Recently, I read a blog post about managing expectations. In it, the author points out that the nostalgia many of us feel for the “golden age” of the 1950s is not based upon any objective measure of wealth or condition during that time, but rather because our expectations were much lower then than they are now. Indeed, our wealth and condition are objectively much better today. So why have our expectations outstripped our wealth?
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have…”– Hebrews 13:5
It seems obvious that we have several of the deadly sins at work here; envy of our neighbors, what they have, and what we don’t, greed that we don’t have enough. And here we have to make a distinction – intent counts. To pursue wealth in order to increase our agency so we can execute virtue (e.g., help our family, help others, engage in corporal works, etc.) is a good thing. To collect wealth because we want to have as much as our neighbors is envious. That’s why references to money in the new testament are careful to specify the love of money as being sinful – not money itself.
So how do we combat these very natural human predilections? The author states that managing our expectations is the other side of the “greed” coin – that we spend too much time trying to get more and too little time expecting less. To illustrate this, she tells the story of Jesse Livermore, one of the richest men in the world during the late nineteen-twenties. After going broke multiple times, he finally realized that managing his expectations was the only way to control his greed.
I think she missed the point. Living within your means is the result of humility. And here is the ultimate point of my rambling. Humility is the real virtue we should pursue. Humility is the virtue most lacking in our society.