A few months ago, my soon to be 23 year old son asked me, ”Dad, what can I do to be rich?”

This led to a more thorough conversation about what constitutes riches and wealth.

I shared one of my favorite Henry David Thoreau quotes, ”That man is richest, whose pleasures are the cheapest.” 

I have often spoken to him and to all my children about learning enough of themselves to know what they can be satisfied and contented with in life. I’ve warned them against becoming prey to fad and fashion and to advertisers whose aim is to probe at discontent. 

I talked to him about ”necessity” using analogies from camping, when that which is necessary can be carried on your back. I told him my own view that whoever spends the least amount of time to provide for essential necessities is wealthiest.

We talked about the simple pleasures of life. We spoke about the gratitude that can arise moment by moment from savoring the morning’s first sip of coffee, the beauty of a sunrise, the ability to take a walk. 

We spoke about the comparative value of health, time, knowledge, character, and money. We agreed that it would be no blessing for a sick person to be granted endless days, or endless money, if their sickness could not be cured. And I think I was able to convince him that true wealth is immeasurable, but that it is very, very real, despite being subjective and not easy to quantify.

I asked my son, how would I put a dollar figure on your kindness? Or on your ability to listen to your siblings and friends and me and share the insights you’ve already gained? Or on an hour of your life?

But the main thrust of my conversation was to steer my son away from the futile effort at amassing the kind of riches that can be measured, and then measuring himself by that sum. A man may have money in stocks and in cash, but have no knowledge of the kinds of experiences that make it worth the effort to have amassed it. 

A person can be so ignorant that they think the medium of exchange is a worthy end to pursue, failing to recognize that it is only a means to arriving at some other end, the most valuable of which cannot be purchased with money.

As Thoreau also said, ”Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.”

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