What is Wealth?

The dictionary defines wealth as:

  1. abundance of valuable material possessions or resources
  2. abundant supply: profusion
  3. all property that has a money value or an exchangeable value
  4. all material objects that have economic utility; especially: the stock of useful goods having economic value in existence at any one time

Society usually views the “wealthiest” people in society as those that have the most things or the most financial resources. From third-world countries in Africa and Asia, to the wealthiest nations in the civilized western world, the concept is universal. Recently I read a news blurb that the CEO of Oracle, worth a whopping $36 billion, purchased the island of Lanai with the “pocket change” of $600 million. Whoa! That's wealth!

With such a common definition of wealth being mainly material, it seems that many of us simply brush over the deeper significance of the dictionary's second definition: “abundant supply: profusion”.

But abundant supply and profusion of what? Must the answer be tangible? Does wealth have to be material or economic? Of course not. After all, even the dictionary leaves the meaning as a flexible statement. Wealth can be — and is — so much more than for what our basic thought process allows.

Wealth is abundance, profusion, and prosperity of so many things. Rather than thinking of my own wealth in strictly financial terms, I find it helpful to look at where I have abundance in other ways. For instance, I'm wealthy in:

    • Home. I have a roof over my head and a place to live. It may not be anything like the Ritz Carlton, but in terms of what things could be, I'm very blessed.

 

  • Food. Yes, I look for coupons and track my budget when shopping for groceries or eating out. There are times when I see something really enticing at the local specialty store and think how grand it would be to use $45 bottled extra virgin olive oil every day. Instead, I choose a more reasonably priced alternative. Still, I'm able to buy my weekly groceries. I won't starve. This makes me feel wealthy.

While my first two examples of personal abundance weren't supposed to be quite so tangible, in reality they are. I'm a product of modern society. Going back to my initial idea of thinking about wealth in a different way, I find tremendous abundance in:

    • Company. I'm surrounded by tremendous people in my life. The friendships and relationships that I hold most dear truly fulfill me more than any sort of material object ever could. I know that my nearest and dearest would do almost anything for me, and I for them. My heart feels full. That, to me, is worth far more than anything that any sort of money can give me. Money is temporary; true friendships are eternal.

 

    • Health. I've had my fair share of health challenges. I've had many surgeries over the past decade. At times, it's been rough going. I remember once telling my husband, “I don't remember what it feels like to feel good anymore.” Those days are over, and I've been surgery-free ever since. For the most part, I'm now a wealth of health. When I look around at the world, even at my immediate surroundings, I'm so much better off than many people I know.

 

  • Spirit and Attitude. I'm also rich in spirit. Even on my worst day, I can force myself to look around, muster up whatever lies deep inside, to remind myself of the blessing it is simply to be on earth. I'm surrounded by the physical beauty of my environment (nature and even man-made architectures and intricacies). Whatever I want to create from inside, whatever those around me choose to create, and whatever comes from above — if I choose to believe it's abundant and awesome, then it is!

All of us are wealthy in so many different ways. One of the greatest lessons is to stop, look around, and truly enjoy all of our blessings and all that life has to offer. A quote by 19th century author and clergyman Maltbie D. Babcock resonates with me:

Better to lose count while naming your blessings than to lose your blessings counting your troubles.

No matter who we are, honestly, all of us have and hold some sort of wealth in our lives. Virtually none of the wealth in my life is financial. In fact, on some days it can be very hard to appreciate all that I have.

But I imagine that the billionaires in the world who can easily write a check to buy an island in an afternoon struggle to appreciate their financial abundance many days too. It takes work and an attitude change to stop and look around and to live out the lesson. With discipline, though, all of us can take the time each day to count our blessings and appreciate the true wealth that abounds in our lives.

So, while my musings won't necessarily help you to build up a hefty savings account or provide strategies for wise investing, I believe that my ideas provide a challenge to rethink and reroute our focus in life away from “just” money.

How much richer would our lives be if we spent even a little bit more time and energy on the non-monetary sources of wealth and abundance that exist all around us?

More about...Psychology

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Lance@MoneyLife&More
8 years ago

I feel a lot of people would be much better off if they had a positive attitude like you do. While being money wealthy like billionaires would be nice we are better off than a lot of the world. Focus on what you have rather than what you don’t have and you’ll be better off 🙂

Mikael
Mikael
7 years ago

I definitely agree with Ashley and you Lance. When reading posts like this I can’t help but think whether people are “counting non-material goods” as an excuse for now striving towards more. I am a firm believer in enjoying what you have but I will never let it hold me from what I want. I believe that the purpose of life is aiming higher in all aspects. Love, family, health and wealth.

Nicole
Nicole
8 years ago

I dunno, having lived a wide gamut of wealth levels, I gotta say I agree with Mae West… “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Believe me, rich is better.” (Technically I’m not quite rich by US definitions, but richer than I ever imagined I would be, and we’re on a nice track towards real wealth.) Not to say that being mindful about what one has isn’t a bad thing (and yes, mindfulness and appreciation are linked to better health outcomes and happiness)… but more money also tends to equal more happiness, even if it levels off because of diminishing… Read more »

Janette
Janette
8 years ago
Reply to  Nicole

I do not agree with your premiss. The article is well written and provides that MOST people will not be wealthy in the 1% category of money, but can be sufficiently wealthy in: friends, health, spirit and attitude. No where in the post does she say, “don’t get money”, she states that being wealthy is NOT all about money. And she would be correct. It doesn’t take much to look at the headlines and see financially wealthy people who fall apart- on their fourth marriages, estranged from children, even committing suicide because they still don’t have it all. If those… Read more »

my honest answer
my honest answer
8 years ago

‘For the next week or two’? Really? It feels like it has been months.

And I understand you need to try out writers, and you have to give everyone a fair shot, but by this point, it’s really diluting the blog. Why not just allow more guest posts if you’re happy with so many different voices on GRS?

Sorry to be a downer.

George
George
8 years ago

I agree, and this post doesn’t even feel like it’s an audition piece for a personal finance site. It’s a wonderful article, but this seems like something that has more of a place on a site like zen habits than this one.

A Knight
A Knight
8 years ago

Concur. I don’t look forward to GRS anymore – it needs to regain the freshness it had before running a bunch of disconnected posts from people the readers don’t have a relationship with….especially if the posts aren’t that provocative. I don’t mean offense to anyone who has contributed a piece, but your enthusiasm and drive don’t necessarily mean the core GRS readership is where you are (or wants to be where you are) in thinking about getting rich slowly. For some recent posts, I suspect GRS readers are far beyond the writers in their sophistication in thinking about money and… Read more »

Nicole
Nicole
8 years ago

In defense of today… July 4th is usually either no post or a themed post without much substance. Same thing with Saturdays. And there’s been 2 posts a day several days. With free-disposal you can just choose not to read those posts and you’re still better off.

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
8 years ago
Reply to  Nicole

Exactly, Nicole. This is a perfect post for today, which would have otherwise been empty.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  Nicole

It’s not a holiday for us Canucks, so it was nice to have something fresh to read today. All too often it seems that national holidays are more about bragging than humility. It’s nice to see someone reflecting on how lucky we are.

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
8 years ago

About the audition process: It’s been going on for almost a month, I know. And I realize it’s tedious. But trust me, it would be even more tedious if it were spread out over many months instead of just one. This is a necessary evil. Once we’ve identified a couple of good staff writers, we’ll return to consistency, but with the fresh content you’re craving. We can’t get there without finding new writers first, though. Be patient.

imelda
imelda
8 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

But – this is a legitimate question – why didn’t you vet the candidates before posting their articles? I’m sure there are many you knew wouldn’t be your next staff writer – why post their audition pieces at all?

Jay
Jay
8 years ago
Reply to  imelda

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe JD already has vetted each writer prior to their first audition piece. Most, if not, all the posts this week and last have been second entries for the handful of writers he’s chosen to participate in the gaunlet. It should all be over soon granted there aren’t any new candidates.

Michelle
Michelle
8 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

Although I don’t object to the subject of today’s post, I have to point out that the style seems off for GRS. One of the things that I like about GRS is JD’s conversational tone, and this piece seemed too pedantic to fit in on a site where people are looking to relate to the writers.

Jacq
Jacq
8 years ago

I suspect that people come to a financial blog about money for advice and perspective about… money – how to get it, how to increase it, how to spend it wisely. My spidey sense is tingling on this author that there’s a belief that there’s something wrong with having money. Here’s one thing I’m grateful for – that I stopped thinking years ago that having money was a bad thing. I was a lot more aware of all the wonderful things around me when I wasn’t worried about opening up the mail or answering the phone and the choices I… Read more »

Dog Lover
Dog Lover
8 years ago
Reply to  Jacq

Great point–both posts by this author have focused on intangible aspects of money, instead of more practical issues.

Nicky at Not My Mother
Nicky at Not My Mother
8 years ago
Reply to  Dog Lover

Yes. Also, both posts start by using a dictionary to define what the subject is… which gets tedious outside of a highschool essay.

imelda
imelda
8 years ago
Reply to  Jacq

Weellll…. http://nymag.com/news/features/money-brain-2012-7/

(“The Money-Empathy Gap: How Money Makes People Act Less Human”)

(just playing devil’s advocate, here!)

Samantha
Samantha
8 years ago

You lost me at “The dictionary defines”. I’m honestly surprised there was no recommendation of keeping a gratitude journal.

But seriously, I’m also tired of all these guest posts, J.D. You should have eliminated half of them on your own.

celyg
celyg
8 years ago
Reply to  Samantha

Agree, between the dictionary definition lead-in and the “wealth is more than money,” it feels very amateurish. I don’t think the post added anything new to the site.

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
8 years ago

For anyone who would like to read something about money instead of a story about how we’re *all* special, just the way we are, I saw this link to a post on reddit explaining how a society might go about inventing money that was pretty interesting.

Romeo
Romeo
8 years ago

If you are an America, you already live in a society that has invented money and continues to do so under the fiat system. If you want to read about a society that has invented money I’d recommend, “The Creature from Jekyll Island.” 🙂

Nicole
Nicole
8 years ago

Ooh, yes, this is one of the most interesting things we learn about in macroeconomics 101… how money isn’t just cash (and it’s not based on metal anymore), how we need leverage (debt like the reddit person is talking about) to produce enough (fiat) money to smooth the wheels of exchanging goods and services to power the economy, how the majority of “money” in the US economy is electronic… kind of mind-blowing the first time one thinks about it.

Romeo
Romeo
8 years ago

BTW, though, thanks for the link that very interesting read Tyler.

Dog Lover
Dog Lover
8 years ago

Really interesting! Thanks for posting.

I listened to “The Invention of Money” on This American Life a few months ago, and found it all quite interesting–especially the giant stones used as currency. Here’s the link: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/423/the-invention-of-money

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago

You might like the “End of Money” by David Wolman too 🙂

I think it’s fascinating how we’re working with “virtual currencies” too. I’d like to read more about bit coin.

Romeo
Romeo
8 years ago

“The unfortunate, but realistic truth in all of this is that many of us still will not understand the troubles that we put ourselves through until we wake up to find how low we have actually sunk. It won’t be until we successfully prevent our wealth, that we realize the ramifications of our past actions. But by then, it may be too late. We may find ourselves working at age sixty, not because we want to, but because we have to. We will live vicariously through those who have actually made it, and envy their success. We must resist the… Read more »

Lucille
Lucille
8 years ago

Ashley, that’s great post and I fully agree…wealth is more about appreciating what you already have not simply chasing a dream.
I also agree with the comments about auditioning to be staff writer….it’s getting tedious. Let’s have a “guest post of the week” where readers can send in their contributions and the editor can decide to feature one a week.

Andrew
Andrew
8 years ago

Everything in here is no doubt true, and would make a fine Sunday homily in my UU church, but as an article for GRS it leaves a lot to be desired.

Holly@ClubThrifty.com
8 years ago

I don’t understand what this acrticle is really about. Are we really trying to convince people that it isn’t important to become wealthy? Is wealth really a bad thing?

The wealthier I become, the happier I am…and not because I value material possessions. I value freedom and security.

To me, that means hopefully retiring very early and having the freedom to do as I wish. I also have the security of knowing that I will never get a bill in the mail I cannot pay. I never lose any sleep worrying about bills or money.

Dog Lover
Dog Lover
8 years ago

I agree with the other comments–the article was well-written and thought-provoking, but it doesn’t feel like it belongs on GRS. I wish J.D. and GRS staff had whittled the candidates down further (as I think some initial whittling was done?) before posting so many audition pieces. I really don’t look forward to GRS these days… The blog has lost focus–I come here to learn about getting rich slowly, which hasn’t really been discussed lately. As a writer myself, I’m hesitant to discourage anyone–many of the articles were well-written, but they just missed the mark. As pointed out above, many were… Read more »

Liz
Liz
8 years ago
Reply to  Dog Lover

Agreed. A good article, yes – appropriate material for GRS, no.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  Dog Lover

Agreed! I feel like I’ve been thrown into the American Idol of the blogging world.

As readers, we’re only seeing one facet of this process. I suspect J.D. isn’t just looking at responses on audition pieces. If he’s smart, he’s also combing over analytics and wondering who ISN’T reading and commenting. If someone is looking to fill a gap, they have to address that gap — not just what works for an already loyal audience.

krantcents
krantcents
8 years ago

Although you offer a definition of wealth, your explanation indicates there are more to the definition. No one ever wishes they spent more time at the office when they are dying which proves there is a lot more to life than money,

K.C.
K.C.
8 years ago

If I purchase an abundance of valuable material goods on credit, does that make me wealthy? It would certainly give the appearance of wealth, but my balance sheet might show that I am actually bankrupt.

What about the difference between the wealth of a lavish lifestyle that is based on a high level of positive cash flow versus accumulated wealth as represented by a high net worth?

Gratitude for the things that give our lives meaning can be helpful in deciding when enough is enough, a determination that one must make if one is to accumulate financial wealth.

BC
BC
8 years ago

There is an article in this month’s Rolling Stone magazine called “The Fallen” about middle class Americans who are now struggling with homelessness. In the article the families are yearning for basic conveniences/needs: electrical outlets, a place to shower, a place to sleep. Read it and you will instantly recognize the problem with “suffering” on a budget that requires you to eat dinner at home. I recently started a new blogging project of photographs of the messes around my home that stress me out with the long term goal of one day making income from it (not likely!). But immediately… Read more »

Matt
Matt
8 years ago

Agree with several posters – JD we really don’t need to see every try out article. Please eliminate some (in my mind like this one) that clearly aren’t up to cut.

Carla
Carla
8 years ago

JD, are we actually going to vote on on the writers or are you just going to decide at the end of the audition process? I was thinking we could do vote via a poll of some sort, but I could be wrong. Based on many of the brutal comments here and in other posts and the popularity of a particular member here, we know who’s not going to make it and who has a good chance.

It’s up to you, of course, but I think we’ve seen enough. In some ways, its almost like ended before it began.

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
8 years ago
Reply to  Carla

I don’t think there’s any need for a vote. I’ve been reading the comments every day, and I know which writers are your favorites. I also know which writers are my favorites, by which I mean they were easy to edit and produced good content. Taking these (and a couple of other) factors into consideration, there are three or four writers I think would be a good fit here at GRS. Over the next week or two, we’ll work to get them finalized with the company that owns the site, then add them to the writing rotation. But there are… Read more »

Becka
Becka
8 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

Huh, for some reason I thought I saw you post somewhere that there’d be some sort of final vote, or at least a final open comment situation. I hope we at least have a chance to put in one final word after seeing everyone – I haven’t necessarily commented on every post I’ve enjoyed.

Nicky at Not My Mother
Nicky at Not My Mother
8 years ago
Reply to  Becka

that’s because in the start of this post it clearly says, “Pay attention, give feedback, and after a couple of weeks we’ll ask which writers you prefer”.

I wish JD had worked out how he wanted to do this beforehand and stuck to it instead of apparantly chopping and changing. Personally the end of the week can’t come soon enough for me, this has been tedious and many of the writers seem to be an obvious no-fit for the site.

Amanda
Amanda
8 years ago
Reply to  Becka

I thought the same as you, that there would be some sort of vote. I also think this has gone on for too long. The audition period could have been shorter if JD had excluded regular staff posts, guests posts, and his own “hey look! My ex and I are too friends” post.

If it’s all up to JD and he hires Honey, I’m out of here. If I want to read out about someone crawling out of debt, I’ll read about Joan over at Man Vs Debt. As least she has a damn clue.

imelda
imelda
8 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

Oh! I thought this audition was for just one staff writer! Am I understanding correctly that you’re going to hire 3 or 4?

If so, cool.

Jennifer
Jennifer
8 years ago

J.D.,

I really liked this post. While we’re all looking for ways to get rich slowly and I assume we’re referring to monetary riches, it’s also important to remember that all the financial wealth in the world doesn’t buy happiness. Oftentimes if we stop to remember how much “wealth” we really do have (not the monetary kind), we’ll end up being happier and this lends to other things that create the financial riches we desire. I enjoy reading about the psychology behind matters like these and feel they are relevant to the site.

Just my two cents…

funInSun
funInSun
8 years ago
Reply to  Jennifer

Thanks for your comments Ashley Kipp!

Karellen
Karellen
8 years ago

Paul Graham essays on the nature of wealth worth reading:

http://www.paulgraham.com/wealth.html (takes until “money is not wealth” to get going)

http://www.paulgraham.com/gap.html

Priswell
Priswell
8 years ago
Reply to  Karellen

I like Paul Graham, and I’m not a wuss reader, but his articles are sooooooooooooo long!

Kathryn
Kathryn
8 years ago

pretty boring post………

Stephen
Stephen
8 years ago

I think two things that hinder most of us from achieving real wealth is lack believe in oneself and not taking risks.

People are afraid to risk because they fear to fail. But they forget to ask themselves on simple question, “What is I succeed”.

Poor Student
Poor Student
8 years ago

I wrote something very similar to this, but more personall7y for the Yakezie Writing Contest.

http://yakezie.com/201798/writing-contest/definitions-of-wealth/

Allyson Carneal
Allyson Carneal
8 years ago

“So, while my musings won’t necessarily help you to build up a hefty savings account or provide strategies for wise investing, I believe that my ideas provide a challenge to rethink and reroute our focus in life away from “just” money.” So by reading this site everyday, I – and other readers – have proven ourselves to be one-dimensional, focused on money and nothing else? Funny, I thought I had an interesting, varied and fulfilling life which I simply wanted to secure by paying down debt and building my savings. Apparently the poster thinks otherwise. This preachy post was not… Read more »

bobj
bobj
8 years ago

Your health is your wealth.

Serene
Serene
8 years ago

What is the purpose of this article to GRS? There is no contribution. It sounds like an article that is written for the sake of it. By the way, many parts of Asia are just as wealthy and as civilized as western world.

ney
ney
8 years ago

The best definition of Wealth is this:
The time you can keep your standard of living, even if you dont work.

Wealth is measured in Time!!

Example, “you are 2 years wealthy”

Why? If you you have a lot of debt and you stop working, and it takes you 2 months to go broke. Then you are two months wealthy. You can never stop working.
If you make one million a year and expend 1.2 million a year, you are not wealthy eather.

This definition is precise because you can actually measure the amount of “wealthiness”

Emily
Emily
7 years ago

Like Serene, I take exception to “the civilized western world.” Casually tossing around that kind of close-minded comment leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and I expect GRS to be free of such attitudes.

nlee
nlee
7 years ago

I love your post on wealth! And I love the quote by Maltbie D. Babcock. It is all too easy to lose sight of the things that really matter in our lives, and discount those few key areas that bring the most happiness to it because it doesn’t fall under the commonly known definitions of wealth. Great post and thanks for sharing.

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