My wife and I just got back from a Labor Day weekend trip to the New Hampshire coast, which means that I had some time to think about the Bigger Picture issues of life. Getting away always seems to bring that out in me, maybe because my mind is free of the usual distractions that clog up the thought process. On this trip, I got to thinking about measuring your wealth beyond money.
This isn’t a new topic on this website. In fact, this past spring I posted 10 Ways to Be Rich without being Wealthy, which has a similar theme. But this is an important topic, and I’ve honed some of the ideas in the hope that you’ll see the sources of wealth that you enjoy in your life, even if money might be a little bit scarce.
Wealth from Work – Apart from Money
Unless you are already wealthy, work is the only way to survive, and that makes it the most important (or even only) source of wealth, at least in monetary terms. But the wealth that flows from work goes way beyond earning money.
See if you agree with the following:
Doing work that you like doing. Even if you aren’t getting paid as much as others, doing work that you like to do qualifies as wealth because it doesn’t feel so much like work. A lot of people toil away at jobs that they hate, just to pay the bills. If you don’t hate what you do, you have a leg up on the majority of people.
Transferability/Portability. My wife works in banking, and I’m a blogger. For that reason we were able to move from Georgia to New Hampshire even though no one in our family had a job before arriving. Transferability or portability of job- or business-skills is a form of wealth. It not only gives you geographic mobility, but it enables you to change jobs if you don’t like the one you have.
High job security. If you hold a government job or a position in healthcare or many tech fields, you probably have a very high degree of job security. Even if you don’t love the job, and even if you don’t earn as much as you think you should, high job security is a form of wealth. It means that you’re unlikely to lose your job/income even in a bad economy, and many millions of people would love to change places with you.
Promotability/ability to earn more. Most jobs today are fairly static. You might move up a rung or two – or you might not. If you’re in a career that provides an above average ability to get promoted and earn more money, that’s a form of wealth, even if you don’t have the money in your pocket right now.
Relevancy. This is something that I think you become more aware of as you get older. We all have a need to be needed in society, and our work is one of the major ways that happens. That work-relevancy is a big part of what ties us to the community around us – it flows from doing a job that needs to be done. If you’ve ever been unemployed for an extended period of time, you’re probably well aware of how important this is.
This gets down to where you live, and you may not even be aware of it. But you do have geographic wealth if you live in an area that’s close to the beach, the mountains, or important cultural centers. Geographic wealth can also come from living in an area that is either quaint or unspoiled. All of these factors give you the benefit of built-in recreational amenities or a more peaceful/enjoyable life that can make life better overall.
We can also think of geographic wealth in more specific terms. For example, if you live close to work, and particularly in an area where you don’t need to own a car, that can be a source of wealth. So can living in an area that is relatively clean, has low traffic, and enjoys above average safety and security.
If you live in an area that has any of these qualities, they represent part of the wealth that you have in your life, even though you actually don’t possess them physically or legally. They’re just there to be enjoyed, and they can make life a lot easier.
Even if you were wealthy in a financial sense, you’re life would be pretty empty if you didn’t have many close personal connections. Having a close-knit family, a number of true friends, and an active social life can provide you with all kinds of benefits that go way beyond money.
This is just a theory of mine, but I believe that much of people’s efforts toward attaining greater wealth is an attempt to gain greater social acceptance. But if you can gain that acceptance without increasing your monetary wealth, then you will probably have achieved the same thing, but at a much lower financial cost.
Maybe this is just me, but when you achieve some sort of connectedness with a higher power, it makes it easier to let go of the troubles of life. You come to realize that you don’t own all the world’s problems, and you don’t necessarily need to fix everything that’s wrong in your life.
I think that spiritual connectedness makes it easier to accept yourself and the world around you – despite the fact that neither is perfect. In my case, that connectedness comes through Christianity. It teaches that no matter what tribulations you are facing, you aren’t in it alone, and it will all end happily. That knowledge alone can make any troubles easier to live with.
Christianity also teaches you to develop a spirit of thankfulness. I think this is a highly under-appreciated quality. It’s very easy to focus on everything that’s wrong in your life, and to wallow in self-pity. But when you develop a spirit of thankfulness, such as being thankful for some of the qualities of life listed in this article, you begin to realize how truly wealthy you are.
Wealth from Good Habits
How are good habits a form of wealth? Because many people don’t have them. And because both success and progress are usually commensurate with the “little things” we do each day – and that’s exactly what habits are. Good habits can allow you to succeed in life by what seems like default, because you’re doing the right things at least most of the time.
Examples the good habits include cleanliness, organization, exercise, staying in touch with people, saying “thank you” (and meaning it), embracing your work, avoiding debt and saving money. If you’ve mastered any of these areas of your life, then you have a form of wealth that no amount of money can buy.
I think that when we begin to define wealth in the broadest terms possible, we find that we’re all much wealthier than we usually think we are.
Have you ever thought about this? Can you think of other ways that you have wealth beyond money?