The Most Toys
The other day an older friend of ours was describing a trend he had noticed among his acquaintances nearing the age of 60. “They all seem to be increasingly obsessed with things,” our pal noticed. “The older they get, the more money they have, the more stuff they want.”
He went on to recount a rather unappetizing story of a buddy who had spent more than $100,000 on a Mercedes-Benz only to discover after three days of ownership that the wheels the factory had provided were not to his satisfaction. He enlisted our friend to go on a shopping spree with him, to a wheel specialist in Beverly Hills, where chrome accoutrements line the walls of a palatial showroom. The car buyer found some rims he could live with and plunked down $6,000. Each.
“He spent twenty-four thousand dollars on wheels!” my friend recalled, helpfully doing the math for us. “Can you imagine? That’s more than a lot of cars cost!”
And more than someone who works for $12.00-an-hour earns in a year (before taxes, unemployment insurance, and everything else gets deducted.) Not to mention more than all sorts of essential goods a family of four anywhere in the world except the United States might need annually. Like, say, food and potable water.
We don’t mean to suggest there’s anything wrong with spending one’s money as one wishes. Indeed, none of us really need to live in $1 million houses or wear $1,200 tailored suits. None of us genuinely needs cable television, titanium golf clubs, or vintage Champagne. Indeed, we could all easily get by with approximately 1/1000th of what we own. But for some people, stuff — particularly “nice” stuff — somehow makes life appreciably better than life without it. We recall a popular tee-shirt slogan of the 1980’s, typically found stretched across the chest of a balding, large-gutted man driving a red convertible: “He who dies with the most toys wins!”
The corollary is expressed in a Buddhist maxim: “Attachment to material things is the root of all misery.”
We don’t pretend to know which saying is the absolute truth. But if you’ve ever traveled for an extended period of time — especially with an infant or a pet — your sympathies start to lean toward the ascetic point of view.
The compulsion to amass toys as one gets closer to death — particularly expensive ones that everyone around you knows are expensive — is born of the same need a teenager who promiscuously spreads his name, or “tag,” through garish graffiti. Old or young, most of us wish to somehow make our mark upon the world. Some, like the vandal, do it literally. Others, like the wealthy businessman, do it through the agglomeration of things that are legally his. Both solutions are fleeting illusions. The authentic way to make a mark upon this world, spiritual-minded folks suggest, is to help others enjoy their existence more than if you hadn’t helped. Do it now and forever.
We’re not talking about charity, necessarily. We mean teaching. Sharing expertise. Giving something useful to society — a song, a household invention, a just and righteous law. Being generous with your talents and expertise and, yes, love.
Having loads of money can be gratifying in some ways, we suppose. But using it to leave this world a better place than how you found it probably feels a lot better than dying with the most toys.