What is True Wealth?
Is it a number in your bank account? Is it the clothes you wear or the car you drive? While those things may be signs of wealth, they do not necessarily mean you are wealthy. True wealth goes much deeper than that. In the Bible, we are told that true wealth is a gift from God. It is a treasure that you can’t see or touch. It isn’t an external possession or a commodity.
True wealth is about all of the things that make your life joyful and fulfilling. It is about having a sense of abundance and a growth mindset. It is about feeling rich, regardless of how much money you have in the bank. It is about living a life of purpose and meaning.
According to Henry David Thoreau, "Wealth is the ability to fully experience life."
Everybody has their own definition of wealth, but the fundamentals are the same.
Here’s how I think about it. Your wealth is an encapsulation of everything affecting your happiness and sense of fulfillment. It’s not just how financially set you might be but also how you feel about yourself and your life in general. It’s about your health. It’s about your relationships. It’s about all the areas in your life that are important to you.
I think that we can all agree that having a roof over our head, being healthy and having the necessities in life are a starting point. For most people, however, having material possessions is not enough to lead a happy and fulfilling life. Most people also need a sense of purpose and a feeling that their lives matter. They need to feel useful and part of something bigger than themselves. They need to look forward to something that matters to them be it a small goal or a massive dream that they have been living with forever.
The mix of all of these fundamental drivers, of course, varies from person to person. Everybody has a different vision for their life. You care about different things. Your life circumstances are different.
True Wealth is Multi-Dimensional
I have a framework I use in my coaching practice called the NET WEALTH system to assess how wealthy you truly are and which areas of your life require your attention. You might have seen similar approaches before such as the “Wheel of Life” originally created by Paul J. Meyer, founder of Success Motivation® Institute, Inc.
Each letter corresponds to an area of life that research has shown to be important in determining a person’s happiness and sense of fulfillment.
The NET WEALTH system incorporates all the major areas of your life – financial as well as non-financial. It’s a system that allows you to identify those areas in your life where you need to put attention and those where you already excel. It allows you to monitor where you are relative to where you see yourself as your Future Self based on your priorities.
The components of your NET WEALTH are the fundamentals that create happiness and fulfillment. By following the fundamentals that matter to you will be able to ignore the environmental noise and societal pull toward a one-size-fits-all life that most often leaves you feeling like a square peg in a round hole.
The 9 Keys to True Wealth
Living in a supportive environment
Your house is an important part of your environment, but so are your physical surroundings, the people you interact with, the community you live in, what you do on a daily basis, and, in general, everything that comprises the surroundings around you.
Where and how you decide to live should reflect the important role your environment plays in shaping your thoughts and behaviors. You may never have thought much about your surroundings before, but your environment is actually a critical determinant of the type of routines and lifestyle you end up adopting. In fact, research by Dr. Benjamin Hardy shows how your environment is a much more powerful influence on your behavior than willpower alone.
Oftentimes, we are not even aware of how our environment is affecting us. In his book Willpower Doesn’t Work, he states, “Much of your behavior is unconsciously cued by your environment.”
Your housing decisions are one aspect of your environment. Where you decide to live needs to be naturally in sync with all other areas of your life.
Creating a sustainable earnings stream
Wherever you want to go with your life and however you decide to get there, your Future Self requires fuel for the journey. The challenge is turning your assets – financial and human - into a sustainable earnings stream to fund your lifestyle.
Being earnings-rich has nothing to do with how much money you have in the bank. Being earnings-rich is about having an income stream that exceeds your cost of living. You could have lots of money but if you spend recklessly, you will eventually run out of money. Conversely you may not have a lot of money saved up but if your expenses are minimal and under control you’ll be just fine.
Being financially savvy requires managing both your sources of income (from wages, getting a decent return on your money, passive sources) and your expenditures (your necessities, wants and indulgences).
Yes, there is a lot more to financial health but it all begins with the basic fundamental that expenditures should not exceeds income in order to create a sustainable lifestyle.
Spending time where it matters
As humans, we know that time on earth is a blessing, but somehow, we don’t treat time with the same respect and attention as we do other scarce resources--for example, money. We often believe that we will always have more time to do what we want to do in life.
There is always tomorrow, but as Author Sam Horn points out, “Tomorrow is not a day of the week.”
Specifically, how do you want to allocate your time? Time is our most precious resource, but many people still treat it as a renewable resource. Are you getting an acceptable rate of return on your time?
I use a concept from noted management consultant Stephen Covey called the time matrix. Your available hours are divided into four blocks:
- Important and Urgent Activities – this is the time you want to manage
- Not Important and Urgent Activities – best to avoid
- Important and Not Urgent – this requires your undivided attention and focus
- Not Important and Not Urgent – limit how much time you spend here
Do you know how your time is split between these four blocks?
Investing your time wisely requires thought (what matters to you), a plan (what are you going to do with your time), and action (creating practices and habits designed to maximize the return on your time).
Utilizing your skills and life experiences
Many people think of their work simply in terms of company, title and pay. They don’t realize that work is actually a pretty important part of one’s identity. It’s also a major part of their social network and the source of structure and intellectual stimulation.
Working is more than just about money. Just ask one of the many people who “un-retire” every year. Surveys show that most of them do not go back to work for financial reasons. They do it to feel connected and vibrant.
For many people, the ideal work fulfills several of their needs at the same time. For example, my friend Greg found a way to combine his love of the seas, problem solving, and interacting with people by working as a charter boat captain.
What are you looking for in terms of work?
Do you find your current work satisfying?
Connecting your emotions to your journey
Humans are emotional creatures. Research has shown that our emotions drive our behavior. Understanding our emotions and responding appropriately is a key life skill.
Our emotions carry energy. In fact, the word emotion is derived from the concept of movement. The Latin derivative, “emotere,” literally means energy in motion.
In path-breaking research by Dr. David R. Hawkins, he classified common emotions along an energy scale, depicting the intensity of the feeling. Positive emotions give you energy, while negative emotions deplete it.
I think of negative emotions as a leak on a boat. A leak won’t initially sink the boat, but it will definitely weigh it down and slow its trajectory. The leak will overwhelm your thoughts. Eventually, the boat will sink unless the hole gets plugged in time. In any case, the boat ride will not be as enjoyable or smooth as it could have been.
Positive emotions, on the other hand, lift you up. They make the boat ride feel lighter and faster. Positive emotions allow you to think about all the good things in your life and give you a sense of possibility. They give you more energy to pursue your goals.
Your emotional energy is such a huge part of your NET WEALTH. With it, you can climb mountains and lead the type of life consistent with your Future Self. Without emotional energy, you’re likely to be always running on fumes and never quite having enough energy to reach your goals.
Having something to work towards
Research in the field of positive psychology has found that happier and more fulfilled individuals seek new challenges. These individuals set goals for what they want to achieve in the future and set out necessary plans and action steps. Having something to look forward to gives structure to daily living. It provides clarity and a sense of direction. It moves people from a focus on the past to looking ahead.
Pursuing meaningful achievements throughout your life is an important driver of your wellbeing. These achievements don’t have to mirror those of Elan Musk or Nelson Mandela. They could be simple things, such as taking care of your grandchildren, planting a new garden, writing a book, or helping young entrepreneurs start a new business. It could involve working on any of the dreams and aspirations that you still harbor.
Humans have a need to feel relevant and keep looking forward in life. When people focus exclusively on a life of comfort and pleasure, they tend to lose that connection to the world and their future. In comparison, people that also focus on fulfillment behave in ways that keep them vested in the bright future that they have envisioned for themselves. It’s a future that involves striving and working toward your dreams and aspirations.
Keeping your mind sharp
Learning does not stop once you graduate from college or leave the corporate world. In today’s world, we all need to become lifelong learners if we are to keep up with all the change around us. The benefits of learning go beyond simply attaining more skills and possibly earning more money. Learning also has a lot of mental health benefits and can be a source of great joy and fulfillment.
Lifelong learning is not just a nicety to make time pass. To keep on learning is absolutely necessary for your wellbeing.
As people live longer, a critical skill is to adapt and learn new societal norms and practices. Mastering new ways of communicating and behaving in everyday life is part of fitting in society.
Research by Professor Valeri Helterbran at Duquesne University concluded that, “People over the age of fifty who said they continued to learn about topics that interested them were 18 percent more likely to feel satisfied with their lives and 43 percent more likely to feel vital.”
Learning something new is a great way to maintain brain health. The brain does particularly well when faced with novelty and challenge. Just doing the same things over and over will not generate new neural connections. It will reinforce and strengthen the connection, but learning something new that is also challenging provides the greatest benefits to brain health.
Maximizing the value of your social circle
Humans are social animals. All humans have a need for physical and emotional connection. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs places belonging right after our need for food and water and a safe place to live. Studies show that humans with high quality social connections tend to be happier as well as healthier.
People often underestimate the value of their social circle of family and friends until it is almost too late. They assume that people will be around when they need help, or that they will be just fine on their own. In reality, friendships as well as family connections need to be tended over time.
Your social capital depends on the quality and depth of your relationships. Your most important relationships are probably with your family. Some relationships will be based on business or professional connections and might be more transitory in nature. Others will be based on friendship, and yet others on areas of common interest.
Keeping your body in tip-top shape
Your physical health will drive much of your daily satisfaction with life. As people live longer the focus is shifting to quality of life. Research shows that our genes only account for about 30% of our overall aging. That means that 70% is due to the environment and the lifestyle choices we make.
Our health is everything when we don’t have it, but we often ignore it until we are facing an issue that seriously derails our daily life. In the western world especially, we have grown accustomed to an unhealthy lifestyle of sedentary living, poor diet, and excessive food consumption. As a consequence, the average male in the U.S. is today, on average, ten pounds heavier than a couple of decades ago, without being any taller. 30% of U.S. adults over the age of 65 are considered to be medically obese.
The greatest tool protecting your health is exercise. You need to keep on moving. You also need to keep mentally engaged. It’s worth remembering the saying, “Use it or lose it.” It applies to both your physical as well as mental health.
We all know that we can’t postpone getting older and eventually dying. What we can do, however, is live as healthy as possible so that we not only live a long time, but also live well along the way.
Are you leading a Wealthy Life?
It's not all about the money, money, money. Although a comfortable financial situation is a major component of a wealthy life, it's not the only factor. A rich life is also about having strong relationships, good health, purpose and meaning, and a sense of fulfillment.
Money is important, but it's not everything. There are many other elements that contribute to a wealthy life. A person can be rich with or without money. Some people have plenty of money, but they're not wealthy because they don't have good relationships. Others may have a very comfortable lifestyle, but they are not rich because their health is poor.
Warning - The trap awaiting most people
Most people fall into the trap of focusing only on money, and this can lead to a number of problems.
First, if you only focus on money, you may miss out on important aspects of your life. For example, you may not spend enough time with your family or friends, or you may not pursue your passions.
Second, focusing only on money can lead to greed and a desire for material possessions. This can lead to financial problems and debt.
Finally, if you only focus on money, you may forget about what is truly important in life. Instead, focus on your relationships, your health, and your happiness. These are the things that will truly make you wealthy.
Wealth is not just about money. It’s about living a rich and fulfilling life. The American dream is about more than just money. It's about having a good life, and that includes being happy in your daily activities, being connected to friends and family, and accomplishing your passions.
Being wealthy is about having a balance between your physical, mental, and emotional health, your relationships, your finances, and your spirituality. If you have all of these things in balance, then you will be truly wealthy.