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Spiritual millionaires

“Would you rather be a miserable millionaire or broke and happy?”

I posed this question to my 10th and 11th grade students at Archbishop Curley High School and was surprised by the results. I used a Google Form to track their responses and discovered that 75 percent of them would choose happiness over wealth. That seemed like an unusual response for 15-17 year olds, but their commentary revealed some profound insight into the minds of millennials living in a money-driven world.

A few of the students admitted that they liked having nice things and that money would keep them from starving or being homeless. We talked about how money isn’t inherently bad and neither is having it to take care of your needs, but it is not the secret to happiness. One student wrote, “There would be no point in being a millionaire if you can’t enjoy it. At least in this scenario I would enjoy and be content in being broke.” Another explained that what was going on inside of his head was more important than what was going on around him.

Too much money, in fact, can lead to suffering. One student wrote, “I think if I’m a miserable millionaire, I’m more likely to do things with the money that will make me more miserable.” We discussed how sometimes people who become excessively rich wind up on a path of self-destruction. It can happen to celebrities or even literary characters, like Jay Gatsby in the book we just finished.

“If I’m happy and broke, I can work for money in a more joyful way,” said another. As a teacher, I wholeheartedly understand. Although I am not broke, I am far from being a millionaire. I live a life of simple comforts and tremendous joy, at home and at work. It would be nice to be able to afford to take my family of six to Disney World, but there is always fun to be had at the local playground. 

Another student said that, “I’d rather be happy and broke because happiness is the thing that brings memories not objects and money.” It made me think of my own tendency to over-shop and horde belongings that could be given away to people in need. I want to be more cognizant, especially this Lent, of my duty to spend less and share more.

A surprising response was, “if I was a miserable millionaire, I could spend my money on others so that I could make them happy.” This led to a discussion of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” and the fact that Scrooge was that miserable millionaire until he was able to provide Christmas dinner for the Cratchits. We discussed as a class the importance of charity. I even shared the idea with them of tithing for Lent, whether it be at their church or for another meaningful cause.

My favorite response was the notion that living humbly enables one to have a richer spiritual life. This statement is a testament to the values that are instilled at Archbishop Curley. These young men have embraced the Franciscan values of service and humility and will be sure to practice them as they continue to grow, financially and faithfully. Being a teacher may not buy me the BMW of my dreams, but days like this make me feel like a millionaire.

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