The real value of money


The Bigger Picture: Everything we see and hear in this society tells us that money is the central point of living. Financial news is critical. Economic trends decide everything. Even fantasies of happiness begin by being rich.

We get the message that wealth and fame create joy and define success such that everyone should strive to achieve them. If your values and priorities lie elsewhere, others can perceive you as odd, naïve or even selling yourself short.

However, the dominant view remains strong, and most people who try to consider other directions quickly find themselves battling fears that they will be left behind and are open to exploitation.

The widespread impact is that most of us are preoccupied with the pursuit of money, and are less happy for it.

What does money offer us?

There is no doubt it helps us survive. We are well out of the age when our economy was based on bartering and sharing necessary resources. In such times, people, contributions, skills and items of personal need were valued equally and as part of the functioning of the individual and society.

Today, we measure value with money. One thing is arbitrarily judged as better or worse than another in a game to manipulate spending and generate profits. Quality varies, driven by concerns for cost of production rather than the human benefit of the product. Ultimately, having access to notes and coins is essential to acquiring fundamental resources.

An excellent example of this is food. Food is an absolute requisite for living. Yet, we no longer have a world where we can access food without money. Even if we were to grow our own, access to seeds (never mind land) requires money. The seeds themselves must be re-purchased every year, as motives of market control and ownership have allowed seeds to be developed that grow into impotent plants, unable to produce a useful seed again.

Furthermore, the quality of our food has deteriorated dramatically. Financial interests of mass production and mass marketing have been given a status of greater importance than the health of human beings. In the process, the wellbeing of animals, plants and our environment has also suffered.

We now require "image-oriented" food. Items must be the prescribed colour, size, shape and shininess. We must produce excess amounts. We must use them as political bargaining tools to control prices, economies and nations. Above all, we must make profit. And so, money has truly become supreme, even over food.

Ultimately, money means access to resources. Wealth can be defined simply as having choices. The more money we have, the more choices we have for the quantities, varieties and styles of things we want.

The more we engage with this, the more the marketing machine gets out of hand - creating useless items, convincing us we need them and getting us to spend money, even if it's just a little, as long as we all do it on mass.

Thus, there is an incredible waste of resources occurring. Our exchange of means is happening in ways that is allowing for the accumulation of excesses in small corners rather than channelling them constructively and evenly to benefit the masses. In fact, we don't have too many people in the world to feed. There is enough to go around. We are simply not focused.

We are being led incorrectly by our economic leaders. Money is going to waste, and we have come to believe that it's okay to watch people die if they happen to not have enough money.

How we think about money is of paramount importance. As long as we believe our spending habits affect no one but ourselves, we will continue to be enticed by the forces that have driven us into this madness in the first place.

While a certain amount of money is needed to release us from poverty and give some freedom to realise our potential, it is only a vehicle to things and not an achievement in itself.

We can use money to enjoy ourselves - go to a show, watch a match, have a party, meet friends. It will never, however, strengthen our self-esteem or teach us to make good choices, appreciate pleasure, engage in better relationships or experience joy.

The more we get preoccupied with it, the more it causes us stress. What's more, it seems to be addictive.

Money masquerades as real happiness while diverting our attention from what really makes sense.

Our hysteria around it has us behave in ways that are greedy rather than helpful. As such, we begin to behave a little less human. It is ironic that mutual generosity and co-operation breed freedom and security more than hoarding money ever will. These, in turn, also bring happiness.

We each have an opportunity to consider the role that money plays in our lives. More so, however, we need to talk to each other about it, gather strength and make a plan.

Everyone benefits from a more communal and rational approach to resources. Achieving this is entirely possible.

Shalini Sinha has worked as a life coach and counsellor and presents the intercultural programme, Mono, on RTÉ Television. She has a BA in comparative religion and anthropology and an MA in women's studies.