By Andre Oosthuizen
Some say that wealth is important because it gives you more choices in life. A substantial credit balance in the bank account allows you to choose from a great- er range of cars, holiday destinations, restaurants, and homes in leafy suburbs.
Let us dwell for a while on the importance of the choices we create for yourselves. None of us want to be trapped in a cage, confined by
the metal bars of a prison. That is something we share with most of the multi-organ animals on the planet. A lion cannot be happy in a zoo and a parrot will grow depressed if kept in a cage. All are meant to be free, to be able to roam in their natural environment.
The human species start to resent life when, month after month, we are crowded into small spaces, chained to a tiny desk in a perpetually noisy open plan office, or locked into the same never-ending and never-interesting routine by the circumstances of our life. We want the freedom to move, to follow whatever destiny we wish to claim as ours, andto roam.
But this is the exact point where most of us, certainly most of us raised in the western world, become confused and misguided. We assume that a life of prosperity, where your bank balance gives you far wider choices automatically equates to a life of happiness and fulfilment. This is not necessarily always the case.
We have many examples disprove this theory, eg, Greta Garbo, Ernest Hemingway, Marilyn Monroe and Robin Williams. These were people living at the crest of the wave, seemingly with the world at their feet, who were deeply unhappy and liv- ing in the shadows. Happiness is not found in the number of vehicles in the garage or the number of followers on your Facebook page.
I have in recent years, been increasingly con- vinced that this entire hypothesis is wrong. I have seen people return from the beaches of the Maldives deeply lost and unsatisfied; I have witnessed patrons at very expensive restaurants yell at a waiter over something as trivial as the flavour of the steak placed before them; and I have encountered women who are beautifully dressed yet inwardly disturbed.
I believe that there are two things we need to understand. The first is that choices have no meaning unless linked to an underlying purpose or goal, owning anything is an exercise in futility unless you can honestly and sincerely answer the question: In what way do they make me a better, wiser or more balanced human being?
The second of the lessons to be learnt is that creating joy within ourselves does not depend on the price tag attached to the things we surround ourselves with. A takeaway burger shared can be as satisfying as a five-course meal at a restaurant overlooking the ocean; sunsets and sunrises are free; so too is music; a smile, or the must-read book which you borrowed from the library. You can create an existence filled with joy, empathy, and wisdom living in a low-budget apartment block just as easily as you can live through great pain and loneliness in your ten-bedroom mansion.
Freedom, meaning, and happiness come from what you do with the things you own, and the choices you create, not from how much you pay for them.