Seneca wasn’t fond of philosophers you could recognize. Not by their fame, but by their uniform. In his time, just as it is in ours, there was a type of person who, in reading about the Diogenes types or the tough Stoic types, thought that philosophy required that they give up their worldly possessions or start dressing like a bum.
Today, these types try to signal their virtue by driving a beat up old car or by showing you how little they own. See, they say, I am practicing detachment. See, I don’t want like you want. But these appearances can be deceiving.
As Seneca reminds us, “We should not believe the lack of silver and gold to be proof of the simple life.” The simple life is not a matter of externals, it’s about what’s going on inside. Someone can be a billionaire, flying on a private jet, totally at peace, and indifferent to money, just as someone else, much less well-off, might be grinding their teeth in envy and resentment. You can swear off materialism, but if you trade it for public recognition of your superiority and purity, is that really an improvement? Or if you live frugally but obsess over every dollar, miserly extracting as much savings from every situation and interaction, what kind of peace is that?
The simple life is defined by its simplicity. By its gratitude. By the ability to enjoy whatever is front of you, whether that’s millions of dollars or a nice chicken sandwich. It’s not a lack of money that we should we be pursuing, but a lack of angst, a lack of need, a lack of resentment, and a lack of insecurity.
That’s the simple truth of what wealth is.