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But if one should guide his life by true principles, man's greatest wealth is to live on a little with contented mind; for a little is never lacking.

Name Lucretius
Life99 - 55 BC
CountryRome
CategoryWisdom
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"A little is never lacking!" Many a wise man has said the same as Lucretius. Wealth does not bring happiness! Remember the depressed king in the old tale? He could only be cured, his doctors said, if he could carry the shirt of a truly happy man. After much search, his son one evening rode up to a small cottage high in the mountain. From the inside, he heard a man saying: "Dear wife, life is wonderful in this fabulous nature. You and I are truly happy." "Yes, we are!", said the wife. The King's son rushed in and said: "Please, give me one of your shirts!" "A shirt", said the happy man, "I have never owned a shirt". In 1999, Nokia didn't sell shirts, but it sold one and a half million mobile telephones every week. This is a gadget that Lucretius and the rest of humanity have succeeded to live without for many a thousand years. Now, however, everybody must have it! Why don't we listen to Lucretius? Why aren't we satisfied with a little food, enough clothing to keep the cold out, and a small and cozy home? Why do we always want to be richer than we already are? Several answers are possible. A simple one is that we are scared to look into the existential vacuum. It might be empty. Like nature, we abhor emptiness and escape into work, consumption and inane telephone talk. A slightly complicated answer is that we are herd animals. When the leading bull rushes in one direction, the flock follows.
This mentality is equally as exploited by the fashion industry as by populist politicians. Our publicity-soaked world can, indeed, be called "anti-Lucretian"! Our disobedience to Lucretius may, however, also have a more complicated explanation. Researchers have shown that mice have a "reward center" in the brain. This center easily gets tired of what it already has and is as easily excited by new and sweeter food. Already mice are more interested in a relative than in a Lucretian absolute level of satisfaction! Mice don't use the concept of "relative deprivation". But they feel it! On this locus, men surely have the same genes as the mice, giving us the same dissatisfaction with what we already have. "In all things human change is sweet", is one of the many insights of Aristotle, that could have filled our park. Add to this the genetically based, intense "will to win" of the adrenalinomaniacs. Combine this with the simple fact that it is with money that you buy the weapons and instruments which help you win. It follows that you must always be a bit richer than your potential enemy or competitor. Are we not, again, caught in an "arms race" without any visible end? Like Capri in the Mediterranean, our earth is a restricted piece of land in the universe. It has a limited carrying capacity of people and gadgets. Doesn't it follow that the "harrying capacity" of an unstoppable arms race, sooner or later, will destroy our paradise? Will we not, sooner or later, be forced to listen to Lucretius?