The Wolf of Wall Street and The Allure of Opulence

The Wolf of Wall Street is a film I had wanted to see for quite a while and this weekend I finally got the chance. I am a lover of film so its not rare for a movie to stick with me. However, this film captivated me for days afterward. The world it created enveloped my thoughts in a strange way. I can’t say I envied the specific lives of the characters in the film or wanted to share in their particular lifestyle. My thoughts were not lost in fantasy. I was, however, completely intrigued by the downward spiral of Jordon Belfort. The struggles with greed and excess he faces are some of the same I have struggled with, although from a distant outsider’s perspective. While Belfort lived the lifestyle, I live under the illusion that such a lifestyle would answer a lot of my problems.

In contrast to this film, I recently listened to a story on NPR about scarcity thinking. Basically outlining the idea that those who live with a mind-set that they lack money, time, and resources seek out short-term solutions to their problems. This is in contrast to those who live thinking they have enough, or more than enough, and who can spare the time and money to plan for the long-term. For example, someone following scarcity thinking may duct taping their leaking pipes instead of doing the long, hard work (or having the funds to hire a professional) to fix the pipes properly. The idea is that eventually the pipe will leak through the duct tape, potentially creating a much bigger problem down the road. Whereas if the problem was nipped in the bud then the larger problem could be avoided. Scarcity thinking forces you to believe that you must sacrifice your well-being to survive.

I know that I suffer from scarcity thinking. While for all basic necessities I have my ass covered so to speak. I have somewhere to go home to, clothes on my back, decent food to eat, a steady job that provides me with health insurance, and hey, even though my car is a constant source of worry it gets me where I need to go most of the time. However, I drift into the thinking that if I just made a little more money that I would be able to afford a more spacious apartment, better clothes, healthier food, a car that I don’t feel I need to cross my fingers in order for it to start on a cold, rainy morning. I understand that I have a lot to be grateful for, but scarcity thinking makes me feel like there is so much more that money could buy.

The characters in The Wolf of Wall Street began as scarcity thinkers, leading them into their eventually doomed positions. While their scarcity thinking lead them to a life of consumeristic bacchanal only to watch it all crumble, mine leaves me imagining this world with rose colored glasses. This fantasy is perhaps even more dangerous in that those rose colored glasses does not allow me to truly see that dichotomous nature of wealth.

I can watch the characters on screen become obsessed with drugs, alcohol, sex, and general debauchery but can’t help but think I could keep a handle on reality. I could make better choices and keep a solid footing. But maybe it is our nature, in this society and culture to always want more because having more means you will be the master of your universe. If it wasn’t the money that made Belfort feel on top of the world, then he turned to cocaine. Lots and lots of cocaine. Even still, he couldn’t keep feeling like he was on top. Neither can the rest of us. The point is, you never stay on top. You will never be master of the universe. Living this life, in the mortal world, is an act in scarcity for most of us. We are not enough. We don’t have enough. This is a feeling that haunts all of us eventually.

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