The Poverty of Desire

This post is going to different from our normal financial advice blog.  This is because this post is about a much bigger and more encompassing issue than money.   This has to do with an attitude, a mind-set, of the poverty of desire.

Interestingly enough, I came across this phrase most recently while watching a YouTube video “Monkey Abroad” featuring this young guy, Kevin, who lives in China and posts about what life is like there and what food is like as he travels all around.  I was impressed by his tour of his apartment in China.   Not because the apartment was impressive, but because he lives in a very small apartment In Shanghai and spends less than $800 USD a month on his total monthly expenses.  He makes this statement:

“If you have a poverty of desire, you can be one of the richest people in the world with very little money.”

Poverty of Desire is a definite attitude.

At first this blog was going to be about the connection between money habits and poverty of desire, especially since we have clients who often come to us intent on growing wealth.  So we have to ask, what is wealth?  Is it having a certain amount of money in the bank?  A certain income level?  Being able to go on vacation to wherever you want or send your children to whatever college they want?  Are you comparing what you have with what someone else has and believing that you don’t have enough until you have what they have?

At what point is what you have enough?

Roman philosopher Seneca in the first century wrote, “The greatest wealth is the poverty of desires.”

In this context, Poverty of Desire is the absence of wanting things.  CONTENTMENT.

And while Socrates defined contentment as “natural wealth,” how do we get this if contentment doesn’t come naturally to us?

We must absolutely and actively change the way we think—change our attitude. 

We must stop our WHEN-THEN thinking, “WHEN I get X, THEN I will be content/happy/satisfied.” 

When I make six figures, I will be satisfied. 

When I can go on a European vacation, then I’ll be happy. 

When I am done paying college tuition, I can travel.

When I’m out of debt, I can finally experience contentment.

In fact, this constantly searching for more robs us of enjoying what we already have.

In addition, could it be that we are too easily pleased with lesser desires and that our desires are too poor?

Consider that hunger pangs do not always indicate true hunger (for they can indicate thirst or even fatigue), so it’s not always wise to consume everything in sight at the first pang.  Likewise, a feeling of dissatisfaction does not necessarily mean that we should acquire “stuff” to satiate us.

CS Lewis wrote, “…our desires [are] not too strong, but too weak.  We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.  We are far too easily pleased.”

So at the end of this blog on a financial coaching website and,

even though we are all about paying off debt (because doing so removes the shackles and gives freedom)


we applaud building savings (because this protects you from future debt and greatly reduces stress)


it is good to work (because work produces its own type of joy and speeds the journey toward financial stability),

we want to encourage you to be rich in contentment as you find satisfaction and satiation in this priceless poverty.