How Wealthy Are You Beyond Your Bank Account?

by Xin Lu on 11 July 2008 20 comments

On my previous article about working to death I found a pretty long comment by a woman named "Jen" who has a husband that works seven days a week to provide for his family. This long and detailed rant sparked several responses saying that Jen is ungrateful for what she has. The comments pointed out many of the non-financial riches Jen has that others would love to obtain. This exchange really made me reflect on how non-monetary things make us rich.

First of all, I think anyone who has a loving family is already quite rich. In the case of commenter Jen, she has two children and an extremely devoted husband and she seems to love them quite a bit. Not everyone is so lucky to be able to find a loving mate, or even have any children. I am grateful to have a family every single day even though we have our own problems and conflicts. No family is perfect, but having a family at all is a great blessing.

Second, as some commenters said, Jen is incredibly lucky to be an American and live in America. When I moved to Hawaii from China I thought that America is incredibly clean and beautiful. When I was in my senior year of high school I realized that because I was a Chinese citizen I had a lot fewer chances for scholarships and even job opportunities. Because of this I remember being jealous of my classmates for the simple fact that they were born in America. Honestly at that time it really pissed me off that so many Americans did not take advantage of the opportunities they had. So I think anyone who is born in a country where they can freely pursue so many choices is ridiculously rich just because they were lucky in birth.

Finally, I think having a healthy body and mind makes a person wealthy. One obvious reason is that health care is quite expensive, and another reason is that as long as you are sound in body and mind you can do something productive and generate money. Unfortunately I think Jen's husband is suffering in his physical and mental health because of overwork. I agree with Jen that her husband needs to stop this destruction of his being because in the long run he may not be able to work as much and may need medical attention. Personally, I would rather go into debt than slowly wither away in physical and mental health.

For some reason I find that it is much easier for me to complain about what I do not have and it is much harder to be grateful for what I do have. I suppose it is is human nature to always want more. Wealth actually comes from the word "weal", which means well-being, so I think ultimately it is not our bank accounts that make us wealthy, but our own personal sense of well-being. If you ask yourself what non-financial aspects of your life makes you happy, then you may find that you are more wealthy than you think.

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Guest's picture

It's been said by a wise person: the first wealth is health. I am healthy, and no amount of money would compensate me or anyone else for a major disability, a life-threatening illness or even an illness that merely caused chronic pain.

I've had a good education in a major that interested me deeply. No economic downturn can ever take away from me the development of my own mind and the ability to think critically. I've also had the chance to travel extensively and see many parts of the world. Again, nothing except dementia can ever rob me of those experiences.

I have many useful skills that enhance my quality of life. I'm a decent gardener and a great cook. Those two skills mean that we eat very, very, very well on a very modest food budget. Aside from that, these two hobbies give me an enormous amount of pleasure.

I have friends, family, and pets that I love very deeply. They are priceless.

My personal definition of wealth has definitely begun to shift over the last few years. Despite the fact that frugality (and by extension money) is such a focus for me, frugality is just a means to an end. My eye is really on a life beyond debt that is filled with cheap and simple pleasures, not luxuries. Less and less do I want material things that come to me via the exploitation of workers, the deprivation of other people, or damage to the environment. My health, my skills, my education, and my friends, family, and pets don't deprive anyone else of anything. If anything, they are available to contribute to the benefit of other people. To me that's better than any luxury jewelry, art object, fancy car, or mcmansion.

Guest's picture

I'm also very fortunate to have great health, the love of my life, and a dream job/career! Everything else is gravy!

Guest's picture
Looby

You are right that it is so easy to complain rather than be grateful. I am very wealthy in many ways- I have a great and supportive family (even if they are on another continent at the moment), fabulous friends around the world, and a truly wonderful partner.
Sadly I don't think I really appreciated all this until I was diagnosed with a chronic medical condition. I may not have perfect health but it could be a lot worse and at least I have the above to keep me going on bad days.

Guest's picture

Thank you for sharing these thoughts. The timing of your article is interesting what with the financial news today. I'm sure you had no way to plan it that way. But I headed over here to see some analysis of the Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae situation and saw this instead. And remembered that I am wealthy. Thank you!

Guest's picture
Guest

I've got that chronic pain mentioned, and I'm feeling a lack in the area of romance. While I adore my kids, they're both special needs, and that comes with its own sort of price.

But I found my 'mission' - to listen. I'm not sure how to use it to my best advantage, but it's the right skill for me. Knowing that has brought me a great deal of comfort.

Guest's picture

In my own life, I find it easier to appreciate what I've already got when I don't spend much time shopping or paging through magazines.

And I love the thought that the opportunities afforded us are part of our wealth, even if we're not taking advantage of them.

Guest's picture
Jen

Hi...it's the infamous "Jen".

Don't get me wrong, everyone...it is because I'm so grateful for what I have, that makes me so mad.
Believe it or not, when something bad happens to us, I can always say "it could be worse".

I am grateful for having such a hard working Husband, who loves his family so much. I am grateful for how great a father he is when he IS home.
I am grateful for the wonderful, healthy, loving children we have.
I am grateful for us being able to own our own home. 6 years ago, that wasn't even dream-able for us. But we both worked hard and did what we needed to do to clear up our credit, (our scores are almost as high as possible now.) and get our "stuff" together and make a home for our kids. We often look back at how we thought we were so rich when he was making $500 a week, and laugh. And we try and help our family and friends who are struggling.

And believe it or not, even though everyone thinks I'm a princess, we were going to move last year, but I didn't want to. We had the mortgage "ok" to pick up to a $400,000 home. We couldn't WAIT to get out of this house.
We looked at homes with inground pools, central vacuuming systems, stainless steel appliances, huge yards with creeks and ponds....you name it. (though we also lived in reality, and knew we didn't want to spend more than $320,000, if even that.)

My Husband started getting REALLY stressed out. Even though he was the one who said "let's move". (I was up for it, too.)
He didn't want to do ANYTHING other than work and save $$.
That's fine, temporarily, but I started to realize that we weren't doing the "living" we could have been doing, and who knows if all of us would still be here when we did finally find that nice house.
So after a while, my mind found ways to NOT want us to move.
I realized that here, my kids can walk out the front door, and play with which ever kid they want to. Here, we had fun neighbors who were 20 steps away, when I needed to borrow milk, or just wanted to socialize. Here, my Husband could work 5 days a week, and we could get by fine. Here, we could still take that week vacation at the shore every year.
Here, we can LIVE.

So...I talked my Husband OUT of moving. I talked him out of the cool pool parties with loud music that no neighbors would complain about, the quiet secclusion we'd have, the trees and creeks the kids could discover nature at, the fancy kitchen and bathrooms, the numerous huge closets, the envy our friends and family would have of us and our awesome home....the stress of having to make that next huge mortgage payment, the NO vacations so we COULD make the mortgage payment, him having to DEFINATELY work 7 days a week, no matter what, and the possibility of living in the streets if his body gave out. It didn't seem right, that he'd have this great house and property, and never get to be there or enjoy it, cause he'd be working.

This was before the gas and food prices rose so high.
We sure are glad we decided to stay. But it was ME who stopped us first.
I realized that we DO have a roof over our heads, and the kids DO like living here, even though we don't. We DO have enough money for food. We are NOT having hard times as the food and gas goes up. (yet.)
But MOST of all, my Husband is a little more at ease and not so stressed out. (though he still works 7 days a week...I'm trying to break him of that. He still wants out of here later!)

The bottom line is, that I realized how lucky I am, and how nothing needed to change for us to be luckier or happier.
I just still get really mad at how hard people like us have to work, and how it seems that the HARDER you work, the SLOWER you move up the ladder. The more the government takes for Governors to have fancy cars, and fancy luncheons. The more to feed and house everyone else. (and MOST of the people I've known to receive government aid, did NOT deserve or need it. Hence, why I think America lost its way long ago.) And the more they take to have stupid wars that don't benefit us at all. Hey, at least we paid to finish the president's Father's fight! Great.

I care about my Husband's every cent, which is why I come to this site. When I buy something we don't neccessarily need, I picture my Husband slaving away at work, and I decide if his sweat (and sometimes blood) and time away from us, is too valuable for that item or not.

I am VERY lucky. And of course, it has nothing to do with our bank account.

Guest's picture
Rick

I understand Jen's frustration. We have seen a rapid rise in the ratio of the wealth of the richest in the USA to the rest of us. We have seen the middle class shrink and our standard of living stall.There are times when we all feel that "getting ahead" is a trick used to keep us running faster and to keep our eyes off the treadmill we often find ourselves on.
However when you find that you have dug yourself into a hole the first thing to do is stop digging. If the way you are attempting to better your situation is not working you need to reconsider your efforts. Is it worth doing to work over time to pay more in taxes to buy something you might have been able to do yourself? Perhaps she or her husband could learn some basic plumbing and install that garbage disposal and in doing so actually save money and spend time at home. Or better yet compost those scraps in the back yard and grow a garden.
In my opinion the thing that has always been great about Americans is not there resources but their resourcefulness.

Guest's picture
Guest

Jen,
Not to be nosy, but I have a kind-hearted question.
Do things make your children happy or would having their dad around make them happier?
I hope your husband isn't wasting his life on giving and providing money when time and love is what they and you (especially) really need.
Godliness with contentment is great gain.
He is going to die without any clothes on (my internet filter won't let me say - - .)like everyone else. It would be sad to see him leave nothing but money behind.
Jason

Guest's picture
Guest

cool pool parties...even thinking about that, that's where I lost respect for you.

Get a parttime job at Starbucks to help your poor overworked husband a little. Sell stuff on ebay.

Guest's picture
Wilson

The reality is that wages are now calculated based on 2 incomes. You need two incomes to raise children. That's why Jen's husband is overworked; she needs to get a job.

As for being grateful for what you have... this is a ridiculous sentiment when your standard of living is in decline. Next you'll be telling us to look forward to the next life.

Guest's picture
gtWise

Xin,

I just wanted to let you know that just because a picture is on flickr it doesn't mean you can simply use them in your posts. The one you posted today clearly states "All Rights Reserved". What that means unless you have asked for and received written permission from the author of the picture to use it on a clearly for-profit website you may not do so.

So unless,
1) You are Joseph de Jesus and you took the photo
2) Asked Joseph de Jesus and received permission to use his work on this site.
3) Joseph de Jesus posted the picture under Creative Commons when you snagged it and it just became "All Rights Reserved" after the fact and you can prove this point in court.

you probably should not use the picture.

I might be way off in the left field but I just thought I'd let you know. I run a blog myself with flickr pictures and I'm also a hobby photographer with some pretty nice shots (if I say so myself).

Here is an excellent article I found about why no one should actually use any kind of flickr photos on their blogs Creative Commons or not: http://www.danheller.com/blog/posts/gaming-creative-commons-for-profit.html

Guest's picture

1. I understand some of Jen's frustration, although I think some of it is not accurate. In one of her rants she said that because her husband works 7 days a week, someone else higher on the corporate hierarcy doesn't work as hard. I support people in middle to higher mgt. that may only be in the office 4 days a week, but work for hours again once they got home and work during the weekends. They also experience a high amount of stress because now that they have company-issued blackberries, the firm believes they are accessible to their whims 24/7. Not only that, that person that writes/test code at Google doesn't have three jobs doesn't mean he/she isn't working their tail off and isn't under extreme amounts of stress. Sorry, but your view seems pretty limited to the pressures of what people can go through. Now, that said, I do believe, as others pointed out, that the divide between the have's and have-not's in this country is increasing. What to do about it on an individual level? Vote for policy that levels the field more. Support businesses and initiatives that benefit the community.

On an individual level, I can't for the life of me understand why Jen can't get a part-time job or the family just live without some stuff so the husband doesn't have to work as hard. Seriously, I really don't understand. She said she doesn't have skills, well it doesn't take much to sell something on eBay or work at McDonald's on the weekends while the hubby is home with the kids. Or maybe watch some other kids while taking care of your own during the days. Really. She can't be so useless that she can't do ANYTHING. If they hubby is near collapse, then they either need to ratchet down their lifestyle even more or she step up to the plate to ease his burden.

Again, I agree that the disparity between the classes is there, complaining about it while doing nothing is not going to help Jen's immediate situation.

Guest's picture
Deb

hey everyone,
well you couldnt be more right.

My health sadly wasnt the greatest this year - and as i am recovering (so freakin slowly) i have such a great awareness of how little things that our body does for us is worth so much more than a new handbag, fancy shoes or anything else.

Thank you for writing this post ....

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

Hi gtWise, Joseph de Jesus is my husband. So yes I have his permission. I have used his photos before and all he asked is that I link to his flickr account because they are my pictures, too. That picture is from our trip to Napa when we celebrated his birthday. So yes in this case you are way in the left field, but thanks for the comment!

Guest's picture
sam

Jen and her husband should undergo some serious marriage counseling drama. It would not only save his husband lives but the family as well.

Guest's picture
Kelja

I have to say a fairly common thread running through many of these discussions is how little the government does or how much more the government should do to help out individuals.

Don't people realize that when they abdicate control of their lives to others they get less satisfied and more unhappy?

@Velvet said: "Vote for policy that levels the field more." (So, essentially, you're for forced governmental income redistribution.)

What happened to personal responsibility for raising your own level?

Personally, I don't want government to help me. I want to control my own destiny, something that is becoming more difficult as government grows ever bigger and more powerful.

Interesting to note as well that many who complain about government not doing enough to help the poor and downtrodden, complain about government doing too much in other areas - such as on the international stage.

I don't know if anybody's watching, but in the past week, the government bailed out a large bank (Indy Mac) and is guaranteeing the solvency of two GSEs (Freddy & Fannie Mac). This is just the beginning of a major financial storm.

Sorry for the rant, but I can't stand whining. Don't wait for government or someone else to rescue you from your situation.

Do something yourself!

This country is off the tracks. The Constitution is looked upon as a anachronistic curiosity and too many of us have become dependent on government.

Guest's picture
Guest

The comment about everything being geared for two incomes worries me... Because I don't have one! Not all of us are lucky enough to have married the love of our lives.

It worries me that the best thing I can do for my financial health (that I'm not already doing) is get married.

Guest's picture
Guest

To me, what it boils down to is choice. Jen's situation results directly from from the choices that she and her husband, individually and as a couple, have made. There is nothing inherently right or wrong about their choices. Whether or not any of us agree with them, or would make the same choices ourselves, is irrelevant. Everyone's situation and priorities are unique. Jen and her husband have made the choices that best supported their priorities, as they saw them. Now it seems that Jen, at least, is realizing that those choices/priorities are no longer working for her, her husband and her family. If she and her husband truly want change (as opposed to just a chance to blow off steam about it), then the best place to start is by sitting down and re-evaluating their priorities.

This means really examining their values - not just what they want for their family, but why? And what price are they willilng to pay to have that lifestyle? For example, that decision to have Dad be the sole breadwinner and Mom be a full-time (and, it appears, the only) caregiver? What are the beliefs about raising children that led to this decision? What is the true value for the children and for the parents in maintaining this lifestyle? What do the children truly gain from it - and what is the cost? Not only are there the drawbacks already mentioned (the kids never see their dad, he never sees them, his health is breaking down, he never has time or energy to play or do other tasks), there are other possible consequences as well: when Dad is home, he may be too exhausted and cranky to take on any of the parenting, or to spend "quality time" with the kids; Mom never gets a break from parenting, time to pursue her own interests and develop her own skills; the children are deprived of a positive male role model in their lives, and the balance of having both parents be active partners in parenting them. On the other hand, what might the family gain from having Dad work less and Mom work some? And what would they lose from that situation?

This is not intended as a judgment, just an example of the kind of thinking Jen and her husband need to do if they've decided they need to change their lifestyle. They may in fact decide to keep it as it is for awhile longer; but again, they can't make this decision and be happy with it until they've gone through that process.

The same goes for me, and for all of us. That's what personal responsibility means.

Guest's picture

In my eyes money should always come second. However, we need money to live. It is a tense balance sometimes. But if you can learn to earn more you can enjoy life more and work less.
That is why I create a financial blog also, to teach people how to be free of money worries