When most of us think of greed, we think of the Gordon Gekko type of greed. Many of us are appalled by it. But most of us experience greed around something as part of our nature — be it for money, recognition, affirmation, influence, love. We characterize it differently, but this desire for something that we don't feel like we have enough of lurks inside and represents our largest obstacle to being satisfied with the life we are living.
When I am working with clients, I am always trying to uncover what motivations they have that are hampering their feelings of security. The best antidote that I have found for these nagging feelings, regardless of which ones, is developing a sense of happiness for the good fortune of others and actively acknowledging your delight in good things happening for them.
One of my friends recently sold their business and I felt pure joy for him and his wife. He put himself through college, worked for the same company his whole career, bought into the business a few years ago, eventually ran it and sold it. But I have also been in a situation where a competitor of mine sold their business and, even though I have no desire to sell ours outside of our employees, a part of me felt envious. Two similar situations, two distinct reactions.
The sale of my competitor's business took nothing from me, but I still reacted to it. Why?
I think at times we are not able to be happy for others because we want what they have. At other times it may be because we don't want them to have what they are getting. If we were able to harness our demons of envy (which is the sister of greed) and replace it with joy for others, don't you think we would be better off? Celebrating the successes of others helps us appreciate what we have because we are no longer in competition.
This is not easy and it takes a lot of practice, but here are some things you can do.
When someone you know has something good happen, write them a note. Let them know you are happy for them.
When someone does something nice for you, pause and really thank them. If you get great service, let them know you appreciate it. If a child holds a door for you, find their parent and let them know how much you appreciated the gesture.
Take a few moments every day to be grateful. Joy is regenerative; it is not something we ever run out of, so don't worry about using it up. What would our lives look like if we were greedy for the happiness of others?
Spend your life wisely.
Ross Levin is the chief executive & founder of Accredited Investors Wealth Management in Edina.