Most of us don’t want to be called “greedy.” Nobody wants to be the person who fills his plate and leaves others hungry or the person who waits for relatives to drop dead so he can get an inheritance. Greed reveals a darker side of human nature.
There are 2 sides to every coin, though. Could there be a positive side to being selfish?
Greed exists for a reason
When someone is uncomfortable with personal security, their anxiety may manifest as greed. This anxiety may stem from trauma or neglect. For example, a person who grows up not having enough to eat may hoard food and overindulge in adulthood.
In addition to anxiety, many greedy people have self-esteem issues. A child who doesn’t get enough attention grows into the adult that must be in the limelight. People who are insecure about their purpose in life sometimes tie their self-worth to having an abundance of items. Stuff is no substitute for being loved, but the person may feel a temporary sense of comfort from material possessions.
With all the negativity in the news, people feel threatened more than ever. You may have noticed an uptick in greedy behaviors as we all grapple with uncertain times.
We can understand why someone behaves this way, but it doesn’t make us like greedy people more. Even if you know why your friend always takes too many slices of pizza, you’ll still be hungry.
Taking too much harms others
Taking more than you need might not sound bad, but greed ca be negative for others. Look at what happens when the weather service forecasts a major storm. People panic, and instead of buying what they need, they clear the store shelves. The people who arrive late aren’t able to buy anything because there’s nothing left. Greed may be great for the economy, but it doesn’t do much for the human beings on the losing end.
Broadly speaking, when people fixate on hoarding objects or satisfying a desire for more stuff, they miss out on the richness of life. The person will almost never be satisfied, and after they get what they want, they’ll be on the prowl for the next big thing.
Many people realize they’re being greedy and hide who they are. A person who craves having power may become a politician. To do this, he may have to deceive others and craft a persona that will afford him what he wants. He may say–and even believe–that he wants to help others. He may champion the underdog and speak out against the power-hungry even as he lusts for power himself.
Greed doesn’t have to be terrible
Greed can serve a positive purpose in some contexts. One positive is that it’s a form of motivation. Greed inspires people to push for better social and economic outcomes than they have.
Altruism is a better force for creating positive change, but it takes time to develop it. Greed readily dovetails with consumerism. Our society is built on and supported by greedy behavior, whether or not we like it. The quest for more and better stuff has driven societies to the highest levels of achievement.
Societies that try to function without greed and hierarchy dissolve into chaos. Having a hierarchy naturally causes inequality, but people with more power often take actions that improve our lives.
Over two centuries ago, Adam Smith, economist and philosopher, explained that individuals who acted out of self-interest would be supported by the economy and make society better. The greed behind capitalism may seem unattractive, but the results are often desirable.
We saw examples of this prosperity in the US in the 1980s and 1990s on Wall Street. Productivity was high and unemployment rates were low. The stock market made many investors wealthy.
When the dotcom bubble burst and the value of shares dropped, people realized that greed has its limitations. In 1999, American households had a net worth-to- income ratio of 6.3. It has since fallen to 5.3. Even though we’re still doing better than our long term average, we’ve seen a decrease in quality of life across a large portion of the middle class.
Optimistic investors feel that this is part of the natural ebb and flow of the market, but perhaps this downturn was a warning about going for things well outside of our means.
Can it really be bad for us to recognize our limits and live in accordance with needs instead of wants?
Use greed to your advantage
1. Recognize the root of your greed.
Greed may be a sign that you have some insecurities to work through.
Someone who constantly has to shop may be trying to fill an emotional void or insecurity with stuff. If you find yourself loading your shopping bags every week, think about why you’re doing it. You may even need to seek professional help to deal with these issues.
2. Use greed to drive change.
Greed motivates you to climb the socio-economic ladder.
The unhappy person can change their life. If you’re unsatisfied with your quality of life, your desire to accumulate things could be a sign to get a better job or capitalize on an idea.
3. Sharing is caring.
If your desire for more things ends up making you wealthy and successful, use your power to look out for others.
When you’re top dog, you have a great opportunity to give back. Look at the philanthropic work people such as Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey do because they have the means.
Following these steps gives you a chance to reflect on yourself and affords you a opportunity to make the world better.
Flip the notion of greed on its head
Most of us possess a basic drive to want things that we don’t have. Instead of viewing this as a negative mindset, see it as an opportunity to improve your life and the lives of others.
Featured photo credit: The Digital Artist via pixabay.com