We all seem to be living in a pressure cooker nowadays. People around us are stressed, burnt out, their faces pinched with worry. Happy faces are a rare sight. Most of the expressions I see are worn out, strained and miserable, as if the weight of the world was bearing down upon their shoulders.
Where is the anxiety coming from? Mostly, it comes from worrying about the future. Worrying about the unknown, and because of this, we try to seek assurance and insurance to insulate ourselves from the downturns in life. We plan and place enormous hopes on the plans, drawing up our life charts and quarterly plans, seasonal plans, five year plans, ten year plans.
We think that our plans, and what we hope to achieve, would suffice as our insurance and assurance. But are we on the right track?
Consider this: how many of our long term plans have fully materialised in the past? Just look back at our lives, and our own personal histories will clearly illustrate that we have no control over anything, not the weather, the economy, and not even tomorrow. We have all had to materially alter the course of our lives because of some insignificant event – a phone call, letter, a traffic jam, a chance meeting – but which changed everything for us.
The future is unchartered and uncontrollable. It is filled with opportunities and contingencies. Deaths, illnesses, accidents, political unrest are part of our daily landscapes. We are vulnerable to unpredictable systemic risks - an economic glitch on the other side of the globe might affect our job security, a new strain of virus in another continent might cause our stock markets to crash. Nothing is foolproof, not even with the most precise engineering. Think of the Titanic.
Therefore, what is the point in thinking we can plan our own assurance of the future? It is a fundamental truth: life is not in our hands, and we are not in control. The conflict between the truth and our glorified version of reality should demonstrate that nothing is within our control. Yet we still device plans, seeking assurance and insurance through material means, money, jobs and relationships, when all of these elements are themselves very vulnerable and subject to change or destruction at any time.
Buying Insurance and Assurance?
Therefore, how can assurance and insurance be attained?
I once met a handsome and healthy young man. He was only 22 years old, yet he could not sleep at night. He needed the aid of sleeping pills, because of worry and pressure of the future.
I know a very pretty and elegant woman, who was married to a multi millionaire. The couple owned palaces, villas, chateaus and mansions across the world. Yet her son came to me crying, because his mother overdosed regularly on drugs and was admitted to the hospital every couple of weeks. She was dependent on a cocktail of different tranquilisers, anti depressants and other various drugs, which, when mixed together could be lethal. She carried them with her wherever she went, and consumed them when life got unbearable.
What brought this on? Despite her wealth, she had no security or assurance of a happy future. The husband was in constant battles with the children over the family fortune. In truth, his wealth was so immense that it was enough to feed at least five generations to come, yet he was so paranoid of the future that he insisted his children subscribe for life insurance plans to fortify their own security and assurance. Wealth was not a source of happiness - none of his family members were calm or happy.
The majority of us associate security with fortune. That is why our lives are geared towards getting a good education – in order to secure a good job. From childhood, we have been conditioned to strive to be wealthier than our parents. However, money is just a means and a necessity. We require it for our basic needs, but it any excess in income does not proportionately increase in our happiness, assurance and insurance in life.
Take a look at the wealthy people around us – those we know personally and those we see on the media. Most are constantly worried about guarding their fortunes. The multiple digits in their bank accounts only motivate them to work even harder to double and triple their earnings. In searching for assurance through money, they are willing to lose sleep, neglect their families, allow their marriages to collapse, create unnecessary hardship for themselves and ruin their health – thus with all the money, they have no security or assurance of a happy life.
Even then these fortunes are exceedingly fragile. In the wake of an economic crisis, wealth can be wiped out in an instant. We have seen wave after wave of economic downturns, collapsed banks, life savings decimated, hundreds and thousands of the workforce being laid off and even entire countries going bankrupt. Where is the assurance then? It was just an illusion all along, as fragile as cotton candy in the rain. As a result, investors, executives and professionals end up committing suicide overnight. Having clung on to the idea that cash is the ultimate, concrete assurance, they could not bear it when this was taken away from them. Their sanity, security and stability smashed like porcelain piggy banks.
We witness a lot of this all over the developed world, where all hope is lost when the ability to earn an income is threatened. Famous celebrities and tycoons have taken their own lives. One supermodel even committed suicide at 19, at the peak of her career, because she was so afraid of gaining weight and losing her supermodel status and thus her ability to earn an income in the future.
How did the money benefit these people? Look at the long list of the super rich and glamorous celebrities who have ended their own lives because of despair, unhappiness and depression. They obtained all the fame and wealth that we are running after, and yet it never gave them happiness, assurance and insurance in life.
I once visited an ailing multi millionaire when I was in my mid 20s and he was in his 90s. He had been in a nursing home for over a decade and could not move without assistance. He looked at me and started crying. He said that he had such a vast fortune that he didn't even remember how many buildings he owned in the city. His assets were so massive that he needed an aeroplane to view all of them at once. Yet, his wished that he could swap his wealth for my age, strength, ability to walk, kick a ball around and just enjoy the simple pleasures in life. He said sadly, even if it were possible, no one would want to trade places to be in his pitiful and paralysed condition, not for all the money in the world.
If the secret of happiness and assurance was so simple, none of the rich would suffer from depression or nervous breakdowns, broken marriages, tragedy, ill health or death. The reality is that money, status, fame, or whatever accomplishment of this material life does not guarantee happiness. This assurance comes from something else entirely.