This piece seeks to explore how the human mind works when it comes to the perception of wealth and luxuries.
Many people exert much effort and spend much time dreaming of a bigger house, or a nicer car, or a newer phone, or a faster computer and so on. But the problem is that for the human mind it doesn’t matter what you get, because in the end your brain will grow accustomed to it and it will be as plain in your eyes as any wrinkly old shirt in your closet.
The problem is that everything we have today is actually a step up from something else.
A big house is a step up from a small apartment, and a small apartment is a step up from homelessness. An iPhone 8 is a step up from a old Nokia flip phone, and an old Nokia flip phone is a step up from only having a landline. A new Land Rover is a step up from an old Corolla, and an old Corolla is a step up from having to ride a horse across hundreds of kilometres to get to where you want to go.
To be honest, most “middle class” people in the world today live in greater luxury than most of the greatest kings and emperors in history.
We have nearly every type of food we can imagine available for us within a few minutes, ride in a what would previously be considered a magical metal self-propelled carriage that protects us from hot and cold and rainy weather all year round, while we walk in shoes made of materials that are more comfortable than nearly anything anyone has ever enjoyed in history, and all this while we walk around with a communication and information device that somehow runs on harnessed electrons without any wires and is more powerful than all the computers that sent the first rocket to the moon – combined.
Any one of the above things taken back 1000 years in time would make us a king on earth compared to everyone else.
But we grow accustomed to these luxuries; that is how Allah (swt) designed our brains to function. And there is a very important lesson to understand here:
It does not matter what you have, because you will grow accustomed to it, and it will become as mundane and normal to you as everything else is to everyone else.
The key is contentment.
If someone who is relatively poor is content, comfortable, and happy with what he has, he is living the same life internally as a millionaire who is content, comfortable, and happy with what he has. And if someone who is relatively poor is always dreaming of more luxuries and is not content or comfortable or happy with what he has, then he will be as discontent, uncomfortable, and unhappy as a millionaire who is always seeking more luxuries.
On the authority of Abu Hurairah (رضي الله عنه) who said: the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said:
“Look at those who are beneath you and do not look at those who are above you, for it is more suitable that you should not consider as less the blessing of Allah.”
[Bukharee 6490, abridged & in Muslim (2963) in its completion.]
He (صلى الله عليه و سلم) also said:
“If any of you wakes up safe in his home, healthy in his body, and has his sustenance for his day, it is as if he has gathered the entire world.”
The man who is content with the simple things he has been given by Allah (swt) is equal to the man who owns the whole world, because both of them will grow accustomed to their own wealth and their own standard of living, and it will all look the same in their eyes in the end.
May Allah (swt) grant us the great blessing of contentment in our wealth and our sustenance, and protect us from looking at what others have been given except to make sure that they have enough.