By Mark Manson
It’s Not About the Stuff
One summer afternoon, a group of recent college graduates decided to visit their favorite professor at his home. The grads had been out of school for about a year and they were each making their foray into the quote-unquote ‘real world’ and dealing with all of the frustrations and confusion that come with it.
Over the course of the afternoon, the grads complained to their professor about how difficult life was after school. They complained about the long hours, the demanding bosses, the competitive job market, and how all anybody seemed to talk about or care about was money, money, money.
After a while, the professor got up and made some coffee. He got out six cups, one for each student. Three of them were cheap disposable cups and the other three were made of his nicest porcelain. He then invited everyone to get up and help themselves.
Within seconds the bargaining had already begun. “Wait, why do you get that cup?” “No, let me have it, I drove here.” “No way, I got here first, go get your own.” The students laughed and gently chided each other over who got to drink what out of what. A silent competition among friends.
When the kids finally sat back down the professor smiled and said, “You see? This is your problem. You are all arguing over who gets to drink out of the nice cups when all you really wanted was the coffee.”
Money and Self-Worth
Money is a touchy subject. That’s because most of us, to a certain degree, associate a lot of our self-worth and identity with our job and how much money we make. It is, quite literally, a market valuation of our skills and competence as a person, and therefore we all get a little bit testy and scooch around uncomfortably in our chairs whenever money is brought up.
But money is merely an arbitrary store of value. It is not value itself.
There are many stores of value in life. Time is a form of value. Knowledge is a form of value. Happiness and other positive emotions are a form of value. Money is often just the vehicle of interchanging these various forms of value with one another.
Money is not the cause of wealth in one’s life. It is the effect. Similarly, when people assume that money is the cause of their problems, they are actually mistaken. Money is usually the most noticeable effect of their problems.
Money is fluid. Its value only becomes realized when it’s put into motion. Therefore, money is a reflection of the owner’s values and intentions.
The Things You Own End Up Owning You
Most people mistake being rich for owning lots of stuff or achieving some sort of fame or status. I could max out my credit card buying VIP tables in Vegas all weekend and take selfies with Ivanka Trump, but that doesn’t make me rich. On the contrary, it would make me kind of a douchebag.
There is that old saying from Fight Club, “The things you own end up owning you.” Materialism, by and large, is a psychological trap. No matter how much you own, how much you buy, how much you earn, the disease of more never goes away. Meanwhile, you’re working longer hours, taking bigger risks, foregoing more and more parts of your life.
Money is inherently neutral. It’s merely a vessel for the exchange of experience between two people. You make your money by creating experiences for others. You then give your money to others to receive experiences in return.
Even when you buy some material good, like a sports car or a diamond necklace, you’re not just buying the physical goods, you’re buying the experience of driving that car or wearing that necklace. You’re buying the experience of power, speed, or social status that’s associated with it. You’re buying that ornament to your identity, that knowledge of what owning and using it feels like and whether it makes you happy or not.
What are You Really Buying?
Arguably most of the value of any purchase is not monetary.
When you buy food, you are, in a sense, buying away the experience of hunger. You’re buying your own temporary health and happiness. When you buy a trip with your family, you are buying the opportunity to experience something new together and strengthen your relationships with one another. When you buy a new suit for work, you aren’t just buying the fabric or the brand, you are buying the social signals that you invest in yourself, that you take yourself seriously and can be relied upon by others.
It’s not about the stuff. The stuff is merely there to shuttle you into some form of experience. Everything you spend money on is simply experience.