So one day about 8 years ago I went to a client's summer home to continue an exterior painting project. It was mid morning and the homeowner meets me at the front door with a serious look on her face and a glass of wine in her hand.
"Simon," she says, as she pulls me inside her house by the arm, "today you won't be doing any painting."
Earlier that morning her 24 year old nephew had been found dead in another country.
He had a serious diabetic condition. His parents were splitting up. Due in part to his despair he stopped looking after himself and his disease properly. I can't recall the exact cause of death, but he died from complications of his diabetes. My client was devastated, and day-drinking to try and keep it together somewhat. Her mom was with the only family with her at the time and she couldn't bear to tell her the news, as her mom too was in frail health and she worried if she could handle hearing the tragic news.
So she asked if I could keep her company for a few hours until her siblings flew into town. My wife joined us and we tried to be supportive and share some encouragement, while mostly listening. The grief, blended with the wine, made my client a little talkative, understandably. She said something that day that, while I always knew it, I never really understood fully until then.
She confided that her family was worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Serious money. But she followed up with "I would give it all away if I could have my nephew back, and have our family enjoy peaceful relationships and good health."
Society can shape our values to be good little cogs in the produce/consume system.
But money itself can't buy happiness. In fact, money has limited value. And it's value is far inferior to other assets like time, relationships, faith and health. You can make more money, but you can't make more time. It was a potent reminder that as I strive to make a living and run a successful business, I cannot sacrifice the more important and valuable things in my life.