhere. Or rather, it propels itself.

See if you can find one billionaire who isn’t trying to acquire more. See if you can find one famous person whose actions don’t indicate that they’d like at least a little more fame. Because that’s what we learn from these things—it isn’t a sense of what’s “enough” it’s a sense of how much more there could be.

Needless to say this is a path to bankruptcy, personally if not financially. It’s a hedonic treadmill that eventually breaks down…or breaks the person frantically running atop it.

So get off while you still can.

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