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The last thing the world needs is another “successful” person

Why should we look beyond physical attractiveness and financial success?

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Why do human beings want to be rich and attractive? If you search for boss babe, hustle or millionaire mindset on Instagram, you will be inundated with many related posts. In the current era, the popular narrative portrays entrepreneurship as the millennial dream and the road to freedom. To achieve this, you need to embark on profitable side projects to escape the monotony of a 9 to 5 job. You should aim to have as many streams of income as possible, and about 7 on average if you intend to make six figures. Rather than trading time for money, you can go a step further and make money while you sleep. Of course, you need to look aesthetically pleasing in your perfect beach body, radiant skin, sparkling white teeth, flawless makeup and enviable outfit of the day. This storyline is far too shallow, superficial and short-sighted to satisfy the deep human needs

Most human beings live in a consumption culture which influences attitudes, beliefs and values about money. The accumulation of financial wealth is frequently celebrated in society. Publications such as The Sunday Times Rich List, The Forbes World’s Billionaires List and Bloomberg Billionaires Index show the mega-fortunes of the few. No doubt there is a lot that can be learned from all the business savvy individuals on these lists. However, there is an issue when people’s want of money inflates the more money they have; it becomes a never ending pursuit of greed. Research shows that those who value financial success more than other life objectives such as affiliation, self-acceptance and community feeling experience lower psychological wellbeing. Studies also reveal that people who concentrate on external rewards risk neglecting intrinsic goals that foster personal growth. It seems that by excessively focusing on generating wealth, human beings forego the opportunity to master other life domains. It actually costs to gain more money, though in less quantifiable terms. How can you possibly measure inner peace, relationships and happiness? A psychologist found that desiring to have more money only has negative outcomes if you base your self-worth on your level of financial accomplishment. Such people with higher financially contingent self-worth judge themselves according to outward validation and material goals; the consequences of this are constant comparisons with other, greater money-related pressure and less autonomy. Put simply, self-esteem and the like cannot be fixed by money. It is not just the act of becoming richer that can be damaging to inner wellbeing; the mentality behind aspiring for financial success – even when this has not yet been attained, can also be harmful. The human experience is characterised by consciousness, spirituality, love, complexity, suffering, fragility, faith, joy and so much more; to focus all efforts on attaining wealth seems a disservice to being human. It’s like taking a few steps up a mountain and missing out from the full view at the top.

Some humans also have a preoccupation with being attractive. Having internalised societal expectations of what it is and is not to be good looking; the burden of meeting these standards becomes a heavy load to carry. Authors on this topic say that seeking beauty is an ideal which does not demand an explanation, just like truth and goodness. By its very nature, an ideal can only be fulfilled by a small margin of the population.  If a standard of beauty has been achieved by most people, it needs to change to keep its exceptional character. A Psychology professor aptly explains that beauty is an enigma: it changes over time and is defined differently by various cultures. Depending on the perspective adopted, beauty practices can be strange or customary: foot binding of Chinese girls to alter the shape and size of their feet in the 20th century; waist binding through tight-laced corseting to produce to create hourglass figures by European women in the 19th century; teeth sharpening of women in the pygymy tribe in Congo; women wearing pointy toed high heel shoes and neck rings worn by women in the Padaung tribe. A universal and timeless understanding of beauty does not exist. What is ugly in one culture may be beautiful to another society or an earlier era. Given the subjectivity in beauty, chasing this ideal seems like a losing battle and the effects of this can be seen in society. Due to body shaming, a negative body image and various other factors, humans spend a lot of money to recreate their faces, remove wrinkles and to alter the size of their buttocks, breasts and tummy. The want of expensive cosmetics and fashion labels also comes with a relatively high price tag. Researchers have warned that an intense scrutiny on external appearance makes it harder to recognise our internal worth; this can lead to insecurity, unhappiness and confusion. As social animals, it’s expected that human beings want to meet socially constructed ideals, but there is a problem when these constructs are sharply focused on appearance. It is as though being beautiful is synonymous with being good and successful. 

Of course, it is possible to be wealthy, attractive and not have diminishing returns on internal wellbeing. Not everyone’s self-esteem derives from their level of attractiveness and financial success. There are many things that can help to create a better world, and humans’ obsession with beauty and money is not included in this list. To be clear, money is absolutely necessary for survival. In Maslow’s pyramid-shaped hierarchy of needs, the five needs starting from the lowest level are physiological, safety, social, esteem and at the top of the pyramid are self-actualisation needs. It’s worth mentioning that it is possible to pursue the most basic and highest level of needs simultaneously. Examples of physiological needs are food, shelter, water, clothes and warmth. Safety needs include financial security, healthcare and protection against accidents. Money cannot buy happiness but it can buy some physiological and safety needs. Money is far too important to ignore- it requires mastery to accumulate it to a point so you can focus on other life work.

Human beings are only passers-by on earth, here for a moment and gone the next. A terrifyingly beautiful thought or perhaps just terrifying. If all human beings have the courage to face their mortality and realise that death is an ordinary occurrence that does not always happen in the distant future, there is a lot that can be learned from the dying about how to live our finite lives. No, it’s not a bucket list or a list of 30 things to do before you turn 30. If you think about the final moments of your life on earth, what would you wish you had done differently? What would you like your biggest achievement to be? What would you want your legacy to be? Whatever your answer is to these questions, do that work now while there is still time. These questions require a great depth of self-awareness which not all human beings possess without dedicated practice and introspection. Who we think we are and who we are is not always aligned. What is clear is that the best version of yourself would positively impact those around you and make your world a better place.

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