What is Weatlh?

Two people earn $50,000 annually. One needs $70,000 to live on. The other needs only $30,000. They both earn the same amount–who is wealthier? And why?

Recently I watched Larry King interviewing Chris Angel, the amazing illusionist, on TV. If you aren’t familiar with him, Chris is the new David Copperfield but in a rock star persona. His illusions, especially the levitations, are mind-boggling and he now sits at the top of his field, with all the attendant wealth and fame.

At one point there was a taped segment where Chris showed the audience all his cars, including a Rolls Royce and a Maserati. When the show shifted back to the studio Larry told Chris how impressive his car collection was and what a thrill it must be to have it. At that point, Chris looked down at the table and his voice dropped. He stuttered a bit and then told Larry that, yes, it was fun getting to the point where he could buy all these cars but that owning them didn’t really bring him happiness.

He talked about how he had been warned that having wealth and fame would negatively impact his life. He came right out and said that, while it was exhilarating at times, he had been happier when he first started climbing the ladder. It was a sad, bittersweet moment and it was clear that Chris was trying to convey to America that achieving the American Dream isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It was very impressive that someone like him would be that honest and vulnerable on national TV. To me, it was the most powerful part of the show and I gained a newfound respect for him.

For some reason, human beings worldwide aspire to material wealth. Of course a certain amount of wealth is necessary to provide for basic needs, but most people aspire far beyond this—more is better. Many people who achieve great financial wealth pour it into fancy cars, huge multiple houses, jets, yachts, jewelry and the like. It is an unquestioned paradigm to them that if you become wealthy you buy as much as you can. The underlying belief is that material wealth will bring happiness. While the desire to be wealthy enough to never again have to worry about money is understandable, many wealthy people spend far beyond their needs.

Some of the wealthy have seen through this fallacy. If you saw them on the street, you’d never know they were wealthy because they appear very average. Warren Buffet, the second richest person in the world, lives in the same house in Omaha, Nebraska that he has occupied for the last 30 years. He drives himself to work. He clearly understands that material goods do not bring him happiness. For him, making money is an intriguing and stimulating challenge, and now in his older years he has given most of his billions away to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Mr. Buffet could probably get by nicely on $50,000 per year if he had to.

So it seems that there are two kinds of wealth. One is the traditional form of outer, material wealth that so many people automatically buy into, unconsciously expecting that it will bring what they really desire–happiness. And when it doesn’t, many keep on buying, finding that while there is joy in the next purchase, it is always fleeting.

The other form of wealth is inner wealth—a contentedness and a richness in the experience of every day living that is largely unrelated to money. Yes, we all need enough money to cover the basics—food, shelter, health and transportation—but beyond that, wealth is ultimately a state of mind. Ultimately we see that wealth is a function, not of money, but of desire. And so we see that there are two paths to wealth: acquire much or desire little. The former represents a formidable challenge that often breaks people and families in the process, and ultimately denies them what they truly, though unconsciously, seek—contentedness. The latter involves simply two things—insight and gaining control of one’s own mind.

The best things in life are free. Truly.

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#1 Ben on 01.16.08 at 6:23 pm

This is so true. True contentment can only come from in your own mind; if you can’t learn it when you’re poor, that certainly won’t change when you’re wealthy.

#2 John on 01.24.08 at 10:13 am

Hi Ben; So true, yet material wealth is so seductive. I think it’s a phase humanity has to go through. Hopefully we won’t destroy ourselves and our planet in the process. Namaste, John

#3 Mary Jo on 02.03.08 at 3:11 pm

Funny … I walked away from substantial wealth and the wrong marriage to live quietly and simply now without all the hype the wealth provided. The peace that comes with this lifestyle and quality are immesurable. What price peace? Priceless!

#4 Caro on 07.24.11 at 6:15 pm

Too many complimetns too little space, thanks!

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