When we think of wealth, we mostly associate it with money, investments, and assets relating to our financial capital. And then we might pause, and intuitively feel that wealth is definitely much more than just having money. My first understanding of wealth, came from this excellent essay by Paul Graham:
"If you want to create wealth, it will help to understand what it is. Wealth is not the same thing as money. Wealth is as old as human history. Far older, in fact; ants have wealth. Money is a comparatively recent invention.
Wealth is the fundamental thing. Wealth is stuff we want: food, clothes, houses, cars, gadgets, travel to interesting places, and so on. You can have wealth without having money. If you had a magic machine that could on command make you a car or cook you dinner or do your laundry, or do anything else you wanted, you wouldn’t need money. Whereas if you were in the middle of Antarctica, where there is nothing to buy, it wouldn’t matter how much money you had.
Wealth is what you want, not money. But if wealth is the important thing, why does everyone talk about making money? It is a kind of shorthand: money is a way of moving wealth, and in practice they are usually interchangeable. But they are not the same thing…"
And then I realized that of course! Our health and relationships are all part of wealth. Our ability to fix up an old bicycle, is a direct way of actually creating wealth without any need for money.
In fact, the word “wealth” comes from the Middle English words ‘weal’ and ‘th’ which implies “the condition of being well”. The moment we understand this, we invite ourselves to reflect on what truly constitutes our well-being, and realize the many invisible forms of currency that is contributing to the “richness” of our lives – like time, energy or love! Yet we often fail to acknowledge these other forms of capital flowing in our lives, because what cannot be measured is difficult to manage, and so much of life is not measured but simply enjoyed!
There have been beautiful definitions of wealth rooted in the values of different cultures. In The Soul of Money, Lynn Twist was inspired by the Achuar people of the Ecuadorian rainforest who had no concept of money: For them, wealth meant being present to the fullness and richness of the moment and sharing that with one another.
And then we came across this framework by Ethan Roland & Gregory Landua that then inspired our 7 forms of wealth that maps out in a holistic way the capital pools that are flowing in our economic system:
This holistic view of capital expands our definition of wealth, and makes us more aware of the kind of wealth we are actually building when we choose to prioritize our time, money, and energy. It also allows us to acknowledge how every community is rich, just in different ways, and to focus on what unique assets we already have, rather than what we lack.
With this, we end with a quote by Robert Kennedy from 1968 that is still as relevant today –
"The gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it tells us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans."
How would you prioritize your life to maximize the kinds of wealth that you value?