If you were to ask the average person how much money in the bank would make their life better, the typical response would be “a million dollars”. That is the magical number that has been proffered for years as the gateway to early retirement and care-free living. Given inflation, these days that number is probably closer to two million.
But we’re not here to talk financial strategy. We’re here to examine the motivation behind the money. Because when we think of money, we’re not thinking about literal piles of cash. We all know there isn’t a locked vault at the bank with our name on it filled with neat stacks of currency, right? Our bank balances are nothing more than an ordered system of ones and zeroes in a computer.
So what about having a million dollars is so appealing? What is it we are truly after—what is at the source of our pursuit of material wealth?
I think it comes down to two basic things: Ability and security.
We don’t really want—unless you’re Charles Foster Kane—a roomful of money. What you want is the things and experiences that money can give you. Money is a great medium for the exchange of goods and services and is a lot easier than carrying around chickens or sacks of grain to barter.
But there are many experiences (and things) that can be had for next to no cost, if not free. A long walk in the park might go more towards mending a flagging relationship than a vacation trip to Tahiti.
This is the one that comes up the most, particularly during difficult economic times. We think that if we can build our castle walls high enough, we can keep the dragons at bay—we can be safe. So we desperately try to acquire as many goods and financial reserves as we can.
Sure, a lot of problems can be solved by simply throwing money at them. Sufficient food, shelter and clothing are very real issues for many people. But you don’t need a million dollars to fix that.
Security is an illusion. It isn’t real.
I could stockpile millions of dollars in my bank account and tomorrow I could be run over by a bus and all my so-called security would be for nothing. Yes, we can safeguard against a lot of things, but total security is a myth. No one is ever completely safe.
For those in the first world, security is less about physical protection and more about internal feelings. We use our bank balance as a mental pacifier to regulate our anxiety and stress. Human beings like to feel in control of their universe. But just watch the evening news and you know how futile that is.
We think we want security, but what we want is capability.
We want to know and feel—deep down in our core—that we have what it takes when the crap comes down. And that feeling of capability is something you can give yourself. In fact, you already have it. It is inside you, it is innate. It is part of your God-given DNA.
The very fact that you are alive and breathing is proof that you have weathered everything this world has thrown at you thus far. You are infinitely more capable and resourceful than you give yourself credit for. And ultimately that is the best form of security you can have.
And you don’t need a million dollars to get it.