“If I am what I have and if I lose what I have who then am I? ~ Erich Fromm

A few people win the jackpot and become rich. 

Maybe we all fantasize about finding a trick to get rich. They say that you only have to hit the big one once and you get the chance of living your dream. But the odds of winning big are so far-fetched that you have a much higher chance of losing everything. 

So can you get rich quick from gambling? Yes, it is possible. But should you try? 

As human beings, we have the desire to have more. In fact, greed may be a natural human instinct. Our biological urge for survival encourages us to accumulate and possess things. Early cave dwellers tried to collect and store food and refused to share it in winter to make it more likely they would survive (and reproduce) until spring. Natural selection and evolutionary instincts programmed early human beings to be somehow greedy and selfish—for the right reasons. 

Then, we invented economic and social systems that actually promote the desire for possessions and encourage greedy behaviour. Our modern, capitalist society somehow pushes people towards having more, buying more, and consuming more at both individual and societal levels. The more people have—whether it’s money, work, beauty, grades, degrees, and so on—the more they feel alive. I am because I have!

Erich Fromm, psychologist and humanistic philosopher, says that we live in a culture in which the ultimate goal is to have more and more, a culture that speaks of someone as “being worth a million dollars.” If she has nothing, she is nothing. Karl Marx, says, “The less you are and the less you express your life the more you have and the greater is your alienated life. Everything the economist takes away from you in the way of life and humanity, he restores in you in the form of money and wealth.” In such a society, it is like all the physical and intellectual senses have been replaced by the sense of having—an object is only ours when we have it, when it exists for us as capital or when it is directly eaten, drunk, worn, inhabited, or utilized in some way. We consume more, we get satisfaction, but the earned satisfaction is temporary and only a form of excitement. It is not conducive to human growth and strength. As soon as the previous consumption loses its satisfactory character, the person moves to the next possession and consumption.   

But there is more to being human than wealth and consumption. Human beings are also social in nature. They have the deep desire to be active, to be connected to others, to escape the prison of selfishness, and to be more. We can experience the being mode by giving up on our havings. Fromm says, "The only truly affluent are those who do not want more than they have." It is true that in order to live we must have things, and it is important to keep money in perspective. But it is also important to question the value of money and the meaning of wealth in our life, to think about the value of other things in life, to see if we can define wealth or being rich in a form different than money, and ask ourselves, “what sense does it make to have more than we can actually use?”

To think about – or discuss with a friend

  • When is a dream helpful? When is it harmful?
  • Should affluence be our goal? If so, what does "affluence" mean?
  • What is the difference, if any, between an early cave dweller and a modern CEO?
  • A Yiddish proverb says, “The truly rich are those who enjoy what they have.” Do you think you are rich in this sense?