Undoubtedly, the standard of living has improved since the industrial revolution, particularly for many in the West.
There was a time not long ago that phones, colour TVs and cars were only for the rich, and the poor could only dream of having them. But now even poor people in developed nations own cell phones, colour TVs and computers.
Even children from poor or rich families, as early as the age of three or four, have cell phones and assorted sophisticated electronic toys. Of course, the adults also have their toys: airplanes, ride-on lawnmowers, boats and motorcycles.
The sad part about all these expensive toys: you do not have to have money to buy them because you can get a loan. With all our material possessions, we have come to believe we are better off than before and that we have improved the material quality of life. We think that acquiring more possessions will make us feel happier and more comfortable—but unbridled acquisition only starves the soul and makes us less and less happy. Our souls feel trapped in the clutter of material goods. The Baha’i teachings tell us:
“All around us today we see how man surrounds himself with every modern convenience and luxury, and denies nothing to the physical and material side of his nature. But, take heed, lest in thinking too earnestly of the things of the body you forget the things of the soul: for material advantages do not elevate the spirit of a man. Perfection in worldly things is a joy to the body of a man but in no wise does it glorify his soul.” – Abdu’l-Baha
If we use happiness as a criterion, many of us have begun to realize that in spite of our higher standard of living, we are less happy than people were before. Why?
Perhaps because the more we have, the harder we have to work to maintain that standard of living—and the more we work, the less time and energy we have to nurture our minds and our souls through meditation, reading books, playing music, painting, spending time with family and friends, and helping others. Those things can bring us true happiness.
Almost all agree that our current economic system provides more goods and money—but having more may not necessarily be the best. The philosophy of “more is better” has led to a mentality of acquiring as many material goods as possible. That mentality has created a sickness in society that measures achievements based on having more possessions and disregards the emotional and spiritual aspects of one’s life.
This lack of spirituality is the root cause of most of the problems in the world, and Baha’is are encouraged to introduce spirituality in any way possible into their economic activities. This can be as simple as saying a prayer for the poor or as grand as initiating a multi-billion dollar project to eliminate poverty or eradicate the disease. It could be by paying fair prices, avoiding wastage, being honest in insurance claims, or giving charitable funds.
Some mistake a higher standard of living for prosperity. To have more does not translate into being happier. According to the Legatum Prosperity Index, prosperity:
- Is a home to grow, to raise a family, a community where we belong, is people who care.
- Is compassion and generosity, is health, is education, is truth and integrity, in politics, in media, in business. Is peace and safety.
- Is in opportunity to work, to earn, to save, to get ahead, to innovate, to take risks, to succeed (or fail).
- Is freedom from hunger, disease, slavery, poverty, conflict, to speak our minds, to vote, to follow our beliefs. Is hope, space to breath and time to recharge and re create.
- Is becoming the best I can be and helping others to be the best they can be.
The question remains: do we want a higher standard of living at any cost, or do we want true prosperity for ourselves and all? The decision is ours, and the price to pay is ours, too.
Badi Shams is a Baha’i and a mystic at heart, whose field of interest is in economics. He has published a compilation "Economics of the Future", and also more recently the book "Economics of the Future Begins Today". He is retired from the educational system. You can read more of Badi's materials on his website www.badishams.net
You can read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, HERE