With the publication of my book The Philosophical Investor – Transforming Wisdom into Wealth now happening within two months (March 17, 2015), I wanted to turn my attention to some of the various themes I focus on in the book. Wealth is one of the most important themes and is where all roads ultimately lead in the book. My definition of wealth, however, is probably different than how most people think of it.
Have you ever gone into a restaurant and opened the menu and been overwhelmed by the dizzying array of choices available? Or conversely you have a favorite go-to spot with a very limited menu but it offers you just what you are looking for? As one who lives in California, In ‘N Out Burger comes to mind for the latter while Cheesecake Factory is representative of the former. I actually like Cheesecake Factory a great deal and find its food to be of very high quality and tasty. Yet, the feeling I get when leafing through the menu is far different than when I drive up to In ‘N Out and see how few the options there are and how easy and satisfying the ordering experience is.
Who is Truly Wealthy – My Definition
So why do I bring this up? I think these examples are good analogies for how I look at what it means to be wealthy versus just having a lot of money. The Philosophical Investor – Transforming Wisdom into Wealth recounts some important lessons learned over my nearly 30-year career in the world of investing. The story behind the story is that there can be a strong overlap between intelligent investing and intelligent living. I end the book on a philosophical note going into some detail about what I think a wealthy person possesses.
I think that having money offers one a lot of options while being wealthy results in someone having a lot of satisfaction. And when I use the term satisfaction, I mean that someone experiences life with joy, lightness, and ease. Don’t get me wrong, the options created by having meaningful financial resources can contribute to one’s sense of satisfaction. For example, one can afford to have more and better healthcare options, hire a personal trainer, invest more in personal and family education, see more of the world, bring people together in unique and memorable ways, etc. Yet, despite these options there is no guarantee that a high degree of satisfaction will be the dominant mental and emotional state for an individual. This is where the restaurant analogy comes into play. I may appreciate having so many menu options at Cheesecake Factory but I may feel far more content and satisfied at In ‘N Out Burger. This gets to the core of being financially well off versus wealthy.
So what is my definition of wealth? For this I will turn to some of what appears in the book.
An individual possesses wealth if he or she has the wisdom to avoid catastrophic errors, the hunger to look within to correct and grow from mistakes, the resources (financial, physical, and emotional) to recover from setbacks, and the courage to seize opportunity, and through it all is able to experience life with love, compassion, joy, and wonder.
If I were to simplify it I would say: Wisdom, Reality, Resilience, Courage, and Authenticity. Think of the radio station WRRCA to help you remember it. I love rock and roll, so the acronym sounds like “W Rocka,” which works for me! We have to have the capacity to get up after we have been knocked down or dazed, to see our contribution to little mistakes, to ensure we avoid the catastrophic errors (akin to a permanent loss of capital in the financial realm), to build up the muscle of courage to avoid intellectual, emotional, and financial atrophy, and to live from our unique quiet centers so we can be present to fully experience the joys and sorrows of life.
I know that’s a pretty heavy definition, but I do think it covers much of what makes for a very deep and meaningful life. It takes into account connecting with others, physical and emotional well-being, self-knowledge devoid of delusion, fortitude, and a spiritual component (wonder). While the definition does involve a financial aspect, meaning and joy rarely arise if money is the star around which our lives orbit. Ideally, it’s a byproduct of a life that is well lived and balanced. Of course some people are wealthier than others; it’s the rare individual who possesses all of these attributes. Most of us, however, do have some of them. The important thing about this expanded definition of wealth is the aspirational nature of it. It’s designed to capture the possibility of what it means to live a really great life. Life altering events are inevitable and often times unavoidable and sometimes there’s just nothing we can do about changing them. What we can do, however, is do our best to make sure we don’t cause negative shifts to happen to us because of self-defeating behaviors. We can approach the tectonic shifts (another important theme in the book) and setbacks that do happen with strength and equanimity, we can seize those rare, life-altering opportunities, and we can do whatever is possible to experience it all with a sense of joy, wonder, compassion, and love.
Readers of the book will learn that I often turn to 19th century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer for a great deal of insight and wisdom. Schopenhauer had a lot to say about some of the various components of my definition of wealth. For example, Schopenhauer said the following about a few of the components:
Avoiding Catastrophic Error
Give mature and repeated consideration to any plan before you proceed to carry it out; and even after you have thoroughly turned it over in your mind, make some concession to the incompetency of human judgment; for it may always happen that circumstances which cannot be investigated or foreseen, will come in and upset the whole of your calculation.
It is a cowardly soul that shrinks or grows faint and despondent as soon as the storm begins to gather, or even when the first cloud appears on the horizon. Our motto should be No Surrender; and far from yielding to the ills of life, let us take fresh courage from misfortune.
But having once made up your mind and begun your work, you must let it run its course and abide the result-not worry yourself by fresh reflections on what is already accomplished, or by a renewal of your scruples on the score of possible danger: free your mind from the subject altogether, and refuse to go into it again, secure in the thought that you gave it mature attention at the proper time. This is the same advice as is given by an Italian proverb – legala bene e poi lascia la andare – which Goethe has translated thus: See well to your girths, and then ride on boldly.
Over to You
There is a lot more about this topic in the book but I thought I would whet your appetite with the literary equivalent of one of those famous Double Double In ‘N Out Burgers. I hope you find it quite tasty and you’ll want to come back for more in March (or even now by pre-ordering it if you just can’t wait that long!). What’s your definition of being truly wealthy?