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A thought-provoking discussion that challenges the conventional new-age narrative surrounding the 'abundance mindset' and its connection to wealth and success. The post dives into the complexity of abundance mindset, spiritual abundance, and material abundance. It also introduces the concept of the 'abundance paradox' which challenges the idea that scarcity is the opposite of abundance and explores how extreme abundance and extreme scarcity can lead to the same behaviors driven by greed and selfishness.
Est. reading time: 15-20 minutes
My family had $100 in our pocket when we immigrated to the U.S. right before the collapse of the communist hellscape that was the Soviet Union. Yes, my birth certificate says U.S.S.R. Trippy, right?
The first 6 years in this country were tough. Really tough. We lived in a two bedroom apartment with seven adults; we managed to scrape by with food stamps and grocery store coupons. Needless to say, my family did achieve the “American Dream” that we were promised. There was a lot of hard work involved, and sacrifices made. But in the end we got more than what we bargained for. I feel really fortunate for that. The 90s were a promising time for immigrants.
This is the part where I spin my personal narrative into a satisfying ‘rags to riches’ story to reinforce American values of hard work and self-determination. But as tempting as it is, I won’t do that. Because the real story is not as compelling. The real story is a mix of hard work, self-determination, privilege, access, and luck. As most things in life, the outcome of our personal journeys are messy, long, and unpredictable.
There’s no such thing as being “self-made.” Immigrants are community-made. But it took a while for me to learn that.
Before I was self-aware of my privilege, I desperately wanted to mold my journey in a self-made success narrative. I can’t say that this was a conscious doing, but what I know for sure is that it happened as a result of internalizing new-age beliefs around manifestation and ‘abundance.’
I have always been a purpose-driven person, but it wasn’t until I entered the new-age scene that my purpose became heavily centered around making money.
Sure, I had absorbed some ‘scarcity’ messages around money from my immigrant upbringing. But it wasn’t until I entered the new-age scene that I developed a disordered relationship with money. And yes, I’ll be the first to admit that I enjoy luxury branding, having nice furniture, traveling, and living an ‘abundant’ life—but it wasn’t until I entered the new-age scene that I felt entitled to these things.
When it comes to my personal success story, the ‘abundance mindset’ falls short—very, very short in adequately capturing the depth and dimensionality of the true, embodied essence of abundance.
I was drawn to the 'abundance mindset' doctrine because I sensed something missing from my existence, and it wasn't money. My scarcity issues were deeply personal to my own feelings of lack and unworthiness that had nothing to do with money. I wanted to cultivate an ‘abundance mindset’ to strengthen my self-esteem. Instead, what I strengthened was my ego. The more I absorbed the new-age doctrine around manifestation and law of attraction, the more I betrayed my own value system and made decisions from a place of manufactured financial scarcity that was never there to begin with. That’s when I knew something had gone terribly awry.
While my family faced hardships during those formative years of establishing ourselves in this country, my basic needs were always met. I witnessed their hard work, but personally, I never carried the brunt of it. I've never experienced hunger, homelessness, or feeling unsafe in my neighborhood. From the age of 10 onwards, I can't recall wanting something I couldn't afford. Money scarcity has never been an issue for me. I understand that my story is uncommon, and I used to feel ashamed of my privilege. However, I now recognize its value in providing me with a unique perspective and preventing me from being solely driven by money— and for that I am grateful. My privilege has helped me discern between scarcity mindsets, actual scarcity, and scarcity as an internal experience. Bringing this level of expanded awareness is what allows me deconstruct this concept in a holistic way and call B.S. when people operate through greed but label it as 'abundance.'
Hence, why I write this post.
Fortunately, I was able to find my way through the labyrinth of new-age (more on how I did this later), and now I’m happy to report that I do feel abundant AF, even though nothing in my external reality has changed. And yet, new-age spirituality and self-help is obsessed with telling us that an ‘abundance mindset’ is THE determining factor that will make-or-break our fate & fortune. I’m here to tell you that this is simply not true.
In this post, I’m going to demystify the ‘abundance mindset’ and explore why the opposite of abundance is not scarcity—it’s greed.
Let’s dive in!
The concept of an ‘abundance mindset’ is credited to the self-help author, Stephen Covey. In this famous book, the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he describes the ‘abundance mindset’ as the belief that there is plenty out there and enough resources for everybody. According to his theory, the opposite of abundance is the ‘scarcity mindset,’ where we operate from our lizard brain of fight-or-flight mode. Covey uses the ‘pie in the sky’ analogy to explain this, where the abundance mindset sees a slice for everybody—in contrast to the scarcity mindset that believes “more for you means less for me.”
It’s a neatly packaged little theory that holds a lot of promise. If you haven’t heard of this book, it is considered a staple in the self-help world and beyond. The book has gained significant attention and is widely taught in various settings, mainly business schools, leadership seminars, coaching programs, educational interventions, and even prison systems. It’s satisfying to think that we are just one mindset shift away from achieving the life of our dreams, and it goes hand-in-hand with our American values of self-determination and bootstrap theory.
Of course, there is some truth sprinkled in the abundance mindset, but there’s also a lot of bullshit.
Let’s start with the parts that are true:
When we deconstruct Covey’s ‘abundance mindset’ theory, we find aspects resonant in positive psychology that promote optimism, mindfulness, gratitude, and growth mindset as key markers of emotional wellbeing and quality of life. Sure enough, there is good research to suggest that optimism, for example, influences mental and physical well-being by promoting a healthy lifestyle and adaptive coping strategies in response to stress. Similarly, the science of mindfulness and gratitude point to the importance of practicing both to improve our general life satisfaction. There is even some evidence to suggest that people with a positive outlook in life earn significantly more money than their less positive counterparts.
While an ‘abundance mindset’ can certainly be a useful framework for success, it overlooks a crucial aspect—the conditions that limit or foster mindset development in the first place.
Mindset theories have been largely criticized for undermining the influence of external factors that shape an individual’s mindset development. This is because mindset theories fail to address the systemic factors and social inequalities that can significantly impact an individual's access to resources and opportunities, which can greatly influence their mindset.
For example, you may have heard of the ‘growth mindset’-- also popularized by the self-help industry--as a strong predictor of future achievement in school and life. This theory has been used to explain the achievement gap between wealthy kids and those living below the poverty line. Of course, we now know that a growth mindset, while important, is not enough to close the achievement gap. The most effective and sustainable way to close the achievement gap is through economic security. Because money buys nourishing food, quiet neighborhoods, safe homes, less stressed parents, books, and allows parents to spend quality time with their kids.
Similarly, research from Princeton University shows that people who live in poverty have to use a lot of their brainpower to deal with the challenges that come with being poor. This means they have less brainpower left to think about other important things in their lives. Because of this, they are more likely to make mistakes or decisions that can make their money problems worse.
The study suggests that being stressed about money can make it hard for someone to focus on things that could help them escape poverty, like getting a good education or finding a better job. The constant struggle to make ends meet and save money takes up so much mental energy that there's not much left for other important things. When our brain is too busy dealing with immediate problems, it’s a lot more difficult to think about the bigger picture.
All this to say: self-help literature makes it seem like having an abundance v.s. scarcity mindset is a choice. In reality, it is a privilege to have an abundance mindset.
Maybe the reason people in poverty reach for the proverbial "pie in the sky" and believe “more for you means less for me” has little to do with a ‘scarcity mindset’ and more to do with the fact that they're hungry and grappling with food insecurity.
Maybe the reason why people in poverty have a ‘scarcity mindset’ is because they are literally in scarcity and don’t have the luxury of dedicating precious time, resources, and attention to mindset development when they’re too busy working 2 jobs to feed their family.
Maybe instead of shouting at people to fix their broken mindset, we should eliminate, or at least improve, the shitty conditions that are largely responsible for their negative outlook on life in the first place.
In my own personal growth journey, I have rejected the notion of ‘abundance mindset’ altogether because I learned through nondual philosophy that abundance is not a mindset—it is more accurately captured as a state of being.
A mindset is something you have to intentionally cultivate whereas abundance is just what you are.
A mindset can strengthen or weaken depending on your external circumstances, whereas nothing can add or take away from your inherent abundance.
The spiritual quality of abundance comes from recognizing your inherent worthiness and aligning yourself with the Truth that every moment is complete--with or without your participation in it--because nothing is really ‘yours’ to begin with. What we call “abundance” is universal Consciousness temporarily being expressed through you. Whatever experience that unfolds from this place is a just one feature of a universal pattern of isness that is complete as it is. In other words, the fact that you are always and already part of this universal pattern of isness fulfills your default state of abundance. It’s that simple.
New-age spirituality takes the self-help notion of ‘abundance mindset’ one step further by fetishizing this nondual teaching and repackaging it into yet another form of spiritual materialism.
Instead of using it to Awaken, new-age spiritualists use it to get ahead by suggesting that their material wealth is a direct result of their spiritual abundance, further reinforcing their belief in their own entitlement and superiority.
For example, you will often here from new-age spiritualists say that you are ‘blocking’ your abundance, which roughly translates to: “you are interrupting the harmonious nature of universal Consciousness that wants to Awaken through you.” However, most spiritualists will misinterpret the ‘abundance block’ as a ‘money block.’ This is why money manifestation rituals and practices have become a cultural obsession in the new-age. In Truth, abundance has nothing to do with wealth—it is an inner experience of remembering who you are and what you are already a part of. Any achievement or accomplishment that follows is an outcome, not a direct result of cultivating spiritual abundance.
While it is true that we can block ourselves from fully participating in the pattern of existence, tapping back into the ‘frequency’ of abundance is as simple as bringing your awareness to your breath. By strengthening our practice of presence, we can return to our natural state of abundance which can temporarily counteract feelings of inadequacy and lack. Of course, these effects can vary from person to person and some people will need more assertive interventions to address feelings of low self-worth beyond what meditation can offer alone.
When I first embarked on my abundance journey, I could not understand why I felt so much lack when I had everything I needed. Then I realized that having my needs met was not enough—I had to also follow the desires in my heart to truly feel abundant. And only when I tapped into this mystical abundant frequency would the universe reward me with what I deserved.
The more I bought into this delusion, the more preoccupied I became with my ‘manifestations.’ Yet each achievement was met with an insatiable longing to fulfill something that could not be fulfilled, which would only perpetuate and reinforce my feelings of lack and perceived scarcity. It didn’t help that I was constantly gaslighting myself about feeling abundant, which would only add more tension to the tension.
Fortunately, I got off this rollercoaster when I learned about the spiritual ego and it’s way of reinforcing spiritual materialism through our desires. Don’t get me wrong, I still have desires—the only difference is that I don’t spiritualize my desires and feel entitled to them. Desires are cool, but they don’t reflect anything about who I am and how I relate to my material possessions; in the same vein, my material possessions are not proportionate to the level of abundance and fulfillment I feel within myself, nor do they add or take away from my relationship with the divine. As someone who has grown up relatively well-off and surrounded by other well-to-do people, it is absolutely batshit to equate spiritual abundance with material wealth and financial success. And even worse, to use material wealth and financial success as a mirror for who you are.
This hyper-fixation and overemphasis on material wealth is not a sign of ‘abundance’— it is a money cult dynamic: a window into someone’s disordered relationship with money.
The notion that scarcity is the opposite of abundance is based on the idea that people who have a scarcity mindset perceive the world and its resources as limited, constantly feeling that there is insufficient supply. This is what Stephen Covey and other self-help authors refer to as ‘lizard brain’ mode: our brains have limited capacity, and when we concentrate on stockpiling resources to stay alive, we have a hard time thinking expansively or strategically about expanding our resources to thrive and achieve prosperity. This theory makes sense in light of what we discussed earlier about how poverty can inhibit our ability to use our brainpower effectively because it reduces our cognitive capacity for decision-making, problem-solving, planning for the future, etc.
But the ‘abundance v.s. scarcity mindset’ theory is incomplete at best and misleading at worst because it assumes that scarcity is the opposite of abundance. But is it?
To understand the impact of abundance on individuals’ behavior and decision-making, a series of experiments measured how peoples’ behavior would change when resources were plentiful v.s. scarce. Specifically, the researchers examined whether individuals would take more than what they needed when resources were plentiful.
This behavior of taking or acquiring more resources than necessary is what the authors refer to as "appropriation." Their results show that an increase in the abundance of resources led to a high level of appropriation and a greater amount of waste compared to situations with less abundant resources. This effect was consistent across different types of resources, such as chocolates and money.
The implications of these findings can be likened to an all-you-can-eat buffet, where people perceive the abundance of food as an invitation to indulge or overeat beyond their actual hunger level.
A possible explanation for this is that people misperceive their preferences when faced with abundant resources. In other words, when there is a lot of something available, people might not realize how much they really need. When faced with abundant resources, individuals end up taking or using more of it than they actually require, which leads to wasting it. This means that the resource gets used up quickly and not in the most efficient way. These findings have important implications for sustainable resource use.
The ‘Abundance Paradox’ describes the possibility that greed is not just a consequence of scarcity but may also result from abundance. Yes, there is such a thing as ‘too much abundance.’ It’s called greed. The dark side of abundance is not scarcity; it's greed.
Rather than thinking of abundance v.s. scarcity as opposite sides of a straight line, it’s more likely they exist on the opposite ends of a horseshoe—extreme abundance and extreme scarcity, although seemingly opposite, lead to the same traits and behaviors that are driven by greed and selfishness.
I’ve often described capitalism as the ‘money cult’ in the way that it encourages money worship or a disordered way of relating to money. You can listen to my podcast episode for a more comprehensive discussion on the money cult of new-age spirituality. Capitalism and the megacorporations that function within it want us to have a disordered relationship with money because it’s profitable when we equate our self-worth (spiritual abundance) with our net-worth (material abundance).
The ‘abundance mindset’ and its promise to financial prosperity is one way that the money cult of capitalism has manipulated our sense of self to reinforce a disordered way of relating to money. By selling us this narrative that the more abundant we feel, the more financial abundance we will have, we are conditioned to define ourselves and how we relate to money within these money cult dynamics. As such, we are forever trapped into the endless pursuit of more and more and more which makes us selfish and greedy under the guise of ‘abundance.’ See how that works?
This makes sense in the context of what we know about capitalism’s role in environmental degradation that is a direct result of overconsumption patterns and consumerist practices that are ultimately self-destructive. The entire economic model of capitalism is based on endless growth and manufactured demand for products that are supplied through unsustainable practices and exploitation of natural resources. The relentless pursuit of ‘abundance’ prioritizes profit above all else and contributes to a culture of overconsumption and waste. In this way, capitalism can profit off our greed while convincing us that financial prosperity is a form of spiritual attainment.
The reality is that our planet is limited by finite resources. This reality is inherently incompatible with the prevailing new-age narrative that “there is plenty out there and enough resources for everybody.” Not only is this narrative false, but it disregards the actual limitations on our planet’s resources and, as the Princeton study showed, can lead to overconsumption, wastefulness, and misuse of resources. Denying or downplaying the reality that humans are depleting the Earth’s resources at an unsustainable rate is not only a disservice to the collective, but it is putting millions of lives at risk—particularly those communities in underdeveloped countries that are at heightened risk for environmental disasters.
New-age spirituality is bankrolling humanity’s self-destruction by promoting overconsumption and wastefulness by reinforcing the idea that our resources are unlimited and constantly available. Moreover, spiritual capitalism perpetuates systemic inequality by overlooking the fact that resource distribution is uneven and unequal. As those with more resources continue to consume excessively under the guise of an ‘abundant mindset,’ economically and socially disadvantaged communities continue to suffer from actual scarcity and lack.
Indeed, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) released a report in April 2022 warning that human activity and behavior are the leading cause of environmental disasters worldwide. The UNDRR attributed these behaviors to a flawed perception of risk based on optimism, underestimation, and invincibility—not surprisingly, these traits underpin the characteristics of ‘abundance mindset’ that are perpetuated by self-help gurus and the entire field of new-age spirituality. By participating in the culture of ‘abundance’ and prosperity, we unknowingly contribute to our own self-destruction.
As we discussed in the section on spiritual abundance, the true essence of abundance is rooted in a more holistic understanding that has little to do with material wealth. In order to liberate ourselves (and each other) from the cycle of greed and dissatisfaction, we have to stop buying into the narrative that equates spiritual abundance with material wealth. This starts by redefining ourselves outside the confines of the money cult of capitalism and the entire system of the capitalist patriarchy, at large.
At the most basic level, there needs to be shift in our attitudes and values, which starts with understanding how our own biases and blind spots affect our decision making. For example, the way that our egocentricity prevents us from acknowledging how our choices impact others. Or, how our confirmation bias overlooks the role of privilege and reinforces an individualistic worldview.
This calls for a collective rejection of the current status quo that is built on rugged individualism. In order to prioritize things like sustainability, environmental stewardship, and the well-being of our communities, we need to recognize ourselves as a part of the entire system, (not a part from it) and embrace social responsibility as the new paradigm, with collective liberation at its center.
Social responsibility is not simply a matter of engaging in pro-environmental behaviors like recycling or driving an electric vehicle. Again, these actions (while important) are still rooted in individualism at its center, rather than collective liberation. Social responsibility through collective liberation means that instead of thinking we can influence the system on our own, we recognize our role within it and work together for positive change. It requires us to adopt a system-levels approach to social transformation, such as the one discussed by author David Peter Stroh in Systems Thinking for Social Change.
Language is important. Instead of ‘abundance’ language, we need to step up in our dialogue and embrace a new ‘risk-language.’ Sure, it’s not as sexy, but we can no longer afford to undermine our role in the ongoing destruction of our planet. By blindly participating in these narratives instead of actively working to dismantle them, we are basically giving in to the desires of the money cult ambassadors and the mega-industries they run—such as new-age spirituality. By getting caught up in the shallow and frivolous pursuits of ‘abundance,’ we’re basically signing off to our own self-destruction and accepting a paradigm that is devoid of true empathy, compassion, gratitude, generosity, collaboration, and problem-solving—the true markers of spiritual abundance.
Rethinking abundance invites us to envision a social system beyond capitalism, one that explores alternative solutions to our social problems (rather than just throwing money on it and hoping it will fix the problem). It calls for wealth, power, and resource redistribution, redefines success and wealth outside of consumerist values, and promotes collaboration, cooperation, and interconnectedness.
By collectively engaging in this reimagining, we can strive toward a future where collective liberation is at the core, creating a more equitable, thriving, and ABUNDANT world.
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4. Monbiot, G. (2022, January 10). Capitalism is killing the planet – it’s time to stop buying into our own destruction. The Guardian.
5. Nelissen, R. (2022). Abundance Causes Greed in Appropriation from Common Resources. Psychology and Developing Societies, 34(1), 25.
6. Stroh, David Peter. (2015). Systems Thinking for Social Change : A Practical Guide to Solving Complex Problems, Avoiding Unintended Consequences, and Achieving Lasting Results. White River Junction, Vermont, Chelsea Green Publishing.
7. UNDRR. (2022, April 26). Humanity’s broken risk perception is reversing global progress in a ‘spiral of self-destruction’, finds new UN report.
8. Vandette, K. (2020, October 16). Humans are quickly burning through Earth’s resources, UN report warns. Earth.com.
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