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When Did Wealth Stop Meaning Well-Being?

A hodge-podge of friends at my favorite local coffee shop seemed to light up to the topic of the day’s conversation: wealth and poverty. From a real estate investor and retired corporate professionals to a musician and a yoga instructor, we were a diverse group with varied opinions on the influence of wealth. I left the conversation buzzing with questions: “What exactly is wealth, and how do I define it in my own life?”

When questions like this rattle around in my head, they won’t generally leave me alone until I investigate deeper. I started with several dictionaries and found the expected definitions of wealth: “value of accumulated assets” and such. By “value,” it was clear that these dictionaries were suggesting that wealth was about having “enough” or an “ample” supply of goods and money. That’s a definition of wealth still held by many of our companies, corporations, and even whole nations.

But my questions kept rattling: What if our quest for “enough” went beyond merely monetary, material things? Digging deeper, I found this definition of wealth:

The quality of profuse abundance; “she has a wealth of talent.”

This meaning was attractive — it sounded so much more inclusive. While only a small number of the world’s people truly enjoy monetary wealth, all of us have the possibility to tap into our wealth of talents, inner gifts, and unique perspectives that enrich life.

I wondered why I had to dig deeper to find the non-monetary facets of wealth, and figured that our recent emphasis on material gain had changed a very ancient concept. The etymology of the word “wealth” is instructive here. It comes from the Middle English wele or “well-being.” Before taking on connotations of financial riches, wealth meant the welfare of people; their general happiness and joy. Now we’re talking! The questions in my head finally began to quiet.

As if to punctuate these thoughts, an advance copy of a new book, Living Richly, arrived in the mail from a colleague. The book spoke to upper-level inheritors — those with enough wealth that they would never need to work for money their whole lives — and it spoke not about wrangling money, but about achieving our potential as human beings.

And then, coincidentally (it would seem my other friends couldn’t resist joining in the dialogue that had started so innocently at our local coffee shop), a good friend sent me an article about the late jazz guitarist Johnny Smith. In his latter years, Smith said:

“I’ve realized everything in life that I ever wanted to do. Fortunately, getting rich wasn’t one of them. I’ve always believed that wealth is not measured in money — wealth is measured in friends and good experiences.”

Judging from the positive influences he created throughout the music world and its fans, I believe Mr. Smith was on to something there. For my part, I’ll sign up to the quest to reinvent the word “wealth,” returning to its essence: the drive for a deeper level of well-being.

Photo by Mrs Logic

Join the discussion 5 Comments

  • Nene Odonkor says:

    The subject of wealth has also picked my interest. Nice article

    • Renee Moorefield says:

      Thanks, Nene. What is it about wealth and well-being that most interests you? How do you see the definition of wealth shifting?

  • Tobore says:

    It’s so crazy how the universe works! So today, I was sitting in bed, another Monday morning, wondering when life would start making sense to me. It’s been so long being wrapped up in the confusion of who I am, who I want to be, career path, etc. Lately I’ve been searching for something deeper in myself…I want to influence the world in a positive way and not just be another “pretty model”. My dream is to be an inspiration to many simply by being myself. In order to be truly myself, I realize I need to be fully comfortable and confident with who I am. So I started with my name…Tobore. I was born and raised in Nogeria and migrated to America when I was 7. My name Tobore means “Wealth has now been achieved”. As I sat here and meditated on that thought, I became overwhelmed with joy. Wealth has now been achieved though? Gosh I love my parents because this is the beginning of an awakening for me. So I quickly hop on google and type in “define wealth”. Of course it gives you the cliche meaning referring to money and possessions but of course I knew the definition was far more complex than that. Somehow, I ended up on your page. So THANK YOU! THANK YOU FOR THE CLARITY AND THE CONTRIBUTION TO THE AWAKENING OF MY BEING!

  • Kevin says:

    I know this is an older article, but I too was with a fiend talking about the word ‘Wealth’ and the bigger meaning behind it. I was at a seminar and was told the word ‘Wealth’ really came from the word ‘Well-being’ and hence had really everything to do with everything. We all get caught up with the opinions of others and what type of car we drive and where we live and how much money is in our bank account. I teach others that there are 5 areas of their lives of which they can work on; physical, mental, spiritual, relational and financial. In order to progress throughout life we can choose which one of these we can work on. With that said, “work on only one of them and the others will benefit.” Wealth is the well-being of achieving the highest level in all areas of your life. Agreed?