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

Success beyond mere financial wealth

In today’s competitive society, it is easy to find ourselves in situations where we act according to what others expect from us. It’s not uncommon to engage in situations that are unpleasant (unfulfilling jobs, materialistic mindsets, etc), but which nevertheless we pursue for the sake of “success”. Unfortunately, in these modern times, success is equated to financial wealth and professional success escalating corporate ladders.

With that false idea of success in mind, millions of people live their lives focused exclusively in the task of making money to achieve financial power and success. Don’t take me wrong, there is nothing bad with living those values, except that at the end of the day… how many people throughout history are remembered for the amount of money they had in the bank? How many people are valued by society for an average track record as a corporate employee? How many people have left a lasting impression in this world for having achieved financial “success”?

painter

On the other hand, we remember plenty of people who throughout their life made significant contributions to the arts, to philosophy, to astronomy, or to science – just to mention a few. They left a great legacy to their communities and even to mankind as a whole, and they are remembered throughout the generations. The secret? Throughout their life, they did not only focus on their day jobs as merchants, mailmen or teachers with the sole intention of accumulating wealth. They did work jobs in order to make a living, but they also utilized their unique abilities to leave a lasting legacy behind them

In today’s world, there are still people out there who contribute significantly to the heritage and well being of their community. How do they do that? By remaining true to their nature: Yes, like the rest of us, they are people who work jobs, have bank accounts, and purchase goods for their use. Nevertheless, they are people who do not pursue financial wealth as an indicator of success and well being, but they also do what they like and what they enjoy in life and share it with others.

Whereas it is important to become a productive member of this society by working and serving the community, it is crucial for a person to remain true to their nature in the process. As we know, every person has unique talents, abilities and passions – which together forge the uniqueness of every human being. Do not be afraid to pursue your real passions in life – it is our duty to make use of those passions and talents in order to fulfil our role in this lifetime to leave a lasting legacy for future generations.

Preparing mentally to success vs. fantasizing: Where is the line?

There is no question that success is attainable and within reach of anybody who pursues it. But what does it take to be successful on our goals?

On very general terms, when pursuing success we are typically looking to achieve certain goals or steps to ultimately conquer an objective. Also in general terms, achieving success is not a simple task; it takes a lot of hard work, concentration, and vision to reach our goals. Granted, the way to achieve success cannot be described as a cooking recipe, where well predefined steps must be rigorously complied in order to obtain the desired results for our endeavours. Nevertheless, we can identify certain constants that usually lead to the way of success.

Some of those constants have to do with our mental and physical preparedness to embrace that success. They have to do with our attitudes and behaviours to face challenges and with the degree of tolerance we have to adapt to situations outside of our comfort zone in order to go forward on our path to completion. Moreover, since success is not a one-time only pursuit but rather an ongoing matter, those constants also have to do with the degree of maintenance we provide to that state of success, and with our mental and emotional state to keep the right attitudes in place. Positive thinking is a crucial ingredient before, during, and after reaching goals.

Whereas positive thinking and goal setting are without question positive practices, there is a fine and dangerous line that has to be noted between positive thinking  and fantasizing.

What is fantasizing? One of the dictionary definitions of the word fantasy describes them as “the power or process of creating especially unrealistic or improbable mental images in response to psychological need (…); a mental image or a series of mental images (as a daydream) so created”.

The definitions above would suggest that a person’s potential to achieve success is limited from the get go, which is an arguable point. We like to think (and in fact, we believe) that a person’s potential is as big as the magnitude of the objectives they set for themselves; however there are two points where both the dictionary definition and our understanding of success viability converge: on the words ‘unrealistic’ and ‘improbable’.

For an endeavour to be successful, it has to have a reality check where the individual must make sure that the goals they set for themselves are in fact attainable. For example, let’s analyse the case of a person who decides to undertake a new years resolution where they will lose weight. Is that an actual goal or a fantasy?

While the achieving success on the goal of losing body weight is a perfectly attainable goal in principle, the vagueness with which the goal is pictured makes it look more like a fantasy. Is the person aware of their own physical and mental state to pursue this goal? Do they have what they need?

In order to mitigate risks of pursuing a fantasy rather than an actual goal, certain professionals (of very different specialties) recommend the use of the SMART approach: For a goal to be likely to be achieved, it must be:

  • Specific: How does the person plan to lose weight? By eating less, by working out more, or by undergoing a liposuction surgery? Is there going to be a combination of factors that determine this decision?
  • Measurable: How much weight will the person lose to consider the endeavour successful? Would 5 kg. suffice? Will 50 kg. suffice?
  • Attainable: If the person decides that they will lose 1 kg, is it attainable? If they decide to lose 60 kg, is that attainable? Is it viable considering their body build?
  • Realistic: Does the person have a positive attitude to face this challenge? Is their willpower tuned up to keep up with the challenge?
  • Time-framed: How long will it take for the person to lose weight? If they are losing 10 kg, will a week suffice? Will 6 months suffice?

Having considered those points, for a person to pursue a goal where they will “lose 10 kilos of weight within the next 6 months by jogging 5 km every day and eating more veggies” sounds more likely to be a successful endeavour than just daydreaming about losing weight and hoping for the best.

All of the above does not mean that we should refrain from dreaming high and fighting for our dreams. It is healthy to face uncertainty and evolve as our circumstances change, and we have within ourselves the power to reach high. But having a route map drafted can be of huge benefit to ensure that our road to success does not get lost in the land of fantasy.