Greed is a root cause of over-consumption. It is defined as an intense and selfish desire for something, especially wealth, power, or food.

Greed is a human characteristic, other animals aren’t greedy, once they have enough, they have enough. Greed is the cause of much pain and suffering, the global economic crisis in 2008 highlighted the mania and ultimate destructiveness of greed. However, that crisis was just a large, obvious instance of the type of continual greed that is widespread in our economic systems.

Greed is a type of addiction, it has been shown to trigger the same pleasure centres in the brain as gambling. Having material wealth is not the main goal of greedy people, it is getting more material wealth.

In an online article, Manfred Kets De Vries outlined the following seven signs of a greedy person:

1. Self-centred

Greedy people put their own interests first with very little regard for the needs and feelings of others, often even at other peoples’ expense.

2. Envy and greed often go hand in hand

While greed is a strong desire for more wealth and power, its evil twin, envy, is the desire for what other people have. It becomes a competitive struggle to have the most and leads to the escalation of wealth far beyond actual needs. This Fable of Sustainability provides a lesson about these two pitfalls.

3. Lack of empathy

Greedy people care little about the feelings of others. This means they don’t have any qualms about taking advantage of other people. Their lack of genuine interest in the ideas and feelings of others, as well as an unwillingness to take personal responsibility for their actions, make them difficult and unlikeable people. It had been shown in study after study that poor people are much more generous than rich people.

4. Insatiable

As noted above greedy people are never satisfied with what they have. No matter how much they have, they still want more. Their psychological dysfunction is a constant feeling of lack.

5. Manipulative

Greedy people will use others to get what they want. They will manipulate the systems and also exploit the environment if it means getting more.

6. Short-sighted

They focus on satiating their immediate desires and leave it to others to deal with the consequences.

7. Immoral

Greedy people are not good at maintaining boundaries. They will compromise moral values to achieve their goals. They look for loopholes and clever ways to outsmart the rules and regulations that have been put into place to moderate their kind of behaviour.

What to do about greed

It could be argued that greed is a natural and normal human trait. However self-interest is only natural up to a certain point and it usually works in tandem with altruism, co-operation and mutual benefit.

If greedy people want to change they will have to go on an inner journey to discover the unconscious cause of their self-indulgent pursuit of wealth, power and possessions. It may involve dealing with pain or insecurity that developed earlier in life. It might mean facing inner conflicts, unresolved grievances, resentment, unfulfilled dreams – confronting the defence mechanisms that drive them towards excessiveness

They may also need to become acquainted with what is really essential in life such as love, emotional intimacy, unconditional acceptance (and self-acceptance), and “rich” satisfying relationships.

Schopenhauer said, “wealth is like sea-water; the more we drink, the thirstier we become.” If we can all learn how to overcome greed, we may have a simpler, more meaningful, happier and richer life.