We all intuitively know that money isn’t everything. When we daydream of a life of wealth – we aren’t thinking of ourselves alone in a room full of cash. Instead, we all regularly exchange money for things to build a rich life for ourselves. The ultimate measure of wealth isn’t money – it is living a rich life. And while it seems like the more money you have, the more rich your life, I think there’s actually a range. There’s a minimum amount of money needed to help facilitate your life and there’s a maximum amount that actually hinders. There is a maximum level of wealth that changes us, that keeps us locked into our lifestyles, that makes us eccentric rich people. But these numbers are different for each person and different times of life. The wealthiest people live a great life and become great people without regard to their level of money.
High Money, Low Wealth
I’ve gotten to the age where people are getting stupidly wealthy. My friends in San Francisco and Los Angeles hobnob with people who are both stupid and wealthy. For instance, a friend once rhapsodized to me about her friend, who was so wealthy that she was paying contractors a hefty sum to move her pool a few feet over. You read that correctly – she didn’t want to expand the size of her pool. She just wanted to demolish her backyard because the pool was a foot or two off the perfect location.
My friend was impressed by this woman’s ability to show off, despite how foolish her decisions were. A lot of people think having this much money is the pinnacle of success. But in my mind, if your life is as empty and unimaginative as this woman’s life, that’s worthier of pity than envy.
How Wealth Can Hinder Your Life
Over the past couple of years, though my sister has a job, a husband, and 3 kids, she has also taken it on herself to assist her elderly neighbor. In the past few months, the neighbor took a turn for the worse. My sister had been desperately trying to reach the neighbor’s daughters, none of whom wanted anything to do with their mother. One daughter only lived a 20 minute drive away and still would not visit her mother literally on her death bed. Suffice it to say, though this is not the point of the story, my sister’s neighbor had the poorest life of all. She was 85 years old and no one would see or talk to her while she was dying, save for the charitable neighbor down the hall. If my sister were not there, the neighbor would have been utterly alone during the worst moments of her life.
Enter my sister’s mean sister – aka me. As an attorney, I cautioned my sister not to get too involved in this woman’s affairs. Just because the daughters didn’t care enough to visit didn’t mean they wouldn’t sue my sister if things went wrong, even if my sister was not at fault. In my mind, my sister was in a precarious position. Who would really believe that my sister was doing all this work out of the goodness of her heart? Most of us would assume my sister was helping an elderly woman in hopes of an eventual payday. But if there was money involved, I’m sure at least one of these daughters would have taken the time to talk to her mother.
Look at how twisted our beliefs become when money is involved! Good deeds aren’t good. Good deeds are even discouraged because of the potential threat to our financial well-being. We become worse people to protect ourselves, to protect our money. We become poor to protect our “wealth.”
Wealth at Any Level
When I told my sister my concerns, her response floored me with her integrity.
My sister replied, “Many people have already warned me about the dangers. I don’t care if I get sued.” Then she released this nugget:
“This is about human dignity. No person should die alone.”
Instantly, I was ashamed. To be fair, I was looking out for my sister’s well-being. But my sister was selflessly looking out for humanity.
So many people think about how they’d spend money if they were wealthy. And when they’re wealthy, they worry about losing that money. My sister cared about neither of these things. My sister was there when her neighbor breathed her last and she hasn’t taken a cent of money. And I think that’s true wealth.
Conclusion – The Ultimate Measure of Wealth
Often we aspire to obtain wealth so we can impress our friends. There’s nothing wrong with that but you can go too far, and suddenly you’re demo-ing your tranquil home life to impress people who couldn’t care less about you. On the other hand, you can be like my sister and live your life based on your principles. You can live your life in a way that isn’t dictated by money or impressing people. She lives her life on her own terms, following her heart and her strong religious values.
Or you can live like most people – somewhere in the middle. But I think about my sister’s story regularly and it makes me reconsider what I’m truly valuing in this life.