The best wealth

Really, envy is a mental illness. You have to be on constant guard against it. It’s a disease which has hit me with a vengeance this past year. Envy at the material wealth of family members. Envy at the great careers of old friends. Envy at the exotic cars driven by my brethren. On and on like this.

On Wednesdays, I’ve taken to driving up to Wycombe. It serves three purposes: to take my son to youth club, to move me from complacency and to let me do the weekly shop in peace. Oh, and fourth, to snag another box of honey mangos. All good reasons to leave our sleepy market town behind for the evening.

But I’ve discovered that you have to keep your wits about you, for this is the land of glitter and gold on full display. Driving up the avenue to the youth centre last week, I got stuck behind a Lamborghini Aventador, crawling along at 15mph to avoid sheering the exhausts away on the speed bumps. Presumably it was a rental for a family wedding, turning heads all the way.

All around me, on both sides of the street, semidetached houses undergoing major renovations, driveways filled with luxury cars. While waiting for my son at the community centre, a young twenty-something pulled into the carpark in his swish Mercedes-AMG C63 coupe with exclusive plates. I’d bumped into a friend by then, and couldn’t help commenting, “Look: we’re doing it all wrong.” We’re both in our mid-forties driving boring family cars.

This new generation is doing very well for itself. Gone the Toyota Corollas once the default choice of their parents two decades ago. Last year’s fashion: the Kahn Range Rover Sport. This year: the Audi e-tron. This generation is upwardly mobile. This, the young generation that had vision, working hard into professional degrees, their efforts paid off.

If you let it, this will send you stir-crazy, lamenting your misspent youth, regretting your laidback attitude to life. These folk, you may tell yourself, have it all: a life of ease ahead of them. But this is just the age-old disease of envy, which all the prophets, gurus and wise sages of millennia called the people away from. Who knows of their wisdom, calling man away from attachment to the world, greed and envy? And who dares take heed?

Really, that pursuit just leads to insanity. We have to learn to live within our means, and to be content with our provision. Daily, we have to count our blessings, to take stock of our actual position. Not in relation to others — because there will always be others higher up the ladder — but in relation to your own needs. What do you actually need?

Wandering in other neighbourhoods, or visiting siblings or friends, I often experience that momentary pang of regret. If only I had worked harder, I tell myself, I could be living in a house like that. But you have to turn things on their head, and look at things differently. What was destined for them was destined for them; but this is your provision, so be content and grateful.

Others will always have something we don’t have. But perhaps you have something they don’t. Perhaps you have something other people wish they had. So be content. Be content with your self-worth. Find what it is that your heart truly desires, and hold fast to that. Not these fleeting pleasures that will soon depart. Hold onto to something lasting.

We have a picture frame in our living room which displays these words: “I thought of all sorts of wealth, but did not find a better wealth than contentment in a little.” It’s so true. That is indeed the best wealth, if only you can attain it.

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