Monday, 7 April 2014

Enjoying Without Owning

Forget the negativity, forget your Monday Blues: reflect that every day above the ground is a good one, and resolve to understand what it means to say that all wealth is human wealth … as this Guest Post by Orison Swett Marden suggests.

File:A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, Georges Seurat, 1884.png

Chapter 6: Enjoying Without Owning

A French marquis, with whom Washington Irving has made us acquainted, consoled himself for the loss of his château by remarking that he had Versailles and St. Cloud for his country resorts, and the shady alleys of the Tuileries and the Luxembourg for his town recreation.

"When I walk through these fine gardens," he said, "I have only to fancy myself the owner of them, and they are mine. All these gay crowds are my visitors, and I have not the trouble of entertaining them. My estate is a perfect Sans Souci, where everyone does as he pleases, and no one troubles the owner. All Paris is my theatre, and presents me with a continual spectacle. I have a table spread for me in every street, and thousands of waiters ready to fly at my bidding. When my servants have waited upon me, I pay them, discharge them, and there's an end. I have no fears of their wronging or pilfering me when my back is turned. Upon the whole," said the old gentleman with a smile of infinite good humour, "when I recollect all that I have suffered, and consider all I at present enjoy, I can but look upon myself as a person of singular good fortune."

The habit of feeling rich because you have developed the faculty of extracting wealth from everything you touch is riches indeed. Why should we not feel rich in all that our eyes can carry away, no matter if others happen to have the title deed? Why should I not enjoy the beautiful gardens of the wealthy and their grounds, just as if I owned them? As I pass by I can make the wealth of colour my own. The beauty of plants, and lawn, and flowers, and trees are all mine. The title deed of another does not cut off my aesthetic ownership. The best part of the farm, the landscape, the beauty of the brook and the meadow, the slope of the valley, the song of the birds, the sunset, cannot be shut up within any title deed; they belong to the eye that can carry them away, the mind that can appreciate them.

How is it that some rare characters manage to have such precious treasures, to get so much that enriches the life out of a poverty-stricken, forbidding environment, while others get little out of the most luxurious and beautiful conditions that wealth can furnish?

It is wholly a question of the quality of the absorbent material. Some people are blind to beauty. They can travel with the utmost indifference in the midst of the most gorgeous and inspiring scenery. Their souls are not touched. They do not feel the inspiration which puts others into ecstasy.

There is a story told of a touring party in the Alps which included a lady and a phlegmatic German. The guide led the party to a point where a sudden turn revealed a marvellous panorama of beauty. The lady went first and gazing on the prospect said, "How charming!" The German, following, fell on his knees and, baring his head, cried, "Ach, mein Gott! I thank thee that I have lived to see this day!"

"If you are not wealthy yourself , be glad that somebody else is, and you will be astonished at the happiness that will result to yourself," says the Rev. Dr. Charles F. Aked.

Did you ever realise, my poor complaining friend, how rich you really are? You say you have no land, no home of your own; that you are only living with your family in a few rooms. Of what a lot of pleasure envy robs us! It is a small soul that cannot enjoy what he does not own, that goes through life allowing his envy to rob him.

We ought to be able to enjoy everything that is enjoyable, no matter who owns it. How foolish to envy others the things which we do not happen to have or cannot afford! Always learn to enjoy what you cannot own. Be like the birds, who do not care who holds the title deed to the lands where, in their migrations, they joyously build their little homes.

Did you ever stop to think how small a part of the community really belongs to the individual? The streets, the roads, are free; the parks are yours; the public libraries are as much yours as the rich man's; the schools are yours; the rivers, the brooks, the mountains, the sunsets, the marvellous mysteries and beauties of the heavens are yours. Mr. Rockefeller cannot get more out of the sun than you can, or from the beauty of the moon; the stars are as much yours as his. The charms of nature, the change of seasons, the joys the Creator has reflected everywhere, are yours. The landscape belongs to you just as much as to the man who pays the taxes on the land.

Think of the fortune it costs a great city to keep up the parks! Even the estate of a Carnegie could not afford such grounds, and you are sure of always finding them in the finest condition without a thought of care yourself or a bit of anxiety. The people who care for all these things are public servants, giving their service for you as much as for the richest. You do not have to hire them , watch them, or pay them; no anxiety robs you of your enjoyment. The flowers, the birds, the statuary, all of the beautiful things in our great parks, are as much yours as they are the property of the richest. Why, the poorest people in our cities are landed proprietors; they own thousands of acres of land!

The trouble with us is that we exaggerate the great advantage of having much property. The fact is that the human mind is not constructed for either the appreciation or the enjoyment of a great many things, and a complicated existence defeats its own ends. "I would rather be able to appreciate things I cannot have than to have things I am not able to appreciate," said a writer.

Robert Louis Stevenson once packed up his pictures and his furniture and sent them to an enemy who was about to be married, and he wrote to a friend that he had at last rid himself of the master to whom he had been a bond slave. "Don't," he said, "give hostages to fortune, I implore you. Not once a month will you be in a mood to enjoy a picture. When that mood comes, go to the gallery and see it. Meanwhile let some hired flunkey dust the picture and keep it in good condition for your coming."

imageWhy should I scramble and struggle to get possession of a little portion of this earth? This is my world now; why should I envy others its mere legal possession? It belongs to him who can see it, enjoy it. I need not envy the so-called owners of estates in Boston and New York. They are merely taking care of my property and keeping it in excellent condition for me. For a few pennies for railroad fare whenever I wish I can see and possess the best of it all. It has cost me no effort, it gives me no care ; yet the green grass, the shrubbery, and the statues on the lawns, the finer sculptures and the paintings within, are always ready for me whenever I feel a desire to look upon them. I do not wish to carry them home with me, for I could not give them half the care they now receive; besides, it would take too much of my valuable time, and I should be worrying continually lest they be spoiled or stolen. I have much of the wealth of the world now. It is all prepared for me without any pains on my part. All the people around me are working hard to get things that will please me, and competing to see who can give them the cheapest. The little I pay for the use of libraries, railroads, galleries, parks, is less than it would cost to care for the least of all I use. Life and landscape are mine, the stars and flowers, the sea and air, the birds and trees. What more do I want? All the ages have been working for me; all mankind are my servants. I am only required to feed and clothe myself, an easy task in this land of opportunity.

Some people are so constituted that they do not need to own things to enjoy them. There is no envy in their nature. They feel glad that others have money and a splendid home, even if they themselves live in poverty. Henry Ward Beecher had this broad, liberal, magnanimous, wholehearted nature, which could enjoy without owning. He used to say that it was a great treat to him to go out and enjoy the good things in the shop windows, especially during the Christmas holidays, and he could make the architecture and sculpture of palatial homes his own and enjoy the grounds, no matter who had the title deed to them.

Phillips Brooks, Thoreau, Garrison, Emerson, Beecher, Agassiz, were rich without money. They saw the splendour in the flower, the glory in the grass, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything. They knew that the man who owns the landscape is seldom the one who pays the taxes on it. They sucked in power and wealth at first hand from the meadows, fields, and flowers, birds, brooks , mountains, and forest, as the bee sucks honey from the flowers. Every natural object seemed to bring them a special message from the great Author of the beautiful. To these rare souls every natural object was touched with power and beauty; and their thirsty souls drank it in as a traveller on a desert drinks in the god-sent water of the oasis. To extract power and real wealth from men and things seemed to be their mission, and to pour it out again in refreshing showers upon a thirsty humanity.

Did you ever watch a bee flitting about gathering delicious honey from the most forbidding and unattractive sources? I know men and women who have, superbly developed, this marvellous instinct for gathering honey from all sorts of sources. They extract it from the most repellent surroundings. They cannot talk with the poorest, meanest, most unfortunate specimen of humanity without getting that which will sweeten the life and enrich the experience.

This ability to extract enjoyment from all sorts of sources is a divine gift. It broadens the life, deepens the experience, and enriches the whole nature. It is a great force in self-culture.

The secret of happiness is in a cheerful, contented mind. "He is poor who is dissatisfied; he is rich who is contented with what he has," and can enjoy what others own.

"Our eyes oft look above to find life's prize,
Whereas, when wisdom's years have made us wise,
We see it at our feet in that same way
We careless passed along but yesterday."

"There are joys which long to be ours. God sends ten thousand truths, which come about us like birds seeking inlet; but we are shut up to them, and so they bring us nothing, but sit and sing a while upon the roof and then fly away."

3Orison Swett Marden (1850-1924) was an American writer associated with the New Thought Movement. He also held a degree in medicine, and was a successful hotel owner.

This post, Chapter 6 of Marden’s book The Joys of Living, first appeared at Laissez Faire Today, where we were invited to savour “the joyful things in life without any modern day dilemmas or problems.”\


  1. The art of quasi-religious self delusion succinctly explained.

    - Be like a bird and joyously build your home on the land of someone else, of course they won't mind you living there!
    - If you are hungry go stand outside an expensive restaurant you can't afford and practice feeling happy for the patrons, if you wish you were eating there too then you must have an envious nature! God disapproves.
    - Isn't it great how there is all this free stuff paid for by other people? Make sure you use it to the full, libraries, schools, galleries, parks, etc, all paid for by those fools who feel they need to own property.

    This sanctimonious, regurgitated sermon-on-the-mount really turned my nose, positivity should be founded in self knowledge, creativity, choice and the joy of action among other things, not meek acceptance of one's lot or poetic flights of fantasy.

    - Tom

  2. Tom - I'm not sure where that 'summary' came from because it's not what I read.

    In the last 15 years of my working life I have acquired a variety of property, almost as a hobby at times. Some of it has brought me great pleasure, some is intended as a future investment, but others have been a millstone around my neck that has stopped me doing what I want, that I wish I never set eyes on. For me this was a nice reminder that property should be a means to an end, not an end in itself. Sometimes more is less - and that applies not just to architecture but also lifestyles, and what you own and have to maintain.

    We all have different values and priorities - and the only enemy in this is a feeling of either superiority or inferiority because of what you do or don't own. More important than what you own is what you *earn*. A self supporting individual with few assets, but doing a job they love or at least like will tend to be happier than someone sitting at home on the dole, and also happier someone sitting in their inherited mansion with no productive pursuits.


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