The wealth of “having” vs. the wealth of “doing”

There is a big misconception out there. Especially upon the rise of capitalism and consumerism, the term “wealth” has been often understood as the amount of goods with monetary value that are possessed by a certain individual or organization. As such, in modern language, wealthy person is that who either has large sums of money in their bank account, possesses expensive (usually luxurious) goods, or follows a financially affluent lifestyle. Unfortunately, our modern definition of wealth is very limiting and, needless to say, materialistic. Our contemporary view of wealth means that we can only be wealthy as long as we have access to possessing more than what the average person could. We prize the ability to own and we use that as a measurement to assess whether the person is successful or not. Society at large prizes those individuals who amass fortunes. Moreover, the social understanding of wealth goes to believe that financial wealth equates happiness, and the more we are able to own, is the happier we are.

wealthIf having more financial assets means that we are happier, why would we ever worry about anything else? If our purpose in life is to achieve happiness, and the key to happiness is to accumulate more money and possessions, why not pursuing money for the sake of money? If the ends justify the means, we could keenly pursue money and possessions no matter how we get them. Even breaking laws and bypassing ethics would be justifiable -stealing, defrauding, or whatever not- as at the end, we would achieve both success and happiness.

Once upon a time, however, the understanding of wealth was a much different one. In the ancient world, people valued possessions and power as we do today – however, there was also a huge perception of value in knowledge. Scientists, philosophers and teachers, among others, were thought of as people with a whole “wealth” of knowledge. Musicians, sculptors, and writers were valued for their talents and intellectual contributions to society. In those times, people were valued for what they did, and not so much for what they had.

The modern world, however, is a much different place. Our aspiration as a progressive society should decidedly not be to become just as we lived and thought centuries ago. Money is not evil, and neither are possessions nor financial ownership. It is important to acknowledge that they are a result of our evolution as a civilization and have become tools to foster our development as a society. Whether we fully embrace them or not, we cannot deny that they constitute a part of our lives as well and, they way mankind’s collective mind has evolved, our very belonging to this civilization creates a need to have money and possessions.

As money and possessions are part of our lives, we should acknowledge them by what they are. Amassing them is not ultimate happiness, but they are important tools to achieve happiness. Money can be (and is) a great vehicle to access food and learning, to raise families, to procure warm clothing and housing, and more importantly, to provide well-being to ourselves and all members of society. Money is also a great tool to develop research, medicine, to promote arts and to create a legacy that could impact every person and even future generations.

As such, we must acknowledge that the real power of money and possessions are not in themselves, but rather in what we do with them. For instance, an individual can choose to buy an expensive car with their money, or to donate this money to a charity. Which one would create a longer lasting impact? Which one would provide more satisfaction to this individual? Which one would provide more happiness? Likewise, if a person decides to either spend a large amount of money partying in Las Vegas, or to use that money to take his family to an educational trip, which one would create more satisfaction, happiness, and a longer lasting impact?

True wealth then should not be understood as the capacity to own something, or to have more financial assets than someone else. A wealthy person is not simply an individual who has lots of money in a bank account. A truly wealthy person is that who makes the most out of the financial means they have. An important piece in the big puzzle of happiness resides in understanding this very simple but powerful concept.

Photo credit: StockMonkeys.com / IWoman / CC BY

Decisions in life: Have we made the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ ones?

Looking back at our own lives, we may sometimes be tempted to re-evaluate the way we have followed in life and decide whether the decisions that have brought us up until this point were the right ones. At the end of the day -we may think-, we could be doing better. Moreover, when we look at what we have done and what we have achieved, and we compare it to what other seemingly better-doing people have pursued and reach, there’s always a chance we will question our past (and current) ability to make decisions.

When we compare our own journey to that of others, does that provide us with a clear picture of how good have our decisions been in the past? At first, it would appear logical that it is. If we think about it, right after the moment we are born we are started on the race of life, where the older we get, the more we feel this urge to excel over others. Sometimes, the society that surrounds us acts as the judge to determine whether our race in life has met the standards to consider it a successful one or not. In their view, the best way to determine this is by comparing what one individual has achieved throughout their life against what other individuals have achieved.

In our modern times, and within most societal standards, these dangerous judgements are quantified (humans are, after all, driven and motivated by what is tangible and immediately available): We compare how much money a person has with respect to the other one, we compare what degree of professional development has a person achieved as compared to others, we compare how many possessions has a person amassed with respect to other people. We compare so many quantifiable attributes in people, and the more we compare, the better we can define whether a person has done well in life by taking the correct decisions. And then, we can see whether we have mimicked their decisions, or conversely, whether we have taken some wrong decisions and we are not as far ahead in the race of life as we could be.

But measuring and quantifying our lives is not an accurate view of our previous or current ability to make good decisions. Quantifying the goodness that surrounds us, the happiness we experience, and the success that we have achieved, is useless. In the end, we must acknowledge that our very human nature is not built on quantifiable attributes: Every person is a unique being, with unique qualities, unique goals and unique missions. Every one of us is pursuing a different path that does not lead to a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ direction, but it rather pursues different directions than other people’s life paths. Moreover, the paths we follow are not dead ends, but they are merely streets that lead to intersections which, down the road, will allow us to modify our route.

Given our uniqueness as individuals and the uniqueness of our missions in life, it is of no use to try to compare ourselves to other individuals, and determine from there whether we have made right or wrong decisions. There are no right or wrong decisions – there are just different decisions, that cannot (and should not) be quantified by tangible attributes. Rest assured that right now, you are at the right place, at the right time, as you are following the road that will lead you to fulfil your own mission.

 

Controlling our Self-bias

When talking about colours, it is not uncommon to hear that white is the absence of all colours, while black is the mix of all colours. In other words, we could say that white is the nothing while black is the everything. They are so distant, so opposite. And yet, both are inevitably dependent on all other colours, and their existence  – or non-existence thereof.

Ying Yang

This analogy applies wonderfully when we speak about our perception of the world – and our power to influence it: good and bad, right and wrong, success and failure, everything and nothing. In a way, the concept of all of them is the absolute “presence” or “absence” of a certain element. For example, based on the dictionary definition of success, the concepts of success and failure can be understood as the absolute presence of a favourable outcome or the absolute lack of it. The same rationale would apply for all other seemingly opposing forces in our world.

But since they depend on common attributes, they can’t totally oppose each other. Rather, we can understand them from a brand new perspective: Just as the existence of black and white is dependent on the existence or non existence or other colours, the existence or non existence of forces like success-failure, good-bad, rich-poor, happy-miserable, and so forth, depends on our own perception – and the degree of positivity or negativity that we apply to them – what we can dub the self-bias.

On that note, if we reflect upon us and try to determine whether we are happy or unhappy – it will depend entirely on what factors we consider to measure our happiness. The absolute lack of positivity when judging ourselves self-biased (thoughts like “I’m not good enough at doing this or that, I’m not intelligent enough, I have unpaid debts, I haven’t accomplished my new-year resolutions, and so forth) will have a very different outcome than the absolute presence of it (I have food to eat at my table every day, I have shelter and clothing to protect myself of the weather, I live in a peaceful community, I have good health, etc), which of course makes every one of us owners of our own perception and our own happiness.

The power to be happy and to shape your world is in your hands – and in your mind! Awaken it and live a full life from now!