Do we Overearn?

By Purushottam Nitai Das - 1.10 2018

A research published in the journal “Psychological Science” in June, 2014 shows people tend to accumulate more than they can consume. (source: https://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/05/business/you-cant-take-it-with-you-but-you-still-want-more.html?_r=2)

To explore how lure for accumulation drives people the researchers conducted an experiment in two phases.

Phase 1: The participants were made to sit in front of a computer for 5 minutes with a headset and they were given a choice to listen to pleasant music or to obnoxious – sounding white music. The participants would earn “chocolate” when they listened to the obnoxious noise a certain number of times. Some of them had to listen fewer times to get each piece of chocolate, making them high earners; some had to listen more times making them low earners.

Phase2: During the phase 2 which would also last for 5 minutes the participants were required to eat the chocolates which they earned. But they were informed that if they fail to eat their earned chocolates then those will be forfeited.

Person in the high earner group predicted that they would be able to eat 3.75 chocolates on an average in 5 minutes.

However, when the time came to earn chocolates, the members who were part of the high earners group, accumulated more number of chocolates (10.74) then they could consume. It means that they subjected themselves to obnoxious noise for a longer period to earn more chocolates even knowing that they won’t be able to consume the chocolates which they are earning and all the chocolates which they won’t be able to consume will be taken away from them. They earned 10.74 chocolates while they had the capacity to consume only 3.75 chocolates and the rest of their chocolates which they did not consume were taken from them.

Although the low earners earned less chocolate than they predicted they would eat but both the high earners and the low earners listened to the same amount of obnoxious noise in 5 minutes period.

Both the high and the low earners were driven not by how much they need but how much they can withstand. In the real world where people earn money and not chocolates they are driven by the same mindset.

One of the paper’s authors, Christopher Hsee, a professor of behavioral science and marketing at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business called it “mindless accumulation.”

The experiment underlined that people tend to accumulate more, such as money, than what they need for their living. No doubt we need money to meet life’s necessities and for our future needs. But how much money we need, we need to decide. For a greedy person sky is the limit.

Sri Sukadeva Goswami said, “Money does not stay in one place. It passes from one hand to another. Ultimately no one can enjoy money, and it remains the property of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 5.14.24)

Driven with a desire to accumulate more people use unfair means

People do not hesitate to use unfair means to earn more and try various means to avoid taxes. Ultra-rich people in India who have earned their money dishonestly park humungous amount of money in Swiss banks. This they do to evade the laws of the land and also because they do not want to pay the taxes. People who deposit their money in Swiss banks many times do not disclose about their accumulated wealth even to their family members for fear of being caught. And when they die no one knows about those moneys and the Swiss government happily becomes the proud owner of those wealth. In fact, this is also one of the reasons that Swiss authorities allow many unscrupulous people to deposit money in Swiss banks.

On November 8, 2016 at 8:15 PM when Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi announced that Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes would no longer be legal tender from midnight of that day then it was a great blow to those who had amassed lots of wealth illegally. Suddenly the large swathes of accumulated currency became worthless papers for them. Many later tried to convert their black money into white and in the process got caught. Many tried to dispose of their money by burning it, dumping it in the garbage or in the rivers. But those whose money where white although faced inconveniences during the process but were not disturbed and were willing to go through the pain for greater good.

Money earned by unfair means becomes the cause of anxiety and fear. Bhaktivinod Thakura had started doing business in sugar but during the process he found that to make profit in the business one has to speak lots of lies. So, he immediately gave up the sugar business.

Srila Prabhupada says, “The citizens are no longer satisfied with just enough money to maintain a family nicely and cultivate spiritual knowledge, both of which are essential in human life. Now everyone wants money unlimitedly to satisfy insatiable desires. In proportion to the people’s unlawful desires, their accumulated money is taken away by the agents of illusory energy in the shape of medical practitioners, lawyers, tax collectors, societies, constitutions, so-called holy men, famines, earthquakes, and many similar calamities. . . . Indeed, that is the law of nature; if money is not devoted to the service of the Lord, it must be spent as spoiled energy in the form of legal problems or diseases. Foolish people do not have the eyes to see such facts; therefore the laws of the Supreme Lord befool them.” (Elevation to Krishna Consciousness, Chapter 2)

Money befools us

We live in a fool’s paradise when we think that money is the ambrosia for all our material sufferings. Rarely we are content with our accumulated wealth. “I want more is the common call”. Money is considered to be the gateway to name and fame, power and position. And in the quest to accumulate paper currency we compromise with our health and do not feel necessary to nurture relationships with our near and dear ones. Yes, money can empower us to buy material things of this mortal world. But money has severe limitations. Money can never satiate our heart, calm our troubled mind and give us lasting happiness.

Srimad-Bhagavatam (4.22.33) tells us, “For human society, constantly thinking of how to earn money and apply it for sense gratification brings about the destruction of everyone’s interests.” We always plan, “So much wealth do I have today, and I will gain more according to my schemes. So much is mine now, and it will increase in the future, more and more.” (Bhagavad-gita 16.13)

Work for spiritual wealth

Vedas term wealth as artha. Artha stands for money as well as meaning. So, the Vedas emphasize that we should pursue money in a meaningful way. Vedas constantly remind us that we are spiritual beings and not part of this temporary material world. So, the goal of our life is not to get obsessed with this world because whatever we accumulate in this world will be forcibly taken away from us one day. When the agents of death will knock at our door, we won’t be able to use all our paper currency to bribe them, it will eventually become worthless for us. And at the time of departing we won’t be allowed to carry even a penny from this world.

In this world, we should be greedy to amass spiritual wealth because whatever spiritual wealth we accumulate gets credited to our eternal spiritual bank account, it never gets lost and it opens the door for eternal happiness.

Shankaracharya in his Bhaja Govindam prayers has beautifully said:

Oh fool! Give up your thirst to amass wealth, devote your mind to thoughts to the Real. Be content with what comes through actions already performed in the past.

Do not boast of wealth, friends, and youth. Each one of these are destroyed within a minute. Free yourself from the illusion of the world of Maya and attain the timeless Truth.

Oh mad man! Why this engrossment in thoughts of wealth? Is there no one to guide you? There is only one thing in three worlds that can save you from the ocean of samsara. Get into that boat of satsangha (knowledge of the Truth) quickly.

Let a man read but a little from the Bhagavad-Gita, drink just a drop of water from the Ganga, worship Murari (Krishna) just once. He then will have no altercation with Yama (the lord of death).

Regularly recite from the Bhagavad-Gita, meditate on Vishnu in your heart, and chant His thousand glories. Take delight to be with the noble and the holy. Distribute your wealth in charity to the poor and the needy.

Wealth is not welfare, truly there is no joy in it. Reflect thus at all times. A rich man fears even his own son. This is the way of wealth everywhere.

Shankaracharya recommends, “bhajagovindam bhajagovindam govindam bhajamuudhamate: Worship Govinda, Worship Govinda, Worship Govinda.”