Schopenhauer cites Epicurus (341 BC – 270 BC) (the “great professor of happiness”) who divides the needs of mankind into three classes (1) natural and necessary needs, that if not satisfied produce pain (food, clothing, shelter, etc.) which can easily be satisfied; (2) natural but unnecessary needs, such as gratification of the senses (physical and mental stimulation), which are a bit harder to satisfy; and (3) unnatural and unnecessary needs, the need for luxury, prodigality, show and splendor, which never comes to an end and is difficult (expensive) to satisfy. It’s a waste of time and energy to unduly pursue this third class “need”.
Wealth satisfies needs and is a blessing to be respected and appreciated. It should be used responsibly and regarded as a bulwark against future challenges and misfortunes. Wealth should never be seen as leave to get whatever pleasures one can out of this world. And it’s unwise to spend all of one’s earnings because valuable skills and talents can be exhausted or become antiquated, having been good only under a special conjunction of circumstances which has passed. The rags to riches to rags story is so common because most people do not handle wealth prudently. Shakespeare gave us the adage in Henry VI – beggars mounted run their horse to death.
Wealth is emancipation, rendering us master of our own time and powers, enabling us every morning to say this day is my own. Schopenhauer writes that wealth reaches its utmost value when it falls to the individual endowed with mental powers of a high order – doubly endowed by fate with both wealth and intelligence, enabling one to accomplish “what no other could achieve, by producing some work which contributes to the general good, and redounds to the honor of humanity at large. Another again, may use his wealth to further philanthropic schemes, and make himself well-deserving of his fellow-men. But a man who does none of these things, who does not even try to do them, who never attempts to study thoroughly some one branch of knowledge so that he may at least do what he can toward promoting it – such a one, born as he is into riches, is a mere idler and thief of time, a contemptible fellow.”
There is consolation from Voltaire, who said: We have only two days to live; it is not worth our while to spend them in cringing to contemptible rascals. But alas!, Schopenhauer writes, “let me observe by the way, that contemptible rascal is an attribute which may be predicted of an abominable number of people”. Don’t worry about them! Focus on cultivating your talent and faculties and be sure to have an Estate Planning War Chest full of knowledge and wealth because, as the Roman poet Juvenal put it, it is difficult to rise if your poverty is greater than your talent.