3 Reasons Why It’s Not Selfish or Unspiritual to Want Money, Success and Happiness
(We’re pulling out an oldie, but goodie today—one of W&M’s most popular posts. Enjoy!)
Many years ago I struggled with this question like so many others. Was it okay to want nice things when millions of people didn’t even have their basic needs met? I wanted to make good money, but did choosing a well-paying career mean I was just in it for myself? I also wanted to serve and be a force for good in the world, but did choosing service-oriented work mean I’d be stuck in poverty? It felt like such a huge dichotomy. A friend of mine was similarly conflicted, wondering if pursuing money was a sign of greed. As women we’re taught to take care of others before ourselves—be nurturers—so an all-out pursuit for success can seem well…selfish. But the truth is, that couldn’t be further from the truth. And I’m grateful to have learned this early on.
1. Conscious prosperity
First thing’s first: Having money and success puts you in a position to help more people. And do it better. More importantly, you can do more for others when your needs are taken care of. This message took root for me several years ago when I met an entrepreneur named Jeff Brown. Brown is a Philadelphia grocer who took on one of our country’s biggest social problems: Getting healthy food into underserved areas where theft and violence is so bad grocers refused to open stores. Not only was it dangerous, but they couldn’t make a profit. Which sent obesity and disease rates soaring in these “food desert” areas, where many residents don’t have cars and only have access to fast food and junk. Brown found a solution where he’s been able to put beautiful ShopRite grocery stores in six inner-city Philly neighborhoods and make a decent profit. He does it by infusing social responsibility into his business. He asks everyone from the employees to the community what they need to be at their best, and provides it, so it’s win-win for everyone. Thousands of inner-city residents are getting healthier, hundreds of new jobs have been created and crime rates are significantly lower. Brown can only accomplish this because he made it profitable. And because it’s profitable, he can do more of it. Brown taught me one of the most valuable money lessons I ever learned: You can do well by doing good. And the positive effects are boundless.
Many of us get stuck in that either/or mentality, as if we have to choose between service or money, or feel guilty if we want to make money. But as Brown and many other conscious entrepreneurs will tell you: If you want to be of service in the world, money helps you achieve those goals faster and in a bigger way. There’s an emotional component that money provides as well. Living a financially secure lifestyle (filled with the things you value) allows you to focus on those worthy goals. It puts you at your best, and in a position to give more and to want to give more—physically, emotionally and spiritually. Brown, for example (who’s been recognized by President and Michelle Obama for his efforts), puts a lot of energy into a non-profit he created to help grocers build supermarkets in underserved areas across the country. Change is happening faster because he has the means to make it happen.
John Mackey, founder and CEO of Whole Foods, writes something similar in his book Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business. His belief is that a business that incorporates social responsibility “is ethical because it’s based on voluntary exchange, it’s noble because it can elevate our existence, and it’s heroic because it lifts people out of poverty and creates prosperity.”
2. The power of one
Let’s say you’re not looking to make big strides in the world. Maybe you’re a secretary, artist, executive or small business owner whose only goal is to enjoy what you do and take care of yourself and your family. The same applies. The pursuit is no less worthy. Here’s why: When you’re financially secure, with less worry and stress, you can be a better partner, parent, daughter, friend. When you have more, everyone benefits, because you have more to give of yourself. Not to mention that you’re an inspiration to others who now see the possibilities for themselves.
And here’s something I learned from Peter Lynch in his classic, Learn to Earn: A Beginner’s Guide to the Basics of Investing and Business. It seems so obvious but it was an aha moment for me when I read it years ago. The more money you circulate in the world, the more jobs you’re helping to create, and helping put food in people’s mouths, while helping the economy flow. For example, even if you put $10 in the bank, the bank uses that $10 to loan money to businesses that create jobs which leads to purchasing power that helps other businesses grow. They in turn hire new employees who can then feed their families and so on. Every dollar you put out in the world makes a difference somewhere. Your ability to help others is automatic.
3. Rich people give more
If you still have that little voice in back of your head that says it’s not spiritual to have money (or insist on the old, false cultural belief that says rich, successful people are greedy) consider this: A recent study by the University of Indiana found that rich people give more than the general population. Ninety-five percent of wealthy people give to charity vs. 65% of the general population. And they don’t just give money. The study found that 89% of them volunteered their time as well. Overall, they donate an average of $52,000 a year or about 9% of their income whereas the rest of the population gives about 4%. What’s more, wealthy women give nearly twice as much as men.
A Forbes article on women and philanthropy noted that “to a great degree, the charitable giving by women…focuses on improving the quality of life and opportunity for girls and women. The exponential growth of women’s funds suggests an increasing acceptance of the idea that philanthropic investments in women and girls can fuel positive change in communities around the world.”
Bottom line: Money allows us to give and do more—to nurture, protect, and help others thrive.
Whether your goal is to be a great parent or help solve the world’s problems, the more tools you have at your disposal the easier that goal is to accomplish. At the same time, the presence of money and/or success has nothing to do with whether a pursuit is spiritual or unselfish. What matters most is your good intentions and your ability to affect your world in positive ways. So give yourself permission to feel great about pursuing everything the world has to offer.