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Your definition of wealth is worth exploring. Much more than a mere philosophical quandary, when you’re keyed in to how you operate and more clearly recognize what motivates you, you can set a course for getting what you truly want out of life.

Where do our varying definitions of wealth come from? Does it have something to do with our backgrounds, schooling, social encoding, or genetic wiring? Who’s to say? What we do know is this: people think differently about wealth. Which one sounds like you?

Wealth equals Time

For many of us, time truly is a luxury. In today’s hyper fast-paced world, having time to grow as a person, develop relationships, or have new experiences is something we value greatly. When we’re working hard to get by, there’s less time to enjoy oneself and the daily grind  can begin to seem empty and unfulfilling. Working just to work can be draining but having the time to genuinely take joy in something can make life all the more precious.

Of course, it should be said, that if one doesn’t have the a certain degree of material wealth, enjoying time, as a luxury, proves to be more difficult.

Wealth means Money

Probably the most universal definition of wealth, this one is synonymous with having lots and lots of money in the bank, in the markets, or in assets such as real estate. While nearly all of us would agree that Warren Buffett is indeed a wealthy man, many of us wouldn’t define personal wealth merely by our earnings. Even Buffett, the world’s second richest man behind Bill Gates clearly does not define wealth solely by earnings. The billionaire gives away millions every year to various charities. While we’ve all seen movies in which people are literally rolling around in money, many of us find the “wealth equals money” definition a bit narrow and uninteresting. That said, the attainment of money is still a powerful motivator but most of us want wealth for security, comfort, or in order to contribute to the world in a meaningful way.

Wealth is Stuff

Like the attainment of money, most of us do, at least partly, define wealth as having “stuff.” For some of us, having the right car, the right clothes,  or even the right electronics and gizmos makes us feel as if we’ve arrived (or are well on our way). There is pleasure in buying things we enjoy, whether for status, beauty, or delight. But for most of us, buying simply to have more of what we want starts to ring hollow at some point in time. Do we use what we buy or are most of our purchases mere novelties which lose their luster once they’re in our possession? Once the garage is overflowing and we’ve taken out a storage unit and filled that, where does it end?

Wealth is Security

What happens when you get a flat tire, the refrigerator breaks, or you get an unexpected bill in the mail? If you have some money set aside, you simply buy the tire, repair or replace the refrigerator, or pay the bill. If you don’t have enough socked away, the process can prove to be a lot more stressful and difficult. Do you buy the new tire by dipping into the money you allocated for rent? What happens when the rent becomes due and you don’t have enough money left to pay it? For some of us, wealth is simply not having to make these difficult decisions and experience the discomfort and increased stress that comes from dilemmas arising around day to day living. Is it any wonder that many of us who know what it is like to merely “get by” often end up defining wealth as little more than having a lot of money in the bank. Hence, the dollar becomes the thing we chase when perhaps a more sophisticated view of wealth might actually enable us to build better, more fulfilled lives.

Wealth is Giving

For some, wealth is an opportunity to give to others. Philanthropy and charitable giving from wealth – and it’s not only those who have millions or billions in the bank who give – can enable us to see what our giving makes possible. Giving to others and affecting change in the world can, and does, become a passion for many philanthropists who relish at seeing their dollars converted into the opportunities, goods, and services they support. If this sounds wholly foreign to you, watch the Ted Talk featuring Bill and Melinda Gates, entitled “Why Giving Away Our Wealth has been the Most Satisfying Thing We’ve Done.” Their passion for giving and making things happen through philanthropy is downright infectious.  

What is the Definition of Wealth to You?

At the end of the day, wealth means something different to each of us—from comfort to freedom, to security to plain, unadulterated joy in a new toy or object. What does wealth mean to you?

Ultimately, for most of us, wealth doesn’t mean just one thing but a number of different things. Some of us are motivated by seeing a large figure in our bank accounts and being able to splurge on a new handbag. Some of us feel richest when we can enjoy quality time with our friends and give handsomely to the causes we care about. By knowing the one, or many ways we define wealth, we can gain a better understanding of what motivates us and build lives that make us feel truly rich.

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