There is more to life, and happiness, than consumerism. Photo: iStock
There is more to life, and happiness, than consumerism. Photo: iStock

President Donald Trump is triumphantly serial-tweeting about the record surge of US stock markets, but if economics needs the “human-omics” of holistic growth, then the algorithm-pumped gambling dens of global stock markets cannot be used to reflect how a country or economy is faring.

“The branch of knowledge concerned with the production,  consumption, and transfer of wealth,” is one definition of “economics.” Logically, evolution demands better wisdom worked into outdated economic principles.

It is time to jettison wealth creation and endless consumption as the core measures of gross domestic product (GDP) and a country’s development. The history of “great” empires, including the rise and fall of Rome, suggests that wealth is no guarantee of peace and happiness. We know how psychiatrists earn their living more from wealth-stricken than poverty-stricken folks.

While on this favorite road of thought, I often remember director Gabriele Muccino’s 2006 movie The Pursuit of Happyness. The Will Smith starrer tells the story of a homeless young, single father struggling through hard times. The happy ending (sorry for the spoiler) comes with the father getting his stockbroker license and building a multimillion-dollar brokerage firm. So does pursuit of happiness mean pursuit of wealth, with or without Wall Street?

The film’s title was deliberately misspelled, and if the spelling of “happiness” needs changing, so too do ideas of what really is happiness – and the idea that pursuit of wealth has to be the core goal of a country and its corporations.

The natural resources of life-supporting Mother Earth cannot support roofless corporate sales targets, unlimited profits, endless consumption, craving for more and more – from an increasing human population with longer life spans.

According to the annual Earth Overshoot Day (that the Global Footprint Network and the World Wildlife Foundation calculates), we are already using up Earth’s resources 1.7 times as fast as our home planet can regenerate.

That is why voluntary sharing of wealth, and not merely its creation and spending, needs to become a cornerstone of evolutionary economics. The new basis has to be something not along the lines of GDP, but GDS – greater developmental sharing. An increase in personal wealth has to lead to an increase in voluntary investment in social development. Governments alone and economics of self-gratification have not and will never solve old or new problems.

But compassionate giving is not for publicity or tax-cut tricks, but with practical understanding of how the actual central purpose of wealth is to give.

A Thanksgiving meal served to thousands of economically weaker people at the Bowery Mission, New York

Honest wealth comes not merely from very hard, effective work, but also has nature’s Law of Cause and Effect at work: Those who give get more in return. The happily wealthy become nature’s conduits for wealth to be shared.

“The so-called happiness that one experiences by having money, power, and indulging in sensual pleasures is not real happiness. It is very fragile, unstable and not lasting long,” Myanmar-born multimillionaire retired industrialist S N Goenka told global business leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, of January 2000. The session was titled “What Is Happiness? Is This All There Is?”

‘Car factor’ of life

Sure, we need money. I love writing, but I also write to earn my bread and maybe the occasional Margherita pizza. But fattening the bank account as a primary purpose of life makes little sense. The fabled Monk Who Sold His Ferrari would have bought a few more super-luxury sports cars if he had not found something far more satisfying.

I call this the “car factor” of life, or blind craving for possessions of any kind – such as for more expensive cars or more cars, but forgetting costs attached: maintenance and parking headaches, monetary and environmental costs of fuel, increasing traffic jams. Using public transport works better than getting admiring glances while inside a Porsche stuck in traffic.

On life’s road, I do not need to be super-rich to be happy. Having lived both homeless in the streets and in five-star hotels, I have experienced the unusual happiness of freedom of life in the streets. Bare necessities give greater contentment; heaven becomes a hot cup of tea on a cold winter morning.

In contrast, excessive dependence on luxury breeds the mental discomfort of clinging. With the undercurrent fear of losing that comfort zone, quality of life suffers.

A quality life needs a quality state of mind, a sense of freedom. Fewer possessions, more freedom.We first own possessions, and then the possessions own us.

A quality life of freedom needs breaking free from excessive consumerist culture. Conventional economics needs going beyond consumer indices, and working out the sharing index, how wealth creation translates seamlessly to wealth sharing in society. This cannot be from disastrous Marxist ideologies of compulsion, but free individuals making choices of practical wisdom.

Better to give than to cling; better to share than to hoard. It makes more sense in personal life, rush-hour traffic, national economy and planetary sustenance for life on Earth.

Raja Murthy

Raja Murthy is an independent journalist who has contributed to Asia Times since 2003, The Statesman since 1990, and formerly the Times of India, Economic Times, Elle, and others. He shuttles between Mumbai and the Himalayas.

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