Economics 101, Syllabus day

For the ones who never have enough money . . .

How much money is enough? Just a little bit more.

At least, that's what Rockefeller supposedly said. According to the filthy rich, money really can't buy happiness. Not that you would know. The trouble is, far from buying happiness, some people hardly have enough money for groceries. They can't ever seem to make enough money. Their job pays too little, demands too much, and basically sucks their life away from them. You might suggest they work harder, get a side hustle, ask for a raise, or whatever, but none of that will work. The wage problem is systemic. Fat cats in corporate America rake in buku-bucks while the people really doing the work are stuck running a rat-race for minimum wage, paying real bills, and never able to save anything.

Throw life on top of that - medical bills, divorce, emergencies, vehicle problems, etc. - and you've got a recipe for perpetual poverty. Upward mobility? Fat chance. Forget about finding purpose in work, or enjoying your job, some people can't even seem to find a job that pays the bills!

At least, that's how the problem is perceived. 

I have many friends who view their situation as I have described. If that's you, read on. If that's not you, but you can think of friends who talk that way, read on. Many people complain about money - not that none of those complaints are real - but most people fail to seek the kind of solutions that have the power to really fix the problem.

I hope to offer just such a solution, by writing a little series on money, work, rest, and the meaning of life. If you, or someone you know (ahem - calling all broke millennials!) feels like I described above, this series is for you.

But a word of warning:
I am brewing up some strong medicine - if you don't have the stomach for it, don't drink. I do not intend to offer trite solutions to small problems. I'm not going to tell you "do x side hustle, make y extra cash, and find z kind of happiness. No, I want to dive into root issues - and find root solutions.

On the other hand: 
If you are sick of living a barely-making-it, no-purpose, always-wanting-never-having, unsatisfied-glory-hunger waste of a life, then maybe this bitter elixir is exactly what you need. In other words, if you are unhappy and dissatisfied with your work, budget, and life, read on.

This little series is about more than money and work, but not less. Money and work are surface-level issues. They are just temporary circumstances. Our feelings about them are merely symptoms of what we believe about more important things. More permanent things.

You see, I have spent most of my life somewhere between barely breathing, and drowning, financially speaking (and I don't mean drowning in cash), starting when I was a kid, and running through my first 13 years of being in the work force. I am not complaining - that has been the result of choices I have made; choices I don't regret. 
Yet, I don't find myself whining about money, or writing diatribes against the status quo. I don't find myself marching with the "99 percent" (or pretending to via Facebook), or scheming about murdering my boss. I have never felt like I was being held down by the corrupt system. I have never voted for a politician because they promised me more money.

Here's the real kicker: I have never - and I really mean that - I have never hated my job.
Even McDonald's.

I know what it means to have more month than money. I know what it means to be working your butt off, and still not having enough for a bare-bones budget. I also know what it means to be content in those circumstances.

If that sounds like bragging, or impossible, or unrealistic, then this little post is for you. I am writing for those (especially of my generation) who feel like life hasn't been fair to them, their government hasn't been fair to them, and their job hasn't been fair to them. Some of my target audience are Bernie Sanders fans. Others voted for Trump. Still others are so broke, broken, or apathetic, they didn't didn't even vote in 2016. But most of you complain on social media, and many of you are asking for, even demanding, change (no pun intended).

You do need change, but not a change of circumstances. You need a paradigm-shift.

Again, I am not exactly "rolling in the dough" when it comes to money. And yet, I find there is a vast difference between my level of contentment and that of many of my peers. I don't need the government to give me more money, or more freedom, or more anything. I don't need a better job, and I don't need a raise. Before you tune out, understand: this isn't a "rant" or something. The point is simple: I understand why those things are true of me, and I can show you how to get there. It's not rocket surgery, and it doesn't take any cash up front.

Before you think this is a bait and switch, let me be clear: I am not planning to help you make more money. I am planning to help you be happy, no matter what you do for work, no matter your budget, and no matter whether we are a capitalist or socialist country.

It's the secret to being content (hint: it's not a change in circumstances). Let's call it the secret to not hating my life:

I invest, labor, and earn currency in a different economy -
And you should too.

No, it's not a ponzie scheme. I'm not sending cash to Switzerland. Nor am I about to share a sermon with you, although that's not a bad idea. Whatever you think I mean by the little thesis above, please read on, and don't blow this off. I am asking you to join me as I try to shed some verbal light on the deepest foundations of our world - I want to show you something solid, real, and eternal. 

If you're still reading at this point, maybe I've piqued your interest. Or maybe you're just waiting for the part where I accuse you of being greedy and lazy, so you can get mad (getting mad seems to feel good to greedy, lazy people). That will come later. For now, let me show you two things: Where we are going with this series, and who/what my sources are. After all, I just claimed to know something about the "deepest foundations of our world," in like a metaphysical sense. Like, woah, dude. Don't you want to know where I got my authority to talk about that?

First, where are we going?

Here are the topics we are going to look at over the next two months or so. The plan is to post one each weekend:

  1. Syllabus Day. [you are here]
  2. The Alternate Economy: why you should invest in eternity. 
  3. The Alternate Economy: how to invest in eternity. 
  4. Work as worship: who owns you? 
  5. Autonomy, entitlement, and the American dream: why my friends are miserable.
  6. A biblical picture of work and rest.
  7. Glory hunger, and the meaning of life.

Second, who are my sources?

Finally, let me give you a peak at my sources. I didn't find this eternal, solid economy on my own. Nor do I describe it by my own invention, or preach it on my own authority. Here is a glimpse at a few of my sources (you can discover more throughout the series):

There - you can see all my cards. Jesus said some things that I think most of us don't take seriously. Things like these:

"A man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."
"Do not work for the food that perishes."
"Store up for yourself treasures in heaven."

Paul - as in the apostle, the biblical author. Yep, the New Testament is pretty central in my view of economics. Here's something Paul said:

"I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty."

Paul claimed to have the recipe (Eugene Peterson's paraphrase, not mine!) for happiness. I've tried it - it really works! That's what I want to share with you. Sharing recipes . . . what could be more internet than that?

Randy Alcorn is another source. I read a book by him that helped shape my thinking on this topic some 7 years ago. Money, Possessions, and Eternity is with me every day. No kidding, I think about the concepts and ideas from that book every single day, and for 7 years it has been awesome. Either this eternity thing is the real deal, or I am completely wasting my life. I want to invite you to take that risk as well.

Another source is the Old Testament. Books like Genesis, Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs have a lot to say about work, rest, money, eternity, mortality, etc. If you claim to believe the Bible, or even to hold it with some respect, I would challenge you to take its claims seriously. It has a lot to say about why you exist (take that, existentialism!).

And, the final source I will share with you here is: my own experience. In my short time as an adult, I have had plenty of jobs, some of them rather unsavory, others hard, others emotionally difficult, and on and on. I have also been in charge of dozens and dozens of people about my age, maybe a bit younger, often with the purpose of accomplishing various forms of work. The point is: I am a millennial, and I have supervised a fair number of millennials. I know and understand the ethos of my generation, and Facebook tells me the current zeitgeist taking many of my peers by storm.

I know my generation is largely populated by miserable, malcontent, greedy kids who hate real work, and hate not having all the toys. I know we often feel extremely entitled, offended, and poised to make huge changes in our society without leaving our couches. I also have some idea of where that comes from, and where it leads to. More importantly, I believe I know the how and why of adopting a different view of the world. I know how to be happy.

This post started with some questions that many people are asking (read: what people whine about on Facebook). In my opinion, they are the wrong questions, but they give us a hint at something deeper. There is rot below. There are some serious problems with how we view the universe - and that shows up in our complaints, our discussions, and our questions. It shows up in our attitudes about money and work. Let me end by telling you the questions I am going to try to answer in this little series; some of the questions I think my generation, indeed all generations, should be asking:

What does a persons life consist of? What is my purpose? Why should I go to work, and how can I find meaning in my job? What is this alternate economy, and how can I obtain its currency? How can I stop feeling like I never have enough money? How can I be happy, and finally achieve "the good life," preferably before I'm 70 years old?

A final note:
This isn't just spiritual jibber-jabber. This is the real deal: I go to work and swing a hammer. I sweat, I bleed, I work my butt off, and I have not yet achieved wealth by my culture's standards. And yet I am happy. I am far happier than many of my peers - the 19-30 year old "millennials" who can't seem to shut up about the wage gap, wealth inequality, corporate greed, and on and on and on. I want to tell you why.

I don't intend to persuade some Bernie voter to vote Republican. Nor do I intend to tell any burger-flippers to stop hoping for a better job, and just keep flipping burgers. Rather, I want to show people why and how I am so much happier than many of my generation.

Because in the final analysis, we all know that dollar bills may as well be toilet paper. What we are all really trying to grasp is more elusive than money.

We are searching for joy.

Please feel free to comment below.

If you know someone who needs the kind of paradigm shift I'm talking about, share this with them.

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