Afflictive Emotions: Greed

usondollarGreed is an afflictive emotion involving a particular quality of desire. It is the intense, excessive and insatiable yearning for and/or pursuit of ever more. This is not the same as planning and taking action to meet basic and higher needs. Greed involves craving, a compulsion to possess more than is needed, and a strong urge to cling to excesses once we have them.

One of the problems with greed is that it can never be satisfied. It takes much time, attention, and energy to strive after, guard, and maintain possessions. This distracts us from other truly beneficial pursuits.

Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction. – Erich Fromm

The things we pursue out of greed are temporary and devoid of intrinsic value. Because of this, we are bound to be disappointed again and again, driven by an unconscious cycle of longing and lack. We become like the snake that eats its own tail – rather than helping us savor life, greed devours it and leaves us hungry.

Greed can harm others by depleting them or depriving them of what they need. We can unwittingly demand more from others than is healthy for them to give. We may feel compelled to hoard precious resources so that there isn’t enough to go around. When others are so harmed, there is less space for them to act from their highest values which ultimately makes the world a more difficult place for everyone.

As with all afflictive emotions, greed arises from ignorance and/or confusion. Often greed comes from a desire to experience sensual pleasures and distract ourselves from what is unpleasant or unwanted. We ignore that fact that, given enough repetition, we always habituate to even the most enjoyable sensory experience. We will require more and more until even the maximum intensity no longer brings us joy. This ultimately leads to dissatisfaction.

Sometimes there is a fear of not having enough or a desire for power or dominance. We think that the things we possess will ensure our safety or protect us from pain. In our relentless pursuit, we forget that no matter our possessions we will all ultimately decline and die. So we waste the precious and uncertain amount of time we have in this life in a cycle of grasping at and clinging to ever more.

One antidote to greed is the practice of generosity. By giving to others without attachment to outcome, we experience a joy that is more powerful and longer lasting than the transient pleasure we experience from possessions. By releasing our grip on our “things”, we have an opportunity to face fears and gain courage through experience.

In yoga, we practice aparigraha, which is non-possessiveness or non-hoarding. We aspire to be free from attachment in word, thought, and deed by not striving after, accumulating and clinging to unnecessary things. This applies not only to material things like money, possessions, and gifts, but also with intangibles such as pleasurable feelings, validation, attention, assistance, accomplishment, power, and control.

Gratitude is another antidote to greed. By making a habit of giving thanks for what we receive, we see that nothing is truly ours alone to possess. We become aware of the good in what is freely available all around us. We develop an attitude of abundance and build contentment with what is already here.

The true antidote of greed is contentment. If you have a strong sense of contentment, it doesn’t matter whether you obtain the object or not; either way, you are still content. – Dalai LamaThe Art of Happiness

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