Greed…. oof. It’s not something I like to dwell on. Not a trait I admire in others. Not something I believe any of us think of when we think of what makes a good person. But conveniently it’s something I ignore in myself most of the time. The thing is, greed can look like so many different things. It’s not just about having money and having stuff. I think it’s also about hoarding our time and energy and relationships and even our abilities and talents. And it can creep in to other parts of us, because just the attitude of greed, thinking we deserve more or need more, really impacts a lot of different parts of life.
My current definition of greed is when there’s a somewhat objective level of a thing we need (to survive or to feel successful), and when we reach that level of having it, it doesn’t feel like enough for us. I’ve done a fair amount of research into minimalism and living below your means and even veganism as a way to make less of a negative impact on the world with our consumption habits. Even taking into consideration the valid points of those philosophies, there’s still a base level of material things, money, social interaction, physical rest, and intellectual challenge I think we need to keep going. Those levels vary for each of us- you may need a solid 8 hours of sleep every night to function well and I may not feel a difference if I sleep 5 or 10 hours; you may feel jittery and frustrated if you don’t exercise a few times a week, and I might not feel an ounce of loss or guilt if I go a couple of weeks without strenuous activity. Something challenging for me is to not compare those base levels of whatever thing I need compared to others, because I can get very competitive and also feel insecure if I interpret that I need so much of something compared to you that it must mean I’m weak.
Starting out on my own in my first apartment and having my first long-term, full-time job, greed has crept in more than I expected. I want my apartment to be beautifully furnished. I want to spend my first paychecks making it perfect so that I can invite friends over and feel confident hosting them. I want my apartment to be better than my friends’ apartments. I want to get fancy groceries eat fancy meals (separate topic: my current inability to motivate to cook) and have a cute porch with twinkle lights that I won’t sit on because it faces the parking lot and it’s never not 90 degrees in Nashville right now, but I just want to have a cute porch, okay? I want cool wall decorations to be able to take with me on all my future moves. I want better and more work clothes. I want to maximize my flight and hotel rewards when I travel for work. I want credit cards that help me earn free stuff. And that’s just skimming the top of the material things, not even the intangibles yet.
As work ramps up, I am finding myself inching toward this old habit of mine of hoarding my time. I am so greedy about getting as much sleep as possible and doing my after-work and weekend plans that I “need” to do before making commitments to spend time with friends or get on the phone to catch up with my distant friends and family. I’m even greedy talking about work to my friends. I want to have the best job, make the most difference, be the most committed, be challenged the most and learn the most and be the most adult and most responsible and best at showing love to my coworkers. But in terms of time, I just want it to be mine to plan what I want to do. This week that was seeing friends two nights and doing lots of errands the other two nights. Both nights gave me happiness and fulfillment in different ways, but I was very much trying to be in control of the activities- when I would meet friends, when I would leave somewhere so I could get to bed on time, where I would go to shop to not be too far from home and be efficient.
Interestingly, the exact week I realized how greedy I felt about my time, I spent significant chunks of minutes in virtually every potential traffic pit in West Nashville. On the highway (southern friends: interstate) to work. On the highway home from work. On local roads when I tried to avoid the highways. Late at night when all the traffic is gone but it’s the best time to close entire lanes of 21st avenue to re-pave it or do pipe work or something. In the past two days I’m convinced I’ve experienced every possible traffic snafu. Culminating in today, when I just wanted to freaking go to Walmart and get keys cut like a responsible adult would have done right after moving in, and on a busy but pretty efficient local road someone just stopped and abandoned their car in the left turn lane. And it required thorough investigation by at least 9 police people with their cars parked in various lanes around the intersection.
With my greed for more time to spend how I want to, how I believe I deserve to, has come a really negative attitude. I audibly harrumphed on my way home from Walmart when I got stuck trying to turn left right when traffic picked up. Made faces at people texting while driving. Smacked the steering wheel a couple of times waiting on the highway and trying to change lanes in time (sorry Jesus, I know you didn’t save me for this). When I heard myself complaining out loud at other drivers while driving with my friend yesterday I was embarrassed to be that person complaining about traffic and getting frustrated over something that definitely can’t be changed by whining over it. The traffic will be there because I go to and from work at rush hour. And because it’s summer and construction is happening. And because it’s Nashville and there’s more people driving than roads to carry us.
I don’t want to be that grumpy person who thinks my convenience and speed are more valuable than other people’s. I don’t want to sigh or mutter at people who don’t drive courteously. And I definitely don’t want to spend my total of 30-40 minutes per day commuting being annoyed. This week was an improvement on last week, at least, because I finally found an audio cable to listen to my phone music instead of the one CD in the car over and over or radio commercials. And I was really encouraged this week talking to someone and learning that she listens to audio books every time she’s in the car instead of music- I think I might try that. Maybe it will help kick-start me back into reading. I also don’t want to be someone caught up in planning what I’ll spend my next paycheck on (beyond planning ahead for rent and such). Or someone who thinks having a perfect-looking apartment will show people something about my character. I don’t want to be so caught up in what more I want that I don’t realize what I already have.
What I’m learning this week is that greed, our attitudes and definitely self control are pretty related. Obviously greed’s related to self control because the whole problem with greed is that once we get what we thought we wanted in the first place, it turns out we just want more. And I can see that happening with money, food, clothes, books, dating, alcohol, so many things. You get to that first goal and realize either you still don’t feel good enough compared to the people around you or that threshold amount doesn’t give us the satisfaction we were seeking (spoiler alert, there’s no amount of any of these material, earthly things that will give us the satisfaction we’re seeking). It’s hard because it’s a basic human thing to compare our situation to those around us. I learned in countless sociology classes that we don’t measure how good our lives are by just checking to see if we live above the poverty level and realizing we can eat three meals a day and drive to work and have a job etc., etc.,– we measure how good our lives are by looking at the people around us. And we don’t take into account the different upbringing they had, advantages they might have had that we didn’t, or, gasp, the fact that they definitely have something they’re struggling with that we can’t even see, that they probably envy other people for not having to deal with. But the problem is that we are driven by that and it makes us spend more than we need to and buy more than we need and eat and drink more than is good for us just because we can and we think we deserve it.
In terms of attitude, I think greed can really hurt us demeanor-wise and also emotionally. Of course being grumpy about my time being wasted on traffic and being frustrated that I can’t buy everything I want come from greed, but it also goes way deeper than that. If we rarely believe we have enough right now, we will spend forever seeking more things instead of being content and even grateful for where we are and what we have. I don’t think it’s even necessary to list all the things we are privileged with in this country and in this age in terms of medicine and technology and opportunities to see the world and connect with people- we’re all pretty aware of that in theory. But I think at the heart level greed can really creep in and rob us of joy and of perspective. There’s literally nothing material in this world, no amount of money, no amount of fame, no amount of success that can give us what we’re ultimately seeking. No matter what you’re seeking- purpose, love, acceptance, influence. However, I think investing our energy in relationships, learning more about the world, being less selfish with our time, finding truth, whether that’s religious for you or not, will give us so much more joy and satisfaction in the end.
I’m not quite sure how not to be greedy yet, but I’ll keep you posted. I think like everything else it probably comes with baby steps, micro decisions and actions or moments of restraint. Asking someone else what he or she wants to do this weekend instead of controlling the plans. Waiting a day before making that big purchase to make sure you really need it and it’s the right thing. Offering your chair to someone else so they don’t have to stand. Whatever it will take to feel a little less greedy and be able to prove it by pointing to specific actions we performed, I think we should try it. I just know I don’t want to be in doubt about whether I made an effort to be less selfish with my time and less focused on having enough stuff. If I saw someone else acting the way I’ve been thinking, I wouldn’t really want to be their friend, and I think that’s a pretty clear indicator of what to avoid. So I’m going to take time this week to reflect on what I already have that I’m grateful for, both tangible and intangible.
Song of the week: When I’m With You by Ben Rector
Show of the week: New Girl
Advice of the week: 1. Get a rug. It will instantly make your room cozier no matter how little furniture you currently have in it. 2. Acquire a frequent boba card.
Goals for the week: Get up earlier and read