Is greed a good thing when it comes to personal finance and your pursuit of wealth?
It’s common knowledge that wealth brings all sorts of advantages, like improved health, greater freedom, and control over your life, nicer things, and respect from your friends, family, and peers.
However, it is also known that most times, wealthy people are described as greedy and even narcissistic.
It is commonly believed that to greedy people, enough is never enough. They are said to be on a permanent I-need-more treadmill. They expect that they will be okay with more money, but as soon as they get more they adapt their desires and expectations and want even more.
Simply put, when it comes to this definition of greedy people, the goalposts are always moving.
The obvious question is; Is this a bad thing? Just take a moment, internalize the previous statement, and share your rational conclusion to the simple question – is it wrong to want more and more?
To help you out, let’s start by looking at ‘greed’ and what it actually means, or is perceived to mean.
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The word Greed originates from the Old English term græd or grædig (with cognates in a variety of other Germanic languages; for example, gretig in Dutch, gradig in Danish, and graðigr in Old Scandinavian languages), meaning voracious or eager.
Greed can thus be defined as an excessive desire or hunger.
The most popular dictionaries define greed as; selfish and excessive desire for more of something (as money) than is needed; a strong desire for more wealth, possessions, power, etc. than a person needs; and when you want a lot more food, money, etc. than you need.
Most scholars focusing on greed’s economic impact share a positive and productive view that greed increases economic development because it motivates the creation of new products and the development of new industries, which in turn enhances wealth, employment, and well-being.
Some have gone as far as to say that greed is inherent to human nature and that all people are greedy to some extent.
Now, while an evolutionary approach to greed stresses its productive and reproductive advantages, almost everything else that is written about greed focuses purely on its negative characteristics.
For example, despite the pronounced differences in major religions, they all converge on their view toward greed; it’s a bad thing.
In Christianity greed is known as one of the seven cardinal sins that lead to eternal damnation, and is even at times referred to as the mother of all sins.
Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions. Luke 12:15
In Buddhism, greed is one of the three poisons that create bad karma.
The same goes for Muslims.
Greed for more and more distracted you [from God]. Until you go down to your graves. But you will soon come to know. Certainly, you will soon know. No! Only if you knew (it) with a sure knowledge!
You shall certainly see Hellfire! You would see it with the eye of certainty.
Then on that Day you shall be questioned about your worldly favours.” (Al Quran #102:1-8)
This is a common thread that ties all religions, greed is bad...but is it? Is the want and desire for more purely a bad thing or can it be viewed in a positive light?
Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries, INSEAD Distinguished Clinical Professor of Leadership Development & Organisational Change came up with seven signs of greed as listed below;
Now, it is important to know that these are not scientific truths as one could counter any of the signs listed above.
For example, envy and greed cannot be used interchangeably; People are envious because others are better off and they desire the same things those others have, whereas people are greedy because they just have an unquenchable desire for more.
It’s all about how you approach it, which segues rather nicely into our next topic – what is your attitude towards money?
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Do you believe that all rich people are selfish and greedy?
It is important to be honest when answering the question above as our beliefs about money drive all of our financial behaviors.
We are often unaware of our money mindset/beliefs, as we acquire them very early in life. Beliefs and attitudes about money are typically developed during childhood as we try to make sense of money's role in the world.
Examine your early financial experiences and beliefs. Are they tying you down? If this is the case, challenge some of your core money beliefs and see if a more balanced view of money can help you improve your financial health.
One of the most common conclusions about money is that it is somehow bad or evil. On a rational level, this does not make sense as money is just a tool, no more, no less. It is how it is used or not used that determines its virtue.
If you ascribe to the ‘money is evil and rich people are evil’ mantra, chances are that at some point in your life you learned either through your parents/guardians or through direct experience that someone wealthier than you engaged in some shady behavior or exhibited some undesirable trait.
Therein lays the problem. The fact is that some people do take advantage of others on their way to accumulating wealth, while some simply follow their desires and ambitions to accumulate wealth free of any ‘shady’ business.
When this ‘all rich people are bad and greedy’ stereotype is applied across the board, and money is seen as bad in itself, it can become self-limiting.
This is what lays the foundation for money myths that curtail your growth. An imaginary wall you put up to keep you safe from ‘evil’ money.
Let’s look at some of the common money myths and how they could affect your pursuit for growth.
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Ingrid Robeyns (Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Faculty of Humanities, Utrecht University, Utrecht, the Netherlands) in her paper titled What, if Anything, is Wrong with Extreme Wealth? Raised some very valid points.
She proposed a view, called limitarianism, which suggests that there should be upper limits to the amount of income and wealth a person can hold.
One argument for limitarianism is that super-rich can undermine political equality. The other reason is that it would be better if the surplus money that super-rich households have were to be used to meet unmet urgent needs and local and global collective action problems.
Psychologists who study the impact of wealth and inequality on human behavior have found that money can powerfully influence our thoughts and actions in ways that we’re often not aware of, no matter our economic circumstances.
Research published in the journal Psychological Science found that people of lower economic status were better at reading others’ facial expressions—an important marker of empathy—than wealthier people.
On the other hand, lower-income individuals are likely to judge and stereotype those who are wealthier than themselves, often judging the wealthy as being 'cold'.
Rich people tend to be a source of envy and distrust, so much so that we may even take pleasure in their struggles, according to Scientific American.
This means that you don’t have to clip your wings when gunning for wealth as any sense of guilt you may feel could just be coming from misdirected envy.
As for money changing you as a person, think of it this way; If you were a crook before you got wealthy, for example, you’ll probably be even worse once you do get rich. If you were honest, humble, and hard-working before, you may become an even better person with expanded financial resources.
In other words, one could argue that money simply amplifies who we really are.
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The average person believes that wealth is a privilege bestowed upon a select few "lucky" individuals.
Your daily thoughts affect your net worth more than you may think.
That’s what self-made millionaire Steve Siebold found after studying millionaires for over 25 years, culminating in his book – How Rich People Think.
“When I began studying the ultra successful and super rich in 1984, I thought they were more ambitious than the average person. I later discovered after hundreds of interviews that it wasn’t the lack of desire that held the masses back from getting wealthy, but the lack of belief in their own ability to make it happen” - Steve Siebold.
The majority think they aren’t worthy of great wealth and ask themselves; ‘Who am I to become a millionaire?’ Meanwhile, the elite simply ask ‘Why not me?’
If you serve others by solving their problems, why shouldn’t you be rewarded with a fortune?
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Most people tend to operate with a scarcity mindset. It is important to note from the onset that there is nothing as self-destructive as a scarcity mindset – a pervasive feeling of not having enough—whether that be time or money.
These beliefs make it difficult to move forward and may keep you stuck in scarcity.
Here are some signs you may have a scarcity mindset:
Don’t worry, this can be remedied by adopting what experts call an ‘abundance mindset’ and just like the famous AA (Alcoholics Anonymous program), it all starts with acceptance.
You can want to change where you are in life but in order to move forward, it helps to accept it. By doing so, you stop using your precious limited resources to fight against accepting where you are now.
A scarcity mindset makes one extremely conservative with their finances in fear that if they lose money, they won’t be able to make it back.
Here’s an ‘open secret’ for you, the rich get richer by using their money to make even more money – they take calculated risks, but still risk it all the same.
Increase your risk tolerance by betting on yourself in the undertaking of a new venture or an investment.
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Let’s start by taking a scientific approach as there are thousands of studies specifically carried out to find the relationship between money and stress.
For example, The psychosocial context of financial stress: Implications for inflammation and psychological health (2017)– by John A. Sturgeon, PhD, Anne Arewasikporn, M.A., Morris A. Okun, PhD, Mary C. Davis, PhD, Anthony D. Ong, PhD, and Alex J. Zautra, PhD, was a study that examined just that.
It characterized relations between financial stressors and psychosocial functioning and inflammation in a community sample of middle-aged adults.
The study found that individuals who had experienced major financial stressors reported greater levels of psychological distress and lower levels of psychological well-being.
Research has also shown that finances are the number one cause of stress.
According to a 2022 FINRA ( Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) report, the mental health impacts of money aren’t equitably experienced.
Anxiety about personal finances disproportionately impacts certain communities like women, people from under-resourced or low-income communities, etc.
You may not be aware of how money and mental health have affected you. However, it may be influencing your decisions, physical health, and even behaviors.
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Here are four ways money can impact your mental health:
Now, when it comes to pursuing your goals in terms of accumulating wealth and what it could mean for your mental health, the secret lies in how you approach it.
Wealthy people see money for what it is and for what it isn’t — through the eyes of logic. It is simply a tool that presents options and opportunities to them. When it comes to figuring out how to make more money, they put their emotions aside and let logic guide them.
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This is as far from the truth as you’ll get, but then again, truth is relative so let’s dig a little deeper.
Your life begins at the end of your comfort zone – Anonymous
Comfort is a good thing but it’s all about context. For example, after combing through surveys, interview transcripts, and studies touching on finances, you quickly learn that financially successful individuals have learned to be comfortable while operating in a state of ongoing uncertainty.
They learn from early on that striking it rich isn’t easy, and that the need for what the majority define as comfort can be devastating.
On the other end of the spectrum, most, if not all the individuals who define the rich as greedy, usually go out of their way to avoid doing things they don’t like, things that push them out of their comfort zone.
What they don’t know is that in the early stages of building wealth, the extremities of one’s comfort zone are where the most opportunities lie.
Achieving monumental money goals is never a walk in the park. Those who persevere are rewarded.
If this is still your dream/goal, you could start right now by making a list of five things you must do today that may be difficult but will bring you closer to great wealth.
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Can greed be a good thing? If taken in a rational context, one could argue that it actually can.
Think of it this way, greed is good not just for your own life but for those around you as well.
By elevating your life financially, you can share the ‘soft life’ with your family, your community, and yes, even the world if that’s what you want.
The thing with greed is that it comes with tunnel vision, a single-minded focus, and a drive towards creating real wealth for yourself.
Now, it’s true that greed can be a really bad thing as well, with most, if not all, of the global economic crisis often linked to a few greedy individuals. So, what should you do?
The solution? Stop putting yourself last and stop sacrificing your goals and dreams in fear of being deemed greedy. Any successful individual is greedy to some extent. They have an insatiable desire to realize their personal finance goals.
You are best able to transform the lives of others if you focus on yourself and elevate your own life. Self-focus is not selfish; it’s actually selfless if you think about it.