Wealth isn’t so much what we have or how much, but about our acceptance of what we have, how we use it, whether we give it freely or hoard it, and whether we are a like a stagnant pond or a flowing river, where wealth flows in, through and out again.
Wealth is what we leave behind, not what we take with us, although realizing true wealth in this life assures us of wealth to come in the next, whatever you might believe comes next.
My word for 2016 was wealth. I bought Benjamin Graham’s book, The Intelligent Investor, planning to learn about building financial wealth. I still haven’t read it. My experience with understanding wealth during 2016 turned out to be less about money (and the greed often associated with it) and more about relationships and accepting the generosity of others.
I started spending every Sunday with my godson’s family, sharing meals, spending time in conversations, helping out with projects in the yard, sharing the couch with one of two full sized german shepherds, basically becoming part of the family. This made me more wealthy than any amount of money I could have made. It’s also cool to pull up outside the house and hear two little rascals shouting, “Dave Tornstrom’s here! Dave Tornstrom’s here!” (Yes they use my full name. Every time. I think it’s hysterical since most of my friends from college on only knew me by my nickname, Klondike.)
I also reconnected with old friends when they invited me to their son’s 1st birthday party. I have been back many weekends for dinner, campfires, and helping out with the odd errand or two. If I had not accepted the generosity of their hospitality I would never have experienced the joy of hearing a now two year old yell, “Klondike!,” whenever I show up.
A good deal of time last summer was spent outside with friends mountain biking, boating, and camping, reconnecting with my love of the outdoors. This was magnified in my mind later in the fall, when I was feeling somewhat more melancholy than usual, and I realized this was the first summer in about 4-5 years that my parents and I had not spent a week in the Berkshires hiking and soaking in the quiet of a remote cottage.
The Generosity of Others
It may seem strange, but I was also learning to accept the generosity of others and just enjoy it. I am one of those types who, when given something, feels compelled to pay it back, or return the favor. Thus whenever someone was generous with me I felt indebted to them. I can’t stand being indebted to anyone or anything. So most of the time I learned to simply refuse what was offered, or awkwardly attempt to return the favor immediately. This is not wealth.
Part of being truly wealthy is understanding how to accept the generosity of others well. Generosity well received is a generous response to the giver. In this way we learn the value of being generous to others. True generosity is giving with no expectation of anything in return, except perhaps gratitude. Gratitude like love, does no harm. But even when gratitude is withheld, generosity is not nullified. In fact generosity in the face of ingratitude is the most generous, as it is easy to give when a thank-you is expected, but much harder when it is not.
I guess you could say by learning to accept generosity, what I was really learning was the practice of gratitude. I have adopted the practice used by many of listing at least 3 things I am grateful for everyday as part of my morning journal. It is a simple but profound exercise.
What I discovered is true wealth is much more about fostering healthy relationships, engaging in community with neighbors, being generous, and expressing gratitude with every breath we breathe, than it is about money or possessions.
Wealth is yours to decide and yours to define, but yours only for this lifetime.