Richson: Battling wealth addiction


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A phrase currently floating around the infinite abyss that is the Internet recently caught my eye: “wealth addiction.”

I tend to think of addiction as a habit that is above all physically harmful, or at the very least a habit that debilitates you and prevents you from functioning normally in delay life. While this personal definition is by no means scientific, I had to wonder…can too much wealth really be that bad?

I’m not talking about “too much wealth” in terms of wealth disparity or the differences between the “haves and have-nots,” which is in itself an appalling issue in the United States. But speaking individually, if a person works and knows how to manage her or his continually amassing wealth, yet continually craves more, is that blind ambition or actual addiction?

Physically speaking, money itself cannot harm you, but transitively, it does run your life in many ways. The former Wall Street workhorse (now a philanthropist), who coined the term “wealth addiction” in his column in the New York Times this past Sunday compares his addiction to wealth to other addictions in his life: alcohol, cocaine, Ritalin … the list goes on. More “traditional” addictions for which he had sought counseling while in college, but none made him feel quite as powerful as both money and the possibility of earning more of it did. Money equated to importance.

Ultimately, it was only realizing the notion that money earned could also one day be money lost that changed his outlook.

Whether or not you view the act of incessantly chasing wealth as ambition or as greed, money is never a guarantee. More importantly, if there is always more money out there circulating to be had, it’s hard to be satisfied with what you have.

But to merely live in a country where “wealth addiction” is a formidable concept is a luxury. Having just spent three weeks in India, a place that still has many elements of what we call the “Third World,” the idea that one can have wealth, obviously a relative term, and infinitely desire more seems absurd. Money, it seems, isn’t inherently addictive, but it’s made so by our culture.

In the United States, we are conditioned to believe that getting by isn’t enough, and so we live in a perpetual state of wanting more rather than focusing on what we do have.

I am not one to preach about living minimally or wanting less, but I do think wealth addiction is a very real and present condition in this country. We to seek to educate ourselves to ultimately make a living, and for some, money is a driving motivational force. And it won’t ever stop being a driving force, because the reality is that living costs money. However, what the concept of wealth addiction can teach us is that money doesn’t make a life. If you think that it does, you will find yourself repeatedly shorthanded and disappointed.

Wanting “things” is often what keeps us going, but most of the rewarding “things” in life — completing your first marathon, getting accepted into the college major you wanted — aren’t actually things, which is why wealth can be construed as an addiction; even getting your fix can leave you feeling empty. It’s up to people to choose their outlook on wealth acquisition and what it is exactly that wealth has granted them in the long run.

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