The Best Things

i282600889610536971._szw1280h1280_We all need money to survive in this world. We have to purchase food, pay rent, buy a bare minimum of clothing, and find the money for healthcare. There are extras that make our lives easier like owning a car, investing in an education, having a phone, and getting access to a television or radio. I’ve lived on a shoestring that didn’t allow for the cost of air conditioning even in severe summer heat and I’ve known the luxury of being middle class and having enough leftover money for savings, entertainment and vacations. I’ll be the first to say that money does make life better and less stressful but there is a fine line between having enough to live decently and being so obsessed with having more and more money that it becomes a driving force that overtakes us. Sometimes we humans become as greedy as the fisherman’s wife who was never satisfied with the financial blessings that she received. She always wanted more, more, more and never managed to find the happiness that eluded her. The truth is that aside from the basic human needs some of the most important things that we treasure don’t cost a dime.  

Everyone wants to know that there are people whom they can trust. As we travel through our days we find those souls who will always have our backs. They are the individuals who are honest and straight with us. They steadfastly stand by us even in the most difficult situations. It doesn’t matter to them how much money we have or where we live. They are the people that never fail us and they are often difficult to find. Having such wonderful individuals in our lives is like hitting the jackpot and even better is the fact that we never have to buy their trust. 

We see millionaires going to jail all of the time for a lack of morals and character. At the same time some of the most unfortunate people are paragons of integrity. We can’t go to Amazon to order the qualities that make us upstanding and good. These are qualities that we foster by the way that we deal with all of life’s challenges. Some among us are infinitely fair and just. We admire and respect them because their actions always speak of an inner core of goodness that guides their decisions. Morals, character, and respect are not commodities and they do not necessarily increase with wealth. They are absolutely free to have or not. When they are present they bring real happiness not just to the person who possesses those values but also to the people that they encounter. They are indeed priceless.

In school we sometimes take IQ tests theoretically designed to determine the level of our intellectual potential. What we never hear of is a test for common sense but we all know somebody who has got it and uses it. Common sense allows us to unveil charlatans and question rhetoric and propaganda. It tells us what to do in an emergency and how to deal with people. Common sense leads a bus driver to stop to render aid when he sees a house on fire. Common sense would prompt a police officer to deescalate a potentially explosive situation. Common sense helps us to respond correctly to even the most difficult situations. We can’t go to college to get common sense and the guide to common sense isn’t found in books. It’s an instinctual process that we usually find from years of experience with other human beings. Some of us never quite find it and we can’t use money to obtain it. It just seems to be one of those concepts that we pick up through observation of humanity. It’s a freebie that will take us far.

Our world is moving so quickly that sometimes it feels as though all of us have lost our patience. We want what we want and we want it now! If we can’t get instant gratification we grumble and moan. The fact is that those who are willing to wait and move slowly toward completion of their goals are the most likely to be successful. Study after study has shown that young children who are willing to forego immediate rewards for the promise of even better dividends at a later time are the ones who have the best chance of earning a college degree or saving money for a home and other such long term projects. A team of psychologists at Stanford once tested kids by asking them to choose either a single marshmallow right away or an entire bag at some later, unspecified date. Most of the little ones opted for the single marshmallow but among those who waited there was a higher rate of achievement when they finally became adults. Patience is an amazing virtue and I sometimes believe that we need a great deal more of it.

Sociologists love to categorize us into various classes. What we common folk understand is that real class has little to do with socio-economic status. The Kardashians are unimaginatively wealthy but few among us would call them icons of class. On the other hand I have known poverty stricken individuals who carried themselves as regally as Queen Elizabeth. As a child I remember visiting a woman with my grandmother who lived in abjectly horrible conditions. I was startled by the way that she had to live. In spite of her lack of even basic necessities her home was clean and she wore a tattered frock with dignity. When she offered us a refreshment of water she did so with mismatched glasses but in such a manner that we felt honored to be in her presence. I have never forgotten this very classy woman.

I sometimes believe that we need to include a course in manners as part of the required curriculum in schools. As a society we seem to have forgotten some of the most basic tenets that were once understood and practiced by most people. I sometimes think that if everyone became more mannerly half of the world’s problems would be instantly solved. Imagine a place where “thank you” is a common salutation. Think of how lovely the environment would be if every single soul automatically cleaned up after themselves. Imagine how much better discussions would be if the participants actually listened to one another and respected differing opinions. I’d love to see a resurgence of universal helpfulness. None of it would cost the taxpayers a single dime and yet it would be a powerful change.

Jesus was born poor and died poor. Mother Theresa lived among some of the most desperate souls on earth and never accumulated the earthly possessions that we sometimes believe are necessary. The saying, “All you need is love” bears some truth. Those who love deeply and unconditionally are some of the happiest individuals on earth. In our quest for better lives we all too often ignore the obvious which is that our first challenge is to love ourselves and our neighbors. 

Common sense tells us that we can’t eat any of the virtues that I have described. We will get cold and wet without a roof over our heads. The world requires money to purchase our basic needs. Still, many qualities that are absolutely free will take us a long way in bettering ourselves and finding the happiness that so often eludes mankind. The real trick in leading a wonderful life lies in understanding that there is great power to be found in searching for some of the qualities that I have described and none of them will cost a dime.

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