What Is Wealth?

Ryan Holiday

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Awakin FeatureWhat is wealth? It’s having plenty, right? The variables in the equation are pretty simple. What you have, what you’ve got coming in, and what’s going out. If those are in proper proportion to each other, you’re covered. Except what we tend to miss in this equation is another set of hidden variables that most often take the shape of our relative needs and wants.

Most people accumulate their wealth by earning as much as they can. That’s why they work so hard. Why they take so many risks. Why they invest. But the reason they do this is not to be covered -- it’s because they have told themselves that what they need is more, more, more, and that what they have already is not enough.

Seneca, himself a very rich man, did that. The astounding financial benefits of working for Nero had to be partly what attracted him to the tyrant’s service. If only he could have listened to his own advice (which he borrowed from Epicurus): “If you wish to make Pythocles rich, do not add to his store of money, but subtract from his desires.”

For a virtuous person, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to be wealthy. It can provide comfort, security and, quite possibly, a platform to do good for the world. The Stoics would just urge you to take a minute to think about what your definition of wealth is -- and whether you might already have everything you’ve always wanted.

There’s more than one way to solve this tricky wealth equation, and in your case it may just be that subtraction is easier than multiplication. That changing your understanding of what it means to be rich might be more important, and easier, than changing the number of digits to the left of the decimal point in your bank balance.

Excerpted from The Daily Stoic.

Seed questions for reflection: What is your definition of wealth? Can you share a personal story of a time you experienced wealth through subtraction instead of multiplication? What helps you stay aware of the distinction between needs and wants?

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3 Previous Reflections:

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    On Oct 20, 2019 Prasad Kaipa wrote:
    I have reflected on wealth and found that pigeons represent desires as seen in this photo.



    Click on the image for higher-res photo.

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    On Oct 19, 2019 David Doane wrote:
    Wealth is having an abundance of something valuable, often referring to money but not necessarily, and often means having more than what is needed. A simple example of my experiencing wealth through subtraction instead of multiplication is when I make a gift to someone of something of mine, resulting in some wealth of good feeling for me. What helps me stay aware of the distinction between wants and needs is knowing that a person's wants are many, are not necessary for survival and may not even be for the person's good, and wants tend to come and go, while needs are few, are necessary for survival, and are consistent. Awareness of the distinction between wants and needs helps me want less and grow in appreciation for what I have, and that awareness and appreciation are a happy wealth for me. Awareness that wealth can definitely be other than monetary helps me grow in what really is valuable to me.

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    On Oct 18, 2019 Jagdish P Dave wrote:
    Wealth is a means to taking care of my basic survival needs such as food, shelter, and safety. It is a means and not a goal. My higher level needs such as need to belong to, self-worth, contentment, inner peace and happiness,and self-realization cannot be fulfilled by never-to-be-satisfied craving for more, more and more money and things and possessions. Real wealth according to me is inner wealth that makes my inner life rich, joyful, generous, kind, and loving-Happy I was blessed to be raisedby parents who shared their bread joyfully with those who were hungry and provided shelter to those who needed it. They were living examples of the saying of St Francis of Assisi, " It is by giving we receive...It is in pardoning that we are pardoned." I experience such inner wealth almost on a daily basis by serving people who are going though emotional pain.Teaching and counseling is my profession. I earn inner wealth by offering my unconditionalloving kindness to others. What a bles... [View Full Comment] Wealth is a means to taking care of my basic survival needs such as food, shelter, and safety. It is a means and not a goal. My higher level needs such as need to belong to, self-worth, contentment, inner peace and happiness,and self-realization cannot be fulfilled by never-to-be-satisfied craving for more, more and more money and things and possessions. Real wealth according to me is inner wealth that makes my inner life rich, joyful, generous, kind, and loving-Happy

    I was blessed to be raisedby parents who shared their bread joyfully with those who were hungry and provided shelter to those who needed it. They were living examples of the saying of St Francis of Assisi, " It is by giving we receive...It is in pardoning that we are pardoned." I experience such inner wealth almost on a daily basis by serving people who are going though emotional pain.Teaching and counseling is my profession. I earn inner wealth by offering my unconditionalloving kindness to others. What a blessing!

    Discretion is one of the basic qualities of living wisely. In my choice making, I ask the question, "Do I need this? Is this really necessary?" I patiently wait for the answer. If the answer is no, then I do not higgle haggle. I totally accept it and move on rather than getting something I really do not need. Whenever I have not followed that inner wise voice, I end up getting more which I really do not need. I accumulate unnecessary burdensomephysical and mental stuff! Wants are nothing but endless cravings and grasping. Discretion is my savior. I am happy to say that I am making good progress!
    May we cultivate discretion and make wise choices!
    Namaste!
    Jagdish P Dave








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