Can Purpose and Money Coexist?

Stephen Wunderli
by Stephen Wunderli — 4 months ago in Altruism 3 min. read
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Yes, the purpose for all of us is to make money. Money does a lot of good things: provides shelter and food and education. Beyond that, what is the purpose? Without getting too metaphysical, each of us have to define what our purpose is, or discover it. Some even have their purpose thrust upon them. However we get to it, life purpose is what makes us feel good about how we spend our days. But that doesn’t always jive with making money.

In Clayton Christensen’s book How Will You Measure Your Life, the Harvard professor is disheartened at the number of people from his class are successful business people, but have failed at marriage, family, and philanthropic life. In short, they are unfulfilled. Acquiring as much money, it turns out, is not the answer to happiness.

 “In order to really find happiness, you need to continue looking for opportunities that you believe are meaningful, in which you will be able to learn new things, to succeed, and be given more and more responsibility to shoulder.”  – Clayton M. Christensen, How Will You Measure Your Life?

As human beings, two things drive us: The desire to provide for ourselves and stand on our own (the survival gene). And the desire to care for others, provide for them (the altruistic trait).

Behavioral scientists will tell you that both of these are in-born instincts. But somehow, in our race to provide for ourselves, we put off those feelings of compassion and let the selfish ego drive our decisions. This Duality of Man, as it has often been expressed in psychoanalytic circles is best simplified by Carl Jung into dark and light. Each human being has the innate capacity for great good and great evil. Being aware of both and navigating to a true self is the process Jung calls Individuation.

When we reach our true self, we are less inclined to compete with others, less obstinate, more accepting, more secure in our principles, and less likely to hoard. This last point may be the most interesting. A study on charitable giving revealed that as a percentage of income, being generous has nothing to do with income. In fact, lower income families tend to give more. Perhaps a more hardscrabble life forces individuals to be more compassionate.

How much money is enough? It’s different for everybody, and is perhaps the wrong question. Maybe we should ask, “Who should I help out with my donations?”

Most people give to causes or people they care about: their alma mater, a neighborhood food drive, a friend in need, a community center. This benefits both parties in more obvious ways. The recipient gets the donation to meet their needs; and the giver gets the satisfaction of seeing the difference made. This symbiosis is much more likely to continue.

Corporations have caught on to the giving back model. Improving the communities in which they operate improves their business. The latest example of this is Amazon training 100,000 of their employees to code, for free. The employees gain the skills to improve their lifestyle, and Amazon benefits from those skills. We also see companies building community shelters, supporting food banks, adopting schools, and providing scholarships. 

If each of us is to find real happiness, we need to find that balance between making money, and putting it to use in ways that improve the world around us. Now, if we can find a place that shares those same values, we can almost certainly find the Nirvana of life balance. For a list of corporations you can check here: Not surprisingly, there are some banks on the list, and also companies like Exxon, and Johnson & Johnson. 

“If you’re in the luckiest 1% of humanity, you owe it to the rest of humanity to think about the other 99%.” -Warren Buffet

Yes, purpose and money can coexist. It takes work. It takes self awareness. And it pays dividends that are immeasurable.

We should all be as Jacob Marley, Charles Dickens’ fictional character from A Christmas Carol (written, by the way, when Dickens was upside down financially) who remarked from the dead, “Mankind was my business; the common welfare was my business.”

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