The Many Definitions Of Wealth

When someone says they are “wealthy”, what does that really mean?

If you think about it, the word “wealth” likely has very different meanings to different people.

For some, they will follow the dictionary definition of “a large amount of money and possessions”. Perhaps they desire a fleet of expensive cars, or an enormous house on a large property. Or, maybe they want to pull a Scrooge McDuck and take a swim in their piles of money.

But for others, the definition of being wealthy may have a simpler meaning. Perhaps they desire the ability to leave their boring day-to-day job and travel the world. Or, be free to pursue their dream career of writing cheap supermarket romance novels. Some may want to find a small homestead in the wilderness and subsist off the land, without any outside contact. Still others may want to open their own small business.

None of these necessarily means you need to have a lot of money, nor do they entail having a lot of material possessions.

I would argue that the truest definition of wealth is closer to the second set of examples. Being wealthy means that you are able to spend your time and energy as you desire, rather than simply trade your labor for the goods required to maintain your life. For example, if you are able to live comfortably on a minimal salary, and as a result can take work as a freelance writer on a part time basis, you free up considerable time for pursuing whatever projects suit your whimsy. I don't think anyone would call such a person wealthy by society's normal definition, but if you ask them, I would suspect they would say they feel wealthy.

Take, for example, the story of Trent from The Simple Dollar. In 2008, he quit his full time job and started working at home full time writing and doing other smaller scale jobs. An explicit reason for his choosing this was because he saw his children growing up, and wanted to spend more time with them. Between his regular daytime job and working on his blog, he found his days become every fuller. So, he chose to cut the cord from his nine-to-five job and focus on his dream. Years and many, many posts later, he certainly seems to be doing well. While I don't know Trent, I would guess that if you asked him, he would probably agree with the statement that in the broadest sense of the word, his life is certainly full of wealth. It's an inspiring story, and one that I would love to some day follow.

I think that becoming wealthy in this sense is really all about focus and sacrifice.

It requires focus, in the sense that you need to keep that goal of financial independence in your mind at all times. Remind yourself every morning what it is you are working for, be it the ability to spend more time with your children, or start that small business you've always wanted. Keep these reminders close by, so that they never slip from your mind.

It also requires sacrifice, in that you need to be able to give up the ability to spend your money, time, or effort on things that don't get you closer to that goal. Life is full of random temptations, and while I'm not suggesting that you become a slave to your goal, it's foolish to think that you can simply carry on living on a whim, rather than carefully considering the minute-by-minute decisions and actions that move you closer to where you want to be.

I think that the notion of wealth today has been twisted by the reality-TV / tabloid driven media such that many view the excessive lifestyles of the super-rich with great envy. I wonder though, if we all got back to basics and thought about the things that are truly important to us, and what we would do with our lives given freedom from reliance on our paychecks every two weeks, if a more achievable and simpler vision of being wealthy might emerge.

My Response to “20 Things The Rich Do Every Day”

Not too long ago I was reading the post 20 Things The Rich Do Every Day That The Poor Don’t over on the RichHabits blog. To be honest, a lot of what was in there did not surprise me. For example, there were multiple habits that revolve around what psychologists call an internal locus of control. People with this trait believe that they can affect their future with their own action. Writing down goals, believing that good habits create luck, seeing education as a key to success; all these are characteristics of someone who believes that with hard, intentional effort, you can make yourself successful, despite the “lot that life has handed you.”

Don’t believe that? Read the stories of self made people, like Chris Gardner, John Rockefeller, or even J.K. Rowling (hey, there’s even hope for writers!). None of these folks came from money, and some faced incredibly dark times before becoming successful. If you want to watch a movie practically guaranteed to make you cry, try The Pursuit Of Happiness, which tells Gardner’s story of homelessness and despair, before finally getting his chance.

As someone who’s struggled with bad habits in periods of my life, I am an absolute believer that the patterns in our lives can have a tremendous effect on the path it takes. Seeing this list only reinforced that belief.

I would stop short, however, of saying that all poor people are simply poor because of bad habits. I think that is far too simplistic an explanation, which ignores factors like the incredibly skewed distribution of wealth. Circumstances and societal factors absolutely play a role in either increasing or decreasing poverty. Coming from a background in science, I also understand that corrolation does not imply causation; that is, just because the rich happen to be good goal setters doesn’t automatically mean that setting goals will make you wealthy.

That doesn’t mean that the habits listed are not valuable. Quite the opposite, I would say. These skills build upon an overall trait that I consider paramount to success in life: resiliency. Having a large network, for example (habit number 12), would come in very handy when you unexpectedly lose your job. Believing that good habits lead to success (habit number 17) means you are more likely to be motivated to maintain those habits, even when things get rough. All these add up to someone being more able to hit back when life gets them with a roundhouse punch.

We cannot control the cards life deal us. But we can absolutely put ourselves in the best place to run with the hand we are given. I think that is why this list is something anyone wishing for success, financial or otherwise, should read.