During the Christmas holidays in particular, it’s easy for our hearts and minds to be drawn to material possessions. Advertisements everywhere lure us to believe that we need this gadget or that car or this house or that lifestyle in order to be happy. But are these things really necessary for happiness? Here’s what Karl R. Green, a contributing author, said in the December 24, 2007 issue of Newsweek magazine:
“My 1999 car shows the wear and tear of 105,000 miles. But it is still dependable. My apartment is modest, but quiet and relaxing. My clothes are well suited to my work, which is primarily outdoors. My minimal computer needs can be met at the library.
In spite of what I don’t have, I don’t feel poor. Why? I’ve enjoyed exceptionally good health for 53 years. It’s not just that I’ve been illness-free, it’s that I feel vigorous and spirited…I also cherish the gift of creativity. When I write a beautiful line of poetry, or fabricate a joke that tickles someone, I feel rich inside” (“A Life Full of Riches,” Newsweek, December 24, 2007, p. 19).
As his essay continues, one conclusion he reaches is that the only thing he really misses in his lack of material goods is the connection with the rest of society that either has or craves them. But, he says, “I’m happy to live without [a high-end TV]. In fact, not being focused on material goods feels quite natural to me.”
When the rich young ruler came Jesus asking what he needed to do to gain eternal life, the Savior named some of the great commandments: Thou shalt not kill, nor commit adultery, nor steal, nor bear false witness. The young man must have seemed to accept all this, for the Savior went on: Thou shalt honor thy parents. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
The young man said he’d been doing all of these things from his youth. What was left for him to do? Jesus said unto him: “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me” (Matthew 19:21).
And here the young man did an interesting thing: Matthew records that he “went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions” (Matthew 19:22). This young man, wealthy in worldly goods, was willing to do all that the Savior asked of him — as long as He didn’t ask too much. He was willing to live a generally moral life, but he was not willing to part with his material wealth. (We can guess that he didn’t even own a high-end TV.)
Where does that leave him today? We can be pretty sure that he must have passed away approximately 2000 years ago. He sought happiness from his material possessions, but those cannot help him now.
As the Lord told the prophet Joseph Smith, as recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants:
“Seek not for riches but for wisdom, and behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich” (D&C 6:7).
I like the example of Karl Green, the Newsweek essayist, who listed many things in his life that make him rich — not in the ways of the world, but in ways that really matter.
This article was originally published in December 2007. Minor changes have been made for timeliness and clarity.