Overcoming Greed

Posted: April 16, 2011 in Psychology

Earning lots of money is a good thing. When money turns into your top priority, it can turn into a bad thing. Ideally, you earn lots of money because you’re doing what you love. If you’re not doing what you love, it won’t last unless you have an unhealthy fixation on money.


Focusing on money is a way to escape from reality. Instead of leading a meaningful life, you amass cash to protect you from life. If money is all that matters to you, all of your problems can be solved by throwing money at them. That’s a great way to build up a nice bank account and acquire nice things. If that’s you and you’re happy with the situation, maybe you should stop reading this article now.

Another problem with the money-focused life is that there is no end to cash amassing. You can only collect a limited amount of food, books, DVDs, and other goods before running out of room. With money, there’s no limit. There never comes a time when you can say, “I don’t have room for any more money”.

Forms of Greed

When you aren’t making much money, greed can make you a miser. It’s wise to put some money away for a rainy day, but living below your means all the time creates unnecessary misery; for you and your family. Starving yourself can destroy your health. Choosing a lesser quality lifestyle than you can afford lowers your self-esteem. You will attract lower class friends too and there is greater unhappiness among the poor. Do you want to attract unhappiness? The words miser and misery are similar for good reason.

I’ve already mentioned the other kind of greed; working at something you don’t like just for the money. We need money to live and building up a big bank account is a sign of success. At some point you pass the point where you need the job to keep from living on the street. But you continue doing what you don’t like because you’ve become addicted to money. If you would switch to following your dreams, you would be much happier. That can be a big change. Change is scary; risky. Money is comfortable and easy. Many choose the life of a contented pig rather than a life of growth.

The Cause of Greed

Greed lets you escape from reality by pretending that money can buy happiness. Every time you buy something, you feel good. You’ve acquired something new. You have another sign that you are getting ahead. The feeling doesn’t last and you need to go on another spending spree.

Greed also gives you a feeling of having power over reality. You are protected from life’s troubles. Money clears away surprise expenses. It can even buy friends (of a sort) and you can afford professional help for your psychological problems.

Greed is the result of being hurt financially. When you’re not making much money, everything seems to be overpriced. Every business appears to be ripping you off. We all start out making very little on our first jobs.

You might think minimum wage is the cause of greed, but if that were true we would all be greedy. That’s not the case. Greed only gets a hold on you when you come to believe it’s always going to be that way; that you will always make low wages and have money troubles. Once that idea becomes accepted as your view of how life is, greed can take over and stay even as you move on to better jobs making better money.

How to Overcome Greed

There is a two step process to overcoming greed. The first step is making enough money to get past the perceived need to be miserly. Time will usually resolve this step. If you change jobs every few years, eventually you will be making some decent money. Your pay may drop down again later when the economy is bad, but as you get significant expenses like home and education out of the way, lower pay isn’t as much of a threat.

In the short term, you can help yourself get out of the low pay problem. Most of the job search sites have links with information on enhancing your job search skills. This can help you make more money sooner. You can also reduce the amount of money you need. Learn one or more of the skills you now pay someone else to do. Take a part time job now and then to help your bank account and drop it when you’re ahead.

The second step is switching your focus from money to your goals. Your goals need to have some potential for making money for this step to work. If you set goals of becoming a chess grandmaster and sailing around the world in a hot air balloon, you are going to have money problems. If you set goals of becoming a mechanic and writing a novel, money will follow.

These two steps may not be the ones for you. Some people can chase their dreams without money. With a strong positive attitude it is possible to overlook a negative environment while you work toward your goals.

Article text copyright 2011 David Arthur Smith. All Rights Reserved.

  1. Mike says:

    Nice post, David.
    I have never thought of greed in that way, but it makes a lot of sense – “greed lets you escape from reality by pretending that money can buy happiness”. Indeed, money can be a sort of shield, wrapping you from life’s meaninglessness and emptiness. Parties, women, vacations, cars, houses – they can help with burying the anxiety, but there always comes a time when they stop working. The older we become the more difficult it is to justify a life of distractions.

    I am talking about some of these issues in this blog post:

    • Ivan Izo says:

      Thanks for the comment, Mike.
      I enjoy reading your Innovation Imitation website. I tweeted your latest article on Lasting Change because my comment would have been longer than the article. I’m working on a book on the topic of how we find meaning. The various philosophies and psychologies back to the ancient Greeks have produced many different systems. No matter what the system, it always comes down to choosing ideologies. Eric Fromm had pointed out in Escape From Freedom that as soon as we are freed from one ideology (or it fails us) we are ready to lay our freedom down to another. Anything to replace that terrible uncertainty. Pleasure and possessions can be ideologies just as easily as religions and political beliefs. Following a selection of existing systems / ideologies is the way most people take. It’s only in the last 100 years that anyone besides the rich leisure class has had both the time and knowledge necessary to create their own. The only other choice besides following or leading seems to be choosing nothing, but then a person must learn to live with ongoing anxiety and depression.

      I’m working on building up an archive of articles before I start an existential philosophy blog. I’ve noticed my blogs rank better if I can post at least one article per week. Have you thought about posting more often? I’d love to read more from you. I have a few articles on how to write faster on my Writer On Fire blog. Probably the most useful tip I’ve found is just writing a lot of articles fast without worrying about quality and only posting the best of them.

  2. Mike says:

    David, I recently read and enjoyed Erich Fromm’s “The Art of Love”. His insights into what love consists of are revealing. “Escape from freedom” is now on my wishlist. How different is it from other existential works such are Viktor Frankel’s “Man’s search for meaning”?

    Thank you for your interest in http://innovationimitation.com . I’m toying with the idea of writing shorter content more often. I indeed find myself often polishing an article for too long, instead of focusing on new content.

    I’ve left a comment in your last post in Write or Fire, but I’m not sure it went through.

    • Ivan Izo says:

      Well, Mike, it’s been a few years since I read either “Escape From Freedom” or “Man’s Search for Meaning”, so my comparison may not be valid. I remember both authors being fairly clear and straightforward reads. The kind of books I would read in a day or two. Since I read 2 or 3 books a week, I have to keep clearing out the ones I’ve read to make room for the new.

      If you’re interested in some really complex existentialism that will make you think, I recommend Heidegger. He urges the reader to create their own existentialism out of his ideas. He loses points for having been a Nazi before WWII and gets one back for quitting when he found out what Hitler was up to. Both the Nazis and the Occupation Forces banned him from teaching for several years each. As a result of that, he wrote a lot of books. His ideas are clearer if you avoid the ones about other philosophers. I started my Heidegger studies with “Basic Writings”, a collection of important excerpts of his work. I enjoyed everything else he wrote except for his most famous work, “Being and Time”. I just didn’t get it.

      For my own article writing, I try to write my first draft as if I’m going to throw the file away. Then I can write everything that pops into my head whether it fits or not. When I run out of ideas, I take a break from it. Later, I come back and re-arrange the text into subtopics and see what I have. Sometimes it’s garbage. Usually I find I’ve made a good start on 1 to 3 articles. My plan is that I only visit the article 3 or 4 times before calling it done. I keep track of the drafts in the header area. If a piece has had 4 revisions and I still hate it, maybe it isn’t meant to be.

      p.s. The Writer on Fire comment got stuck in the spam folder. I guess you said something they didn’t like. It’s approved now.

  3. Mike says:

    I have tried reading excepts from “Being and Time” (that appear in the nice “Basic Writing of Existentialism” collection that I got from Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Writings-Existentialism-Modern-Library-Classics/dp/0375759891), but I just couldn’t make it even pass the first couple of pages. I’ll look up “basic writings” collection that you suggested.

    Currently I’m trying to familiarize myself with Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. Sartre’s “Existentialism is Humanism” is what ignited my interest in Existentialism – for the first time I saw philosophy that was grounded in a real human experience, and not an academic practice, lost in it’s own cleverness.

    Your ideas on writing make a lot of sense to me. There was no once, that I was able to write a post in single sitting. I really like your ideas about having maximum 3-4 attempts, and then publishing it. Often I’ll be spending much time on polishing corners, instead of writing.

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