Updated: Oct 24
Despite a background awareness and innate knowing that money can’t buy happiness, it still tends to dominate our systems of value and play the role of guide in our lives. The need and desire for a little more money is understandable; feelings like security, comfort and pleasure all become (theoretically) more easily satisfied with a bigger bank roll; we will finally be able to make better decisions on buying quality products, be more generous, give extra to those who need it most. My sense is that this is only true up to a certain point, and that many of us who believe we are not quite there yet have in fact surpassed the mark and are on an illusory trail, not yet offering up these gifts because we have been blindsided by the economic element only to sideline the possibility of acting now. It is a systemic necessity that we always need to work a little more, to save a little more, to buy a little more before we can arrive at the imagined destination of ‘enoughness’. What if enoughness is the wrong goal?
My hypothesis is that in returning to this internal knowing that money cannot buy happiness and expanding on that by digging into our values systems; what guides us, what matters to us, how we really want to spend our days, who and what we deeply care for, we can create ways that lean into these values without money being the dominant factor. Of course this is not the case for many, but the chances are if you live in the Global North you are likely in a position to slow down and consider where your true driving force comes from. It doesn’t necessarily mean working less, but it does mean flexing the muscles of who you are beyond what you earn. As we spend more time tending our deepest values we realise they decrease the desire for consumerism, for 'social media' and expensive holidays. It might mean hard work, as-in the parent who finds it hard to express love but hides and saves to send their children to great schools and universities. This is the distinction between psycho-spiritual wholeness and a value belief system based on opportunity for power and wealth. Providing great career prospects could be the same as valuing money above all else; it forgets to ask who that person is and how they truly wish to spend their time.
I believe that we have shared cultural, or perhaps even human values that have been somewhat suppressed and forgotten because of the monetary value dominance in our society. This might be epitomised by the forgetting of natures intrinsic value. As we drive in the financial hooks to value nature by trying to ‘save it’ through placing monetary value on it we lose something vital, something beyond words. This is a macrocosm of how we have come to think each waking minute, when we are caught in the illusion that more money will give more space for quality time with family, or when we buy more products to become more 'environmentally conscious'. These examples speak to core values that we can nourish immediately and truly by becoming aware of them as part of what motivates our lives and imbibes beauty into our days.
I’d like to offer up a values exercise. It’ll only take a few minutes but will give you space to consider your internal value systems and find a few ways to nourish these.
Firstly, try closing your eyes or grabbing a pen. Now begin to imagine the scene of your own funeral. There are loved ones surrounding; note who is there, what does the space look like? Really try and create a full scene. Someone steps forward to speak. Who is it? What is it that they might say that would get to the heart of the best of you? Of who you truly are? They are reading your eulogy. They might say you always gave the most beautiful attention to playing with your children, or that you fought for equality, or had a deep connection to the natural world. It will be entirely personal. Note what you hear. Really try and be viscerally in this scene. Let this eulogy play out in full. Write it down, perfect it, play with it, but let is come from this loved one who is speaking of you.
After you’ve noted down what you have heard you will have a few of your core values in front of you to pick out from the text. They may be obvious or they may be hidden in a story or a personality trait. Next, take each of these values separately, summarise it and turn it into a spider diagram. On each thread jot down some of the ways in which a person described this way would be in the world. They can be general or specific but try to convey the type of person that would be remembered for this value, known for it. Someone who played attentively with their children probably wasn’t always in work mode or on their phone, they likely tended the activities that the children love, listened to them, created space and time each day for them, and had access to their own inner child. Let your mind wander on these traits. Now, reading each trait back, consider the daily ways in which you can expand this in yourself, starting today. You may find that you can map out some simple acts to become more deeply who you are starting straight away, or that you need some help to overcome traumas or tap into new ways of being. You may also find you are inhabiting someone else’s life (a strict parent or societal model for example). Whatever you find is an invitation toward wholeness. These values you uncovered are already yours, they need only be tended.
If you do this for 4-10 of your core values you shine a torch on them, you bring them out of the darkness cast by our money dominated value systems and bring your true values to light. Now, like little seedlings, you can tend them, water them, create the environment in which they can thrive and build a way to be remembered for who you truly are.
In an upcoming piece I will be exploring how these values can inform our life's mission- our unique way of being in the world (our ecological-niche, as Bill Plotkin calls it), so as to build a life of simplicity, purpose and beauty.