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Give the gift of happiness this year

We all know that times have not always been happy in recent years. I found some old news articles recently which made me decide what I would write about for this holiday issue:

Jason Jellison

Sunday 8 January 2017, 10:00AM

From The New York Times: “Bids to Halt Financial Crisis, Reshape Landscape of Wall St” and from The Washington Post: “Bush Enacts Historic Financial Rescue”.

Finally, from The Wall Street Journal: “Bailout Plan Rejected, Markets Plunge, Forcing New Scramble to Solve Crisis”.

These headlines, of course, are from the bad old days of 2008. I’m sure this is a year that many of my readers will never forget.

It was the year that ultimately began paving the path for incoming President Trump and a host of “back to home” movements across Europe and the Western world... but did you ever ask yourself how we got into that mess?

Many of my readers would answer that question differently. Some would blame President George W Bush for the economic fiasco of 2008.

Still, the more politically astute among my readers might actually blame former President Bill Clinton for the crisis, as he was the one who signed off on removing the Glass-Steagall Act that was installed to prevent another depressio, but Clinton’s actions arguably set the stage for yet another depression. Still others might lay the blame in places I can’t think of.

However, in reality, there is only one actor who was to blame for our financial woes and he has a name: Desire. While it is all too tempting to play the blame game in our current economic malaise, the reality is that almost all of us had a hand in getting to our present circumstances.

Simply put, we failed to control our desires and the politicians of yore kept the party going until we passed out dead drunk.

The cold, hard reality is that most of us spent money we didn’t have, borrowed still more and then couldn’t give it back... all just to pay in cash for foolish pleasures.

But, I am pleased this holiday season to say that there is another way. His Majesty the late Bhumibol Adulyadej spent many years developing a philosophy that allows us to avoid all of this heartache again.

It is called the Sufficiency Economic Philosophy and I am going to teach you about it as a gift for the holidays.

Let’s talk basic economics. Most Western countries in which we have been raised operate on what some economists call a “Utility-Maximizing” model.

If that sounds complicated, it’s really not. Basically, we have been taught that living well means living within our means.

In other words, if we make $40,000 (B1.44 million) a year, then we can spend and invest $40,000 a year. This is deeply flawed thinking.

The problem with a maximizing model is that, even if we stay within our budget, we generally don’t constrain our desires.

So, we go and take out six-year loans on a $40,000 car when a $4,000 (B144,042) used one would do just as well.

We also go and take out 30-year mortgages on homes that are at the very top end of what we can afford, or we go out and spend lavishly on dinners and passing pleasures... meanwhile, the debt slowly grows.

Finally, the good times end and hard times arrive. Now, our income goes down, but we’ve saved very little, subsequently shared very little with the poor, and now become the poor ourselves.

That’s all too often the fate of this Western economic philosophy.

However, His Majesty created the Sufficiency Economic Philosophy to resolve this problem.

It works very simply, but most academics forget to talk about the key driver of the plan. Desire.

The first step is to always consider and moderate your desires. Sure, we’d all love to have the Cadillac but, considering I only drive three months of the year, do I really need one? 

The key is moderating your desires and thinking about every purchase before you make it.

Luxuries are fine as long as they are occasional and paid for. The second step is to live somewhat below your means. As my friend once said, there is no magic, sorcery, or wizardry here.

If you routinely spend less than you earn you will now be in a “Utility-Minimizing” model and watch the money pile up. No fancy stocks are needed. No financial gurus are required.

All that is needed is the ability to think ahead and curb your desires.

The next step is sharing – this is an alien concept for many of my fellow Americans.

We traditionally are taught to mainly attend to our own financial well-being. Some of us might give money at church or temple but what’s missing here is everyday sharing.

It’s the little things you do that come back to benefit you.

There’s an old American saying “What goes around comes around”.

Somewhat like Karma, when you consistently do well onto others, the world will do well onto you. There are spiritual reasons for this, but there is also good, old-fashioned gossip. People talk and when you help people out who need a hand it comes back to you.

Finally, the last step is one that actually has to exist from early on. That step is called sincerity.

Saving money is good, but not if done for the wrong reasons. Giving money is good, but not if done for the wrong reasons.

Saving and giving has to be done because you want to do it, not because you want to get something in return.

Again, this comes down to controlling desire and, without this, the plan does not work.

Perhaps this sounds folksy or simple but I can tell you this: My world has changed immeasurably ever since I went over to this philosophy.

My health has improved, my happiness has improved and my academic career has rocketed out of sight.

The holidays are upon us and we all want to be happy. This year, all of you who read this series have been given a powerful gift, free of any charge.

It is up to you if you want to use it or not. But win, lose, or draw, there are two words that I wish to share with all of you.

Happy Holidays.


All About Buddhism is a monthly column in The Phuket News where I take readers on my exotic journey into Thai Buddhism and debunk a number of myths about Buddhism. If you have any specific queries, or ideas for articles, please let us know. Email, and we will do our best to accommodate your interests.



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