What Exactly IS Greed?

by Ron Haynes

No Known Restrictions: New York - Paris race drivers from the Bain Collection, 1908 (LOC)Greed has been thrown around quite a lot over the past few weeks. This banker was greedy, that corporate CEO was greedy, this hedge fund manager was greedy, that real estate investor was greedy. Everyone loves to assign negative characteristics to others, especially when those others that have more [insert any item] than the average person. Is that wise? What IS greed exactly?

According to Miriam Webster online:

Greed is the selfish and excessive desire for more of something than is needed.

Whoa, that hurts. What would happen if we turned the spotlight back on ourselves rather than pointing fingers at everyone else?

  • Do you or I really “need” a 52 inch flat screen?
  • Do you or I really “need” cable TV?
  • Do you or I really “need” a television at all?
  • Do you or I really “need” another round at the buffet line?
  • Do you or I really “need” a home with 2,800 square feet?
  • Do you or I really “need” a new car/boat/RV in the driveway?
  • Do you or I really “need” granite counter-tops?
  • Do you or I really “need” new landscaping or a pool?
  • Do you or I really “need” to live a comfortable, easy life in retirement?
  • Do you or I really “need” to send our kids to Ivy League schools?
  • Do you or I really “need” a closet full of clothes?
  • Do you or I really “need” a new pair of shoes or another pair of jeans?
  • Do you or I really “need” a new set of tools?
  • Do you or I really “need” a new iPod?
  • Do you or I really “need” a new laptop?
  • Do you or I really “need” another meal in a restaurant?
  • Do you or I really “need” another bathroom addition?
  • Do you or I really “need” a fabulously expensive vacation?
  • Do you or I really “need” another sale, another customer, another project?
  • Do you or I really “need” more cash in the bank?
  • Do you or I really “need” more of anything we already have?

There are literally scores of items I could add to this list … and you could, too, I’m sure. So why do we complain about the “greed” on Wall Street, when it’s so prevalent in our own lives on a daily basis? The dictionary has another word for that.

The real question in my mind is WHY? Why do we think we need so much? Why are we so insecure? Why do we constantly have the desire to acquire? What do we gain by having more?

What is your opinion? I’d like to generate some real discussion on this without resorting to the politics of the situation. After all, greed runs across all political parties.

What are some other examples of greed that are ignored?

photo credit: pingnews.com

About the author

Ron Haynes has written 1000 articles on The Wisdom Journal.

The founder and editor of The Wisdom Journal in 2007, Ron has worked in banking, distribution, retail, and upper management for companies ranging in size from small startups to multi-billion dollar corporations. He graduated Suma Cum Laude from a top MBA program and currently is a Human Resources and Management consultant, helping companies know how employees will behave in varying situations and what motivates them to action, assisting firms in identifying top talent, and coaching managers and employees on how to better communicate and make the workplace MUCH more enjoyable. If you'd like help in these areas, contact Ron using the contact form at the top of this page or at 870-761-7881.

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Sara at On Simplicity

I think one component of greed is that your excesses come at the immediate or long-term detriment to another. I would also imagine that the need to acquire so much has roots in fear. Just my two cents. :)


I agree with Sara that greed often hurts others. I think the key word in the definition you posted is “excessive.” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting things, as long as there’s a healthy balance.

Wanting a 52 inch flat screen TV isn’t so bad, if your family is into football and hosts lots of game day parties. Wanting a 52 inch flat screen is worse if you want it for the status, and you’re working 80 hours a week to buy it, at the expense of family relationships.


Greed is relative. It is human nature to want more. Bigger, better, newer, faster, prettier, more powerful, etc. It is this drive that has lead to new technologies being created, and for most people, a better way of life.

But there are times when this desire for more becomes all consuming and detrimental. When it hurts yourself or others, there is a problem.


Greed is putting your wants, right now, ahead of your needs.

Frugal Dad

Greed is the opposite of contentment. I don’t think ALL people are inherently greedy. The never-ending pursuit of something bigger and better is influenced by advertisers, peer pressure, and our own insecurities. If you think about the circle of life, and both far ends of the spectrum (birth and death), the only things that are really required at each end are basic, life-sustaining things like food, water, shelter and love. At both of these stages there is no longing for status, wealth, or prestige. The problem is we spend all our time in the middle of that circle of life trying to feed our own egos, and often succomb to our own insecurities, rather than being content with who we are, and what we have.


Taking more than you need when others don’t have nearly enough. That to me is greed on its most basic level. At least 50% of the reason we are in this mess is because America lives above it’s means and in debt – it cannot go on forever. Whatever made us think we deserved things we could not pay for is beyond me. Great post Ron


A really intriging, interesting and thought provoking article. Thanks for sharing it!


I think the concept of Greed above is too broad. Gluttony is more what seems to be being talked about above (i.e. another trip at the buffet) and then of course just frivolous desires to accumulate a gadgets and furniture… I think that’s referred to as avarice.

Greed seems to me to be more the unscrupulous pursuit of one’s own desires at another’s expense.

David Y

I think the definition of greed that you gave is a good one with emphasis on the selfish and excessive. Life without satifying some ‘wants’ would be pretty dreary.

I guess we need to ask ourselves a few questions whe considering these things.

Will it truly make us happy? Or is it because we are jealous of the neighbors or want a status symbol.

Can we afford it? Not if it means burying yourself in debt or working 80 hours a week to pay for it.

Are we hurting or cheating someone else to get it?


Greed is the opposite of being content. You’ll never be happy when you have greed.


It seems to me that greed originates from a scarcity mentality. We gather and hoard because we fear that there might not be enough to go around. Think about it. Greed is only really talked about when supply is limited.

When everything is plentiful, none of us seems to be concerned with how much others consume. This correction in the economy is giving us all a chance to re-evaluate what is really important and to realign ourselves with more fiscally responsible habits.


@ Sara
I agree with greed having its roots in fear, but I wonder if it’s fear of being “out-done” by another.

@ Lynnae
Balance is the key but it sure is hard to balance yourself! That may be where you need a buddy, a spouse, a mentor, a friend, or a pastor.

@ Patrick
I agree that when it hurts others, greed can take us down the wrong path, but it can have a healthy component if you are greedy for good things to happen or greedy for healthy accomplishments.

Good one!

@ Frugal Dad
It does feel like greed is foisted upon us by the media doesn’t it? We’re constantly told that whatever we have isn’t good enough because a newer model has come out.

@ David
Hopefully, this mess will cause some people to see that we need to pay as we go without borrowing from the future.

@ Tom
Avarice is the insatiable desire for wealth or gain, whereas greed is just excessive. They’re pretty interchangeable though.

@ David Y
I think you hit on something with your comment on status. We’re far too interested in how we appear to others in this society, aren’t we?

@ Laura
I think your right, but it’s like a drug. You get something new and you’re happy for a short while, but you want more and more and more …

@ Jeff
“Greed is only talked about when supply is limited” is a great line. No one cares otherwise! If people placed the same value on dirt as they do on gold or diamonds, no one would care!


Greed to me is when you try to get money and possessions when you don’t really need them, and often it is done without regard for the methods of attaining them.

I can’t help but feel that greed is a direct result of trying to fill a hole or a lack of something in one’s life, and trying to fill it with money, things/etc. It is the lack of contentment and a lack of knowing where one’s true worth comes from.


What an enlightening article! Thank you! I think I’ll go clean out my closets now……


The why must have something to do with our tendency to identify ourselves with what we acquire. The new acquisition – whatever it is – is consciously or subconsciously seen as making us better, happier, hipper, younger, wiser – somehow adding to what we are. Of course it doesn’t do any of those things. As a friend used to say, you “need” air, food, and water: everything else is a “want.” One problem this tendency causes occurs when people don’t recognize the “why” of their desire and blindly follow it despite their lack of financial means to do so. The other is when they blindly follow it because of they can; i.e., they have so much money they can get anything they want (including more money).

Mrs. Micah

I like FFB’s definition. It could also be putting your wants ahead of other peoples’ needs. For example, if you can buy a 52″ tv you don’t need or send the money to help kids get vaccinated against malaria, buying the tv might be considered greedy even if you can totally afford it.

But that’s a matter of whether or not you believe you have a responsibility to use your possessions/money for more than just you. Many religious worldviews (and a number of humanist atheists) would say that to some extent or another you have a responsibility to help others meet their needs after you’ve met your own. The question then is how much can go to your wants and how much should go to the needs of others…


most never gets satisfied from what they got. they need better things. so the Greed Continues :)

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