The True Meaning of Wealth

Dec 17 Blog ImageI wrote the following for a New York Times Op Ed piece, but since they didn’t publish it, I want to share it with you, my weekly readers:

According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, wealthy households with incomes over $200,000 give away only 2.8% of their income; less than half as much as middle-class households earning between $50,000 and $75,000. What are the roots of this trend? I believe it has to do with emotional and spiritual scarcity, directly connected to false messages that say that buying and owning stuff makes you happy.

Ironically, the rich are not immune to this message. We are just as guilty of compulsive buying as people with far fewer resources. Recent research suggests that as a whole the rich are less generous and compassionate. Yet the media tells us that material goods alone will breed generosity and love.

A wealthy classmate of mine in boarding school in the 1960s used to return to school wearing conspicuously expensive shoes, pants and blouses. She was also the first girl my age to wear heavy makeup. Only after I knew her for almost a year did I find out that her mother, a wealthy actress, often got drunk when she was home and would throw her out of the house in a rage. I began to see my friend’s fancy clothes and makeup as masks to hide her sorrow.

Rich people are perceived as having comfortable, happy and enviable lives. Movies and television tell us that having a new car or a diamond ring is the answer to happiness. But true happiness—the sense of inner abundance that leads naturally to generosity—is not born of money. It requires something less tangible. Feeling loved is what has the greatest impact on our happiness and fulfillment.

It’s easy to confuse love with money. The more money we have, the more toys we can buy for our children, and the more toys they have, the happier they will be… Right?

Wrong. The United States, one of the richest nations on earth, has 3% of the world’s children… and 40% of the world’s toys. Yet according to a 2010 UNICEF survey in 29 of the world’s advanced economies, American children report having the worst relationships with their parents and peers, and the lowest overall life satisfaction. The U.S. ranks in the bottom third, along with Lithuania, Latvia and Romania.

How did our country, which gives so much lip service to supporting children, drift so far from love? I believe we have followed money as a kind of false god. Money can buy toys and diamonds, but—as countless singers and sages have told us—it can’t buy happiness. A few images come to mind: a mother buries her head in her baby’s stomach, producing infectious laughter and giggles. A young couple lean against a tree, arms around each other’s shoulders, in passionate embrace. An elderly couple walks across a street holding hands. These are the things that touch our hearts, and speak to the real meaning of wealth. True wealth is feeling rich with time and attention from those we love.

In this season of giving, if your wallet is stretched and you can’t buy all the things on your child’s gift list, remember this: real wealth comes not from abundance of money, toys or pretty packages, but from connections to the people we love.

Real wealth doesn’t need to cost a cent.

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20 Responses to The True Meaning of Wealth

  1. John Eldridge says:

    I believe, when we have spiritual (nature’s) love we overflow with energy both within and outside ourselves. In 1991 I took a nearly 2 week canoe trip with others into the wilds of Canada. As time moved on I came to need less, less material things and felt more apart of the world and more in the moment of life. On that trip I witnessed the Northern Lights….a beautiful connection with the Universe for both within and outside of myselfI felt as one with life. It was a feeling way beyond wealth as I had come to understand it. I found material possessions to be a mask, to get in the way of what life can be all about. Giving up was getting more….more spiritual life…more connecting……..

    • Phyll says:

      I agree, John. Nature has a way of soothing our souls and providing
      respite from our woes. She is ever present, always available and
      as comforting as the warmth of the sun’s rays. Flowers, trees, mountains,
      and seas comfort me like no other. For, their inherent beauty and natural
      presence connect with our evolutionary sense of what it means to be alive.
      Breathe in stardust and moonlight, feel balmy breezes and sunlight, BE with
      the majestic presence of redwoods and roses, revel in all that surrounds us,
      and speaks to our souls, in the omniscience of Mother Nature.

    • You said it so beautifully, John. “More spiritual life … more connecting…” Thank you for reminding all of us of the endless glory of nature. Better than any jewel one could buy.
      Have a joyous holiday season,

  2. Phyll says:

    Beautiful essay, Eileen. Sensitive, touching and real.
    True wealth comes from “inside”, from feeling connected
    to the spirit of love and acceptance. Although I come from
    humble roots, I felt very loved by my parents. As life went
    by, I experienced the myriad of emotions and sensitivities
    (sometimes cold) of others and learned that true love is a priceless gift.

    Now, I receive this gift, in abundance, from my “furry family”.
    My pup, pony and kits offer unconditional love and have taught me
    lessons from the sage philosophers they truly are: that love is the most
    precious commodity, that connections with those we love are sacred,
    and that leading with our hearts takes us down roads of true wealth;
    to feeling and sharing jewels of the spirit: warmth, hope, kindness,
    generosity, contentment, authenticity and peace.

  3. Dear Sebastien, You have one lucky son to have such a loving father. Thank you for sharing your love. It brought a smile to my face. And our oldest son is Adam too! One word of advice: Crying or anger are all parts of the continuum of natural feelings. In fact we need to know the opposites of love and happiness to be whole. I wish you and your son and rest of your family a season full of love and a life beyond of joy, in all its many variations.


  4. I just love your writing, Phyll. Thank you for sharing the wealth of your soul.
    May this holiday season be filled with abundance of all the jewels of the spirit.


  5. Dear Sebastien, My previous reply to you didn’t seem to show up, so I’m going to attempt to send it again:

    You have one lucky son to have such a loving father. Thank you for sharing your love. It brought a smile to my face. And our oldest son is Adam too! One word of advice: Crying or anger are all parts of the continuum of natural feelings. In fact we need to know the opposites of love and happiness to be whole. I wish you and your son and rest of your family a season full of love and a life beyond of joy, in all its many variations.


  6. So true and so necessary note.It would awake and grow awareness in people.Eileen, I am amazed how we think similar, I wish soon you be able to read my notes or book in English to see the connection, It is easy to get lost in materialistic things today’s world’s is offering to people. and yes, money is not the happiness..I think many time people and especially ones who have it they give money in exchange for love, in order to take away the feeling of guilty as they miss time with them… in my personal experience I remember that painful feeling, I spent few months in this country without my sons, I would send presents, toys and money to free myself from the guilty feeling that they were without me…..Eileen, you give the love with your writings, Lots of love to you on this holiday season in return

  7. jsholmes says:

    I remember very few Christmas presents I received growing up; what I do vividly recall were days spent with most of my relatives enjoying each other’s presence.

    • What a lovely set of memories. My best memory was that Christmas was the only day of the year where my parents didn’t answer phones and stayed in the house with the family. Thanks for sharing and Merry Christmas with your family!

  8. Louise Gilbert says:

    Thank you for your wise thoughts on the subject of wealth. I agree with every thoughtful point you make. I truly believe that true wealth is an “inside job” — our response to loved ones and friends—our ability (hopefully) to respond with joy to a child’s laugh; to a toll both worker’s beaming smile that comes from deep within–to appreciation and gratitude for meaningful connection with all of life and its amazing forms and beauties. I was recently at a financial workshop and each person was asked to raise his/her hand if more money would bring them happiness. I was the only one that did not raise my hand which astounded me!

    • That is truly astounding Louise. No question that money can make our lives more comfortable and we can do more, but happiness does not always come with money. Friendship is a gift beyond measure, and i’m happy to have rediscovered you!

  9. imlastof11 says:

    I am the family of poverty , but full of wealth due to many graces my whole life. I figured these were the cards I was dealt so it up to me to find happiness at this level. Moved to the country were we fit in, making it full of Love and happiness. One month ago my 14 year old had a accident 3 broke fingers and a full degloving of his hand. He apologized for us not having a big Christmas, I reminded him of all the gifts we have already received, miracles, he still has a hand, we all are supporting each other with Love everyday. Paying off 4 operations , 2 hour travels to specialists, bandages expensive Who cares I say can’t get blood out of a turnip but you sure can eat it 🙂 I reasurred him money is not what its cracked up to be, Getting by full of peace honesty and love you have to have as a productive human. We hugged and said I love you like we do several times a day!! You inspire me.

  10. Thank you so much for your honest, wise and funny comments. I laughed out loud at the turnip axiom. Thank you for that! But really, you inspire me, to be challenged with your child’s broken fingers and the medical bills, yet feeling happy with a hug. Blessings to you, and may your example inspire others as it does me.
    Merry Christmas.

  11. imlastof11 says:

    Hope you got your special cheese straws I did and love them 🙂

  12. Elaine Naddaff says:

    Wealth– a complicated subject, no matter how you approach it. You have a great style of writing and express your thoughts, clearly. I “believe” that education is of critical importance. Strong public education goes a long way in a person’s life. The cost of educating a person is only ONE part of the equation that results in SUCCESS. There are, always, special people in the world that start to create a “whirl” of philanthropic support to better life for those in need. Certainly, your father’s global interests to encourage investment have given you an inbred sense of philanthropy.
    My father worked for the Federal Government, Civil Service Commission and in private business. He was wonderful. My mother told us, repeatedly, about her afternoons, after school, when she would go to the, nearby, settlement house to read and read and read. A nice lady endowed the settlement house! My mother came from a financially comfortable family of 9 children. She was a highly gifted woman.I, still, remember her graduation from Wellesley College at age 65 years. She was loved by her husband– important. She liked the material world, but the non material world was an intricate part of her being. A nice lady established the settlement house where she read and read and read… I believe that children need to be creative, write, draw, act, sing and move and that is expensive. It is difficult to move, when hungry and unwell. I do not damn business– business is getting more supportive to need because the gaps are too apparent. I should stay “mum”–mmm…

    My old friend Susan G., a Middlebury College grad and Wharton alum is involved in an arts school in the Bronx, NY. Send a small check to the school!!! Elaine

  13. Elaine Naddaff says:

    One more thing on the broad subject of “wealth” which will, undoubtedly, bring a smile to your face. On occasion one of my siblings would overspend a modest amount, or ask for something that was just too expensive. My Dad would reply “Who do you think I am, Rockefeller?” All of my siblings and some of their siblings are Milton Academy grads!!! small world… Elaine

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