A New Year reflection: wealth and happiness

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Pontiac Perspective  Peter J. Gauthier

All of humanity seeks happiness and well-being.  With the new year, people often hope for increased wealth and prosperity in the coming years. In this wish is the hope for health, happiness, security and economic stability – looking forward to a positive future. But are wealth and prosperity the main sources of happiness?

Pontiac Perspective  Peter J. Gauthier

All of humanity seeks happiness and well-being.  With the new year, people often hope for increased wealth and prosperity in the coming years. In this wish is the hope for health, happiness, security and economic stability – looking forward to a positive future. But are wealth and prosperity the main sources of happiness?
Wealth is most often associated with the
economic concept of value. An increase in wealth is equated with an increase
in financial resources – resources that can be measured in terms of a currency and accepted by the banking community. The United Nations defines ‘inclusive’ wealth as a monetary measure that includes natural, human and physical assets. From this definition it follows that Qatar is, on a per capita basis, the wealthiest country in the world. And yet, this distinction comes exclusively from its petrol resources. The
ranking comes at a time when these very petrol resources are considered one of the major factors contributing to the problems of climate change and carbon dioxide increase in the atmosphere.
In our consumer-oriented society, wealth refers
to the accumulation of
material resources. The accumulation of wealth becomes an end in itself,
by making it the cold,
relentless motive for all the
decisions we make as a nation and as individuals. Thus wealth, defined this way, becomes the essential part of social stratification.
Prosperity is often taken as a broader category than wealth; it indicates a continuing state and accumulation of wealth. Indeed, in its basic economic sense, prosperity requires growth, that is increasing wealth. But increasing one’s wealth may require additional work effort and disregard for non-monetary pleasures and benefits. Worse, the drive for economic prosperity may compromise ethical behaviour.
In contrast to the economic concept of prosperity is the Buddhist concept. Here, in sharp contrast
with capitalistic notions,
prosperity occurs within an emphasis on community and spirituality. The state of one’s soul is more significant than the state of
one’s bank account. The
well-being of one’s neighbours is as significant as one’s own well-being.
In ecology, prosperity of a species indicates the species is well adapted to its environment and is able to cope with environmental change within the scope of evolution – an adaptation that is endangered by excess. 
Aristotle observed that a minimum level of material wealth was needed to live a virtuous life, but this wealth was a means only and not an end in itself. Excessive wealth was not necessary for virtuous
living. Actually, excessive wealth could be a
hindrance to virtuous living in that material goods can distract from the real
end purpose of human
existence – intellectual and spiritual development. 
Ecological norms and Buddhists’ insights should alert us to more meaningful concepts of wealth and prosperity. In wishing our friends a prosperous and wealthy new year, we should be wishing them a more meaningful, more
virtuous life in which the true potential of humanity is engaged and grows.