Sometime in the 1980s, Forbes magazine publisher Malcolm Forbes coined a phrase that I heard a lot at the time, and which has bothered me ever since: “He who dies with the most toys, wins.” Yes, I’m sure he meant it tongue in check, but even so, it bothered me. (The Washington Post’s Tom Toles went so far as saying Forbes deserved to be noted “for being able to get it out while throwing up a little in the back of his mouth.”
Whether we laugh at it or throw up, the phrase, of course, is all about material possessions, accumulation of wealth — and maybe even a little greed. I’d like address the topic seriously, and talk about why thinking this way — even tongue in cheek — is so wrong.
First, it implies that the only kind of wealth that’s truly valuable is material wealth. It’s long been shown that material wealth — while it certainly can make life easier — doesn’t contribute to overall happiness. In fact, many who achieve material wealth find themselves just wanting more — more money, more toys. Even billionaires tend to be unhappy as their objective often is to continually build their cache of money and possessions.
Another way people try to find happiness is through other people: Looking to the lives of celebrities or sports heroes, living vicariously through others, constantly checking Instagram, Facebook or Twitter to find out what our favorite celebrities are up to. It gives us a sense of belonging and connection, and is a way of living on ‘borrowed light.’ But unfortunately, it doesn’t really have anything at all to do with their own lives. And it often makes us miserable by comparison.
Still others live through ‘thought worshipping,’ by connecting their own happiness to the latest self-help leaders and causing them to wonder why the world isn’t making them happy. It’s a way of abdicating responsibility for one’s own life and leads to constant looking outside of ourselves for feelings of happiness or joy.
That’s the real question.
Achieving happiness is actually pretty simple. Happiness comes from within, through building what I like to call ‘authentic wealth.’
Building authentic wealth means focusing on three key dimensions of your life: foundational wealth, intellectual wealth and (lastly) financial wealth. Foundational wealth is all about the people in your life — your family, friends and even business colleagues. These relationships are what sustain us through the good times and the bad, and they require attention and effort.
Intellectual wealth is all about wisdom and learning. People who are always in a position to learn more, to add to their base of knowledge, and to translate that knowledge into wisdom that can be shared with others have a leg up on achieving happiness in life.
And, finally, financial wealth. It’s not just about collecting money and possessions. It’s about creating a plan that creates generational wealth, to provide for the future. That doesn’t mean making a big pile of cash to just pass on to your children — it’s important to use your intellectual wealth to teach important lessons that you’ve learned to those who will follow you. Otherwise, you’re potentially enabling an entitlement mentality, which will not help future generations lead their lives in an abundance mentality, focused on authentic wealth.
These three elements, then, are the true foundation of a balanced life of abundance, which leads to the experience of happiness and joy. And remember, if we don’t capture and leave behind ‘how to fish’ knowledge to our children and grandchildren, we’re just throwing fish in their laps.
Think of it like this: When you throw a rock into a quiet body of water, the ripple starts small but eventually expands to an ever-widening circle. You can apply this metaphor to your own life — your ability and willingness to focus on living your life based on the concept of authentic wealth will send out long-lasting effects to your entire circle of loved ones.
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Originally published at medium.com