What is Wealth? Part 2: Suckered by a Commercial Definition

Spiritual and Personal Well-BeingIf it is true what Emerson said, that the first wealth is health, then why isn’t it the first thought for most people? The word wealth has become synonymous with happiness, and happiness with a definition of wealth as that of material abundance. Both amazing and inspiring, the Oxford English Dictionary instead puts personal and spiritual well-being before materialism:

1. The condition of being happy and prosperous; well-being.  2. Spiritual well-being. 3. Prosperity consisting in the abundance of possessions; “worldly goods”, valuable possessions, especially in great abundance: riches, affluence. 

Wealth, then, is something both non-financial and financial. But since approximately 70% of the North American economy is dependent on consumer spending, marketing strategies have cleverly shaped and skewed the way people think about wealth and their relationship to it. The top-of-mind (fundamental) definition is likely to have become a combination of: lots of money, several homes, expensive cars, boats, jewelry, etc. Personal and spiritual well-being is further on down the list, if considered important enough, at all, to even make it to the list.

When equated with happiness, the definition of wealth as something that can be purchased serves neatly as the solution to concerns of personal credibility, success in one’s love life, respect, public status, etc. Bombarded with messages telling us what we need to make the right impression, get the dream home, car, computer, body, job, clothes, cell phone, education, food, vacations, investments, whatever, most (at least Americans) will buy-in to this so-called conventional wisdom about wealth.

One’s perception of social pressure to maintain a certain image for friends, family and colleagues fuels the justification to rack up more debt, if only to give the appearance of material wealth. Ironically, in the fervent pursuit of this type of wealth, the seeds of destruction tend to erupt and undermine the wealth of well-being. Though symbols of success may abound, behind closed doors, many suffer. Not only is there a financial price to be paid, but the extraction of one’s non-financial wealth depletes us at the core of our being.

Consequently, more and more people find themselves needing to work longer hours, taking on a second job, borrowing more or finding a new, promising, speculative activity in the vicious cycle of trying to stay ahead of debt. Chronic stress, the inability to cope, anxiety about expenses, marital problems and divorce, substance abuse, bankruptcy, poor eating habits, lack of quality time with family, and deferred health care wreak havoc. The lack of non-financial wealth puts us at risk of making even more poor financial decisions, risking the loss of what we have worked hard to achieve.

In conclusion, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to anticipate the many sad outcomes of mainly seeking wealth via its most mundane definition. The sensationally captivating carrot-before-the-donkey lure of commerce glorifies the body, distorts the soul’s healthy emotions, and tends to devalue one’s higher self (spirit). To reclaim and restore wealth at the primary level of personal and spiritual well-being is to establish the foundation upon which sufficient, long-term material wealth can be built.

One Response to “What is Wealth? Part 2: Suckered by a Commercial Definition”

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  1. Robert says:

    Susan, It all sounds like a really great idea, to put first things first; but what if I have a family and college tuitions to save for, and a mortgage and all that comes with being American? How can I make a transition to something more “Emersonian” without going broke and losing everything I have worked for, including my family?

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