Our society is ill because the economy has been rigged to reward those who speculate rather than support those who demonstrate innovation and initiative.
For the individual that comes face-to-face with this harsh reality , the concept of “voluntary simplicity” or “simple living” can seem like a way to take back control of one’s life. A concept popular in Europe and Quebec, this downsizing trend is spreading across the US and Canada as a reaction to the overconsumption mania of the last few decades.
The danger that I see in trying to reduce one’s life to fit one’s means is that it can lead to a trap. Living small or thinking small is not a virtue if it takes away the joy of living, if it makes fear and guilt the driving emotions of life. I prefer another path: instead of reducing consumption in order to live within my means, I choose to increase my means in order that I may live my full potential. Instead of “voluntary simplicity”, I choose “voluntary prosperity”.
We have a duty to be prosperous: to generate all of the resources necessary to live to our full potential, so we can do good for ourselves, our family, our community, our environment and our planet.
Living a monk’s life by shirking our responsibilities is a selfish luxury at this moment. The challenges facing humanity and the planet are far too big and too important to sit cross-legged and contemplate the universe. The intertwined futures of humanity and the planet depend on how we create wealth from now on.
Even one of the inspirations of the simple living movement, Buddhism, celebrates prosperity. According to Buddhist teachings, you are entitled to as much wealth as you want, provided it is created in an ethical manner, “like bees create honey without harming the flowers”. The wealth you create must then be reinvested to benefit as much others as oneself. Therefore, proper wealth, resources created the right way, is a tool to do good. (1)
Many of the economic problems we face today come from the fact that people are clinging to their gains as if they were an acquired right. They fear losing their riches, because wealth is finite, and you must grab your share now before there is none left.
Scarcity thinking is at the foundation of classical economics: that homo economicus is driven by the core emotions of greed and fear: less a resource is available, demand then increases because people want to hoard it for fear of missing out, and prices increase. Those who control the production of the resource can then speculate and “earn” their paycheck.
But deep down, is it still true, especially today?
Although we live on a finite planet with limits to our natural resources, this does not necessarily mean that there is a limit to wealth. The economist Paul Zane Pilzer in his book “The Next Millionaires” (2) postulates that each time we face a crisis due to the lack of a natural resource, humanity usually figures a way to solve the problem.
According to Pilzer, it is not resources that determine wealth, but rather the creativity and innovation of the human brain, combined with the initiative to take action, what Pilzer calls our “technology”. The fundamental equation of the economy becomes:
Now that our knowledge and imagination grows at an exponential rate thanks to the explosion of interpersonal communications, our ability to create wealth also accelerates at breakneck speed.
My definition of success is “to create a life experience that allows us to live our full potential.” With the voluntary prosperity mindset, wealth is created when deploying our resources, our innovation and our initiative to do good for ourselves, others and the environment so we can all live to our full potential. More we act to create success, more those who are positively affected by these actions are prepared to invest their time, energy and money to live even more success. This becomes a virtuous cycle.
The voluntary prosperity mindset means choosing to engage with others, to communicate, learn, innovate and take action to confront the obstacles that we face and overcome them in a constructive manner.
The voluntary prosperity mindset is to create projects that help our community and our environment to live their full potential.
The voluntary prosperity mindset is having a sense of optimism, aiming for the stars with big ideas and bold plans, but acting with feet on the ground, to generate positive and powerful results by maximizing the resources we have available right now.
Ultimately, the question we must ask ourselves is this: What is our attitude towards material possessions? As an acquired right and a reward that flatters the ego, or as tools to advance our mission, our vision and our values and create a positive difference around us? Our emotions with respect to the resources available to us, will determine our ability to succeed in adopting a voluntary prosperity mindset.
The more we give, the more we put into circulation the ultimate power, that of passion,which creates a win-win benefit for all: an experience of life that allows each one of us to express our full potential.
And this is the true imperative: living to our full potential. This is why it is so important to stop downsizing our lives and start adopting a voluntary prosperity mindset, one that encourages each one of us to take action and create a happy, healthy and wealthy future for all.
(1) “The Buddha’s Teachings on Prosperity: At Home, At Work, in the World” by Bhikkhu Rahula Basnagoda and Arthur C. Clarke
(2) “The Next Millionaires” by Paul Zane Pilzer