Are you rich enough?

As you consider the question, do you compare yourself to others specifically, like say to the Joneses, or do you take a more general approach? Do you address wealth on a scale of ability to buy and do the things you want or do you dwell on security? Perhaps you consider friendships, connections, health, talents, shelter and provision as great wealth. Or maybe you don’t ever think about it. Imagine that.

If you like rankings and are curious to know how you stack up relative to your fellow Americans, 528-1 Robert Frank of the Wall Street Journal has just the thing. He calls it the Rich-O-Meter. With it you can compare your net worth or income to everyone else (or those on whom the government has data) in the country. To compare, click on the image to the right and be taken to the WSJ blog. There, locate the same image on the right-hand side of your screen amidst some ads and try some numbers.

Now that you know exactly how you stack up in dollar wealth, do you feel better or worse? I’m curious; did you pad your numbers a little (or a lot) to see how it might boost your rankings? I did, and what I realized after a few escalations was that no matter how much I added to my numbers, there were always others who were richer. The Rich-O-Meter is a subtle reminder of how the pursuit of greater wealth as a goal in itself is unattainable and ultimately unsatisfying.

Similarly, those who measure wealth in terms of what they can buy and do become trapped in a vicious cycle. Consider the actual comments of a man responding to Robert Frank’s Rich-O-Meter blog. We’ll call him Carl.

“Being worth $8.7M is great, but it isn’t lifestyles of the rich and famous. I think you start to think about yachts, Net Jets, house in Nantucket around $15M- $18M- truthfully. My personal goal is $13.5M, I am not terribly flashy, but I would like a $500k boat, $1.5MM vaca house, maybe one nice $200k sports car. If your primary house is $1.7M like mine, and you have $1M set aside for the kids, that leaves $8.5M throwing off $300k with everything paid for which is a comfortable wealthy lifestyle. To get to the $7M mansion, $4M waterfront home, you need like $40M. I just made it into the top percentile. Now, I need to figure out how to get into the top 1/10th of one percent! Let’s never forget the most important things in life such as family, friends and health. It is great having Robert Frank to keep tabs on rich folks. Getting rich is a good thing!”

Isn’t it interesting how Carl positioned his “never forget family, friends and health” between needing “to figure out how to get into the top 1/10th” and “Getting rich is a good thing!” Carl will likely find that balancing quality of life against the pursuit of wealth to be more difficult than he now casually imagines.

Definitions of wealth vary from one person to the next  because we describe it within our own experiences and expectations. It is a part of our life story, of how and where we fit in the world. Our views about wealth are shaped and re-shaped by our past, our present, our beliefs, and our dreams for the future.

There are two basic wealth categories. The first and most obvious is material wealth; that which is measurable and easily definable, for instance dollars, yachts, houses, and position. The second is human wealth or capital; that which is not measurable, such as intelligence, talent, and discipline.

When people live solely or significantly for the acquisition of material wealth they become anxious and unsettled as external forces so easily rock their world. Don’t we find it odd when we come upon a wealthy person who seems to struggle as hard as anyone else to find contentment? We marvel at how anxious they can become, as though the very foundation of their existence was threatened by events we were all experiencing. Then we realize that if they are so integrally wrapped up in their money, then any significant loss of it means the loss of a big part of themselves.

There’s another trap. As one’s wealth grows, it requires increasing amounts of time, talent, and energy to manage it. If growth of wealth becomes central in a person’s life, he can become caught in its gravitational pull, a force that soon takes control of his movements and all of those in his orbit. The owner becomes servant to his riches. It is classic irony, even tragedy how much potential for a productive life fades as un-purposed ‘wealth’ grows.

Finally, there is an aspect of wealth less mentioned but infinitely more empowering and enduring. Think of Jesus, Mozart, DaVinci, Jefferson, and Twain. These men shared immense and enduring riches with humanity, but they died financially and materially empty. They represent the best of human wealth that each of us has to varying degrees. We may not possess the rare gifts of a Mozart or a DaVinci, but every one of us is uniquely qualified with enough talent, resources, and time to become the very best person we can possibly be.

Measured against ourselves we are just as rich as any American or Mozart, Jefferson or Twain. To become the very best we can be, to reach our potential we need only write our life’s story. Dreams written down become goals and priorities which become our map or our plan to live the richest life we possibly can.

Are you rich enough?

Note: Our blog is crafted to be relevant to you—to help you look objectively and critically at the intersection of money and life. If you enjoy these posts, please consider subscribing to them (using the signup found in the column to the right). We promise not to spam your email, and we hope you’ll find our insights helpful and inspiring along the way.