Seneca, the ancient Roman Stoic philosopher, in his first moral letter to his pen-friend Lucilius, urged him to make the most out of his own time and not waste it by letting others take it away from him. There is no point in looking forward to making use of time at some point in the future, "for, as [the ancient Greeks] believed, it is too late to spare when you reach the dregs of the cask. Of that which remains at the bottom, the amount is slight, and the quality is vile". After a lifetime notorious for its extravagances, old Seneca's main concern was that his younger friend didn't give time its proper value. For the philosopher, a happy life was one in which time was well spent.
Time has always been a luxury, and how much more so in modern times! Time is money, they say. With that in mind, we could argue that happiness is a most sought out commodity nowadays, and since it is thought of as a commodity, many people strive to secure it through a lifetime of stressful work. I'd say that many mistake their theoretically fundamental right for the pursuit of happiness for a frenzied chase after money.
Let's imagine this scenario: you’ve worked really hard the whole year, but still wasn’t able to grab that raise you had set your mind to. Alas, so long for that renovation on your living room! So you take a hardworking approach and decide that a good remedy for not achieving your year's goal is toiling away during vacation time to earn extra! That way, you’ll be able to have the living room of your dreams.
Some of us might take such a fellow for a hopeless money-grubber, plugging away at every opportunity just because he simply doesn't know better. Don't be so quick in judging him, though. As a matter of fact, if you give a little thought to it, you'll realize many of us do take similar – albeit not so cartoonish – courses in our own lives. There are periods in life when we choose to devote most of our time to Mammon in order to fulfill some material needs. But then what? What do we do when we finally walk into our newly-revamped commodious living room, slouch on an ample, comfortable couch in front of a 50-plus-inch TV screen, and turn on our favorite sports team's game? We get bored. Okay, maybe not on the first day or week. But the truth is that after some time, all that comfort we struggled so hard to treat ourselves to ceases to be a source of self-satisfaction and we grow immune to it. We just take all that luxury for granted, and then turn our attention to what we've been missing out on our lives.
Psychology seems to support this very impression: as our life standard becomes higher, we tend to feel gradually less and less satisfied with all the stuff we have accumulated. I'd say we start to feel less and less assured whether it is a fair price we are paying in order to afford our lifestyle.
I'm not saying, however, that money is not important, fundamental even. Nelson Rodrigues is said to have declared, very cynically, that "money buys everything, even true love". I don't take that to mean that our species is invariably one of rapacious money-diggers. Rather, what our great tragic writer recognized was our inherent frailty as humans. We are fragile creatures who depend on certain material conditions so that we can give out the best in us.
Nevertheless, being wealthy is not the end of the story. Let's consider someone born with lots of money. Affluence alone doesn't translate into knowing how to put all that dough to good use. You may be dumping cash in all directions without a meaningful purpose. And I bet this can make anyone feel like a fool, as soon as the kick you get out of acquiring things on the nail dies out. I just gave this dull example to call your attention that it is self-evident that money by and of itself does not bring anyone an inch closer to happiness if he or she doesn't know how to spend it wisely. In fact, money that is poorly spent can bring a lot of frustration. Yet another point in the aforementioned epistle from Seneca is that the richness of a man should only be deemed by himself, otherwise he will never be happy since others’ expectations about us are inevitably fuzzy and fickle. Being rich is first and foremost being able to make good use of one’s own resources at the proper time.
Aside from that, a common mistake is to have our lives too much oriented toward targets which are ultimately external to us, so that we end up getting this feeling that we are being driven by external forces. Indeed, research suggests, quite surprisingly, that our brains are equipped to be happy regardless of the outcome. In other words: what we do is worth much more than what we get.
So, focusing on your own actions and efforts, rather than caring too much about succeeding in that job interview or getting a raise, can make you feel more like you're playing a leading role instead of being just an extra in your own life story.