Here’s a question for you: Are you rich?
What flashes through your mind when you try to answer that question? Your house, your car, how many dollars are in your bank account? Do you size up your economic status and hold it up to an arbitrary standard that you think of as “rich”?
It’s tempting. We’re bombarded daily with advertisements that implore us to accumulate more and better things- to believe that luxury cars, expensive clothes, and opulent homes won’t just make us happy, they’ll show our friends and neighbors how important and successful we are. Material wealth and success in life, they tell us, are one and the same.
But are they?
Remember that the very concept of wealth is subjective. The millionaire envies the multimillionaire. The multimillionaire envies the billionaire. Meanwhile, the homeless may look upon those who have four walls and a ceiling – no matter how flimsy- as rich. And, the sad truth is that- to many (if not most) of the world’s 7.4 billion souls- if you can eat three meals a day and know that shelter and warmth are always available, you’re rich indeed.
So, think again….are you rich?
Clearly, the answer depends on who’s asking and who’s answering. But, more importantly, the real answer has little to do with economics.
The Money Conundrum
“I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of,” actor-comedian Jim Carrey once said, before adding, “so they can see that it’s not the answer.”
Deep down, we know money isn’t the secret to happiness. We can observe that many extremely wealthy people seem profoundly unhappy. We may kid ourselves into thinking we’d be the exception, and yes, there’s something to be said for financial security. But, it isn’t just a coincidence that the truly happy among us- the truly wealthy, you might say- aren’t the people who have the most money.
The truly happy are the people who enjoy the wealth that money can’t buy. As the brilliant Roli Edema points out, they’re rich in many different ways: in character, in joy, in relationships, and in wellbeing.
Family ties and social connections add tremendous value to one’s life but cost very little. Ask anyone who has possessions but who doesn’t have love.
A life filled with love and friendship is much richer and much more rewarding.
Have you ever asked yourself why so many who’ve accumulated so much still seem to never stop pushing for more, never seem to be satisfied with what they have? Life is like a game of Monopoly to them- they won’t be satisfied until they have it all. But, of course, they’ll never have it all, so they’ll never be satisfied. And, because they never take their foot off the gas, they zoom right by all the other wonders of life, oblivious to the true sources of happiness.
The ability to keep everything in its proper perspective- an ability they seem to lack- is also a form of wealth. Sure, we want to work hard and do the best we can for ourselves and our families, but we also want to be able to take our foot off the gas now and then to enjoy the ride.
If you or a loved one have ever faced a life-threatening illness, you know there’s nothing you wouldn’t trade for your own good health or just a bit more time in the presence of someone you love. No amount of money, fame, beauty, or power is worth these precious, fleeting moments on Planet Earth…unfortunately, most of us can’t put that into perspective until our final days.
You can spend your life trying to get ahead of everyone else, or you can share your talent, your mind, and your good fortune with others. The enrichment that comes from exercising compassion and empathy- whether it’s volunteering at a homeless shelter, spending time with senior citizens, or simply being willing to listen to a friend or co-worker who needs a sympathetic ear- can be far more profound than any fabricated feelings of joy that come from the accumulation of material wealth.
The ability to simply enjoy life, in all of its absurdity and unpredictability, is a gift that money can’t buy. Laughter is priceless. Make room for joy in every moment, and you will, undoubtedly, enjoy a very opulent life journey rich in the things that matter most.
In short, if you’re able to love and laugh, if you and your loved ones are healthy, if you have the capacity to reach out and help others who are less fortunate, and if you can pause now and then and simply enjoy the ride, you’re already rich.