When I ask groups of people what success means to them, most everyone starts with “it means making a lot of money.” When I ask them to define the word wealthy, the usual first response is “wealthy means having a lot of money.” So both success and wealthy are primarily equated with obtaining and having money.
That’s not how I define them. Take wealthy, for example. I prefer one dictionary definition of wealthy as “rich in character, quality, or amount; abundant or ample: e.g., a novel that is wealthy in its psychological insights.”
I feel wealthy if I have good friends, a healthy relationship with my spouse, a good relationship with my children, fulfilling work and an active spiritual practice that helps me to stay centered. Each of these qualities is about me, my inner life, how I live my life, and my relationships. These qualities have deep meaning and affect the overall quality of my life.
Wealth when defined in terms of money focuses on an external source that may or may not relate to inner happiness or a meaningful life.
During several workshops I’ve presented on leadership and life skills I’ve asked a roomful of people (many of whom I know have what most people would consider a lot of money) to raise their hands if they feel wealthy. At most one or maybe two people might reluctantly raise their hands. I feel sad when this happens. It means that no matter how much they have, in terms of money, relationships, quality work, etc, they are not satisfied.
Since wealth is a relative word, it seems that we always want more. How much is enough? The constant need and yearning for more has kept us largely dissatisfied. When can we finally say to ourselves that we are happy with our life?
I’ve known wealthy people who are very unhappy in spite of their abundant money. Many don’t see how they can have wealth without a certain amount of money. They may focus more on the fear that they don’t have enough money or that they can lose it at any time than on enjoying their money. We see this especially in this era of an economic downturn, when people who had accumulated lots of money lost most of it through a business failure or risky investment. While they might have once been considered wealthy, their loss can remove that label.
Wealth from a spiritual perspective is about what comes from inside that no one can take away.
Wealth for me is about how I live my life, my values, my connection with self and others. It’s about my ability to appreciate and enjoy what I have and to count my blessings based on internal, rather than external, criteria. This is what I call spiritual wealth.
I have co-facilitated a Salon group for several years on Spirituality and Social Change. At one of our gatherings we discussed the concept of spiritual wealth. We shared that happiness comes from spiritual wealth, not material wealth, that happiness is always a by-product, never a product, and that happiness comes from giving, not getting. Spiritual wealth is sustaining, empowering and nurturing, while material wealth can be temporary, external and is only a means to an end. We each have control over our spiritual wealth, but not always our material wealth.
A survey of nations around the world determined that the happiest people are the Danish. Why? The survey indicated that the Danish by and large have low expectations, and are happy with what they have. When we keep expecting, hungering, longing, waiting, trying to have more, we are not enjoying what we have, but rather get caught up in the struggle. This can lead to feelings of entitlement, anger, discontent, etc. Maybe the Danish have a lesson for all of us.
How you think about wealth profoundly impacts your potential to have and enjoy wealth.
What we focus on grows. If we dwell on what isn’t working, that will increase, yet if we focus on what is working, what we are grateful for, that will increase as well. For example, if we are consumed with feelings of not being wealthy, it will be hard for us to get in touch with the wealth we do have. If we focus instead on our spiritual wealth (and perhaps make plans on increasing our material wealth if that is needed) we will feel a deeper sense of happiness and gratitude.
Take a minute to take stock of your views on wealth and how that shapes your life:
How often do you think about wealth?
How do you already have wealth in your life?
How are you now grateful for the elements of wealth that really matter to you?
How might you want to reframe your meaning of wealth?
May you enjoy your wealth.
Blessings, Kimberly Weichel
Kimberly Weichel is a social pioneer, educator, author and specialist in global communications, leadership and peacebuilding. She is co-author of “Healing the Heart of the World” and director of the Institute for Peacebuilding.