I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor, and I rather live free.

The Rich, the Poor, the Free, and the Prosperity Trap

I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor, and I rather live free. Apparently, there’s such a thing as “financial freedom.” I keep hearing about it. Maybe we’re not experiencing it because we haven’t paid enough for it? What if someone’s selling us a non-existent bridge to our dreams?

Here’s a thought-provoking question: who worries more about money, the poor man who doesn’t have enough of it to cover his needs, or the rich man who needs to protect against losing his wealth? It occurs to me either man is just as bound by money. Maybe an in-between state would suit best—that blessed middle class we keep hearing about. Except those folks may spend half their time staying out of the poor house, and the other half figuring out how to grab more of the shiny stuff.

Here in the West, we like to believe that we live free. Individual freedom in particular represents for many of us a top-prized value. A dream that includes prosperity wafts at the center of it all.

But are we really free? If we can’t go where we want, if we can’t pursue the dreams that we have because in order to pay for the mortgage, make the house payment, keep up with the utilities, and maintain our cable subscription we have to keep going to a job that keeps us from doing what we want, are we free? Truly free?

An interesting ah-hah of mine comes when I realize in most cases what we cling to doesn’t rise to greed or even immoral levels of self-gratification. In fact, in the right light, it looks quite wholesome. We want peace of mind that the bills are paid. We want to come to a nice home, and enjoy some comfort, most of it rather simple—a nice easy chair, a TV with a crisp picture, a warm bed.

Of course, once we get all that stuff, we want to protect all this somehow. We want to know we’re not on the edge of financial disaster. We want to know the cash that fuels our comfort keeps flowing in. We want to know our jobs aren’t a layoff away from coming to an end. We want safety.

Comfort and safety. Prosperity to make it all snap into place. Are those bad things?Prosperity-trap

No. Not at all. Not in themselves. But what if they’re illusions? What if no amount of work, wealth hording, or financial planning can guarantee comfort and safety? What if we can’t even count on our next breath? What if banking on savings accounts and mutual funds for freedom from concern about what the future may throw at you isn’t enough? What if all you set aside can vanish in the next black Monday, Tuesday or Thursday? How shall we live then?

I’d like to stop now and give you a clean, crisp answer.The generous, charitable ATM machine, by Eduardo Suastegui Maybe I could even give you a ten step action plan so that you can live a life in true freedom. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. I’m still grappling with it. I know the answer hinges on this principle: don’t put your trust in stuff. Put your trust in something—someone—else. How to extricate myself from the other stuff? That remains a work in progress.

Here’s one possible pathway to freedom. Giving. What if it provides the antidote? What if through becoming more generous and open-handed with what you have, your stuff loses its mastery over you?

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