By Richard Dolan
“In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”
- Abraham Lincoln
What Do You Want Out of Life?
While some people focus on striving to build their net worth, others have as their goals wanting to feel happy, to live an abundant lifestyle, to create powerful memories with loved ones, to enjoy vibrant health, and to be able to treasure the opportunity to share their financial blessings with others. Someone who achieves all this may well have a high net worth, but he or she would certainly have a high life worth, as well.
Growing the right kind of wealth, says Paul Stoltz, needs to become the new conversation about money. And thanks to Stoltz’s research and education, this idea has become an inspiration inside the realm of seeking, buying, and communicating about “Life Rich” real estate.
If you were to ask a thousand people if they consider themselves wealthy, most would say no. Yet each person is worth millions, based on the value inherent in that individual’s life. So you have to consider: How should people determine their wealth? Should they base wealth on the size of a bank account or other assets, or are there other definitions of “value” that apply?
Here’s what the great Johnny Cash wrote on this theme in the song “A Satisfied Mind”:
How many times
Have you heard someone say
If I had his money
I could do things my way
But little they know
That it's so hard to find
One rich man in ten
With a satisfied mind
Money can't buy back
Your youth when you're old
Or a friend when you're lonely
Or a love that's grown cold
The wealthiest person
Is a pauper at times
Compared to the man
With a satisfied mind.
There is so much truth in those words. A man on his deathbed may have a million dollars, but he’d give it all away for a chance to live without illness and be able to enjoy all of what life has to offer, even the seemingly small things—like going for a walk, attending a concert, going out for dinner, falling asleep with his wife in his arms, or watching a sunset on the beach. Our enjoyment of the greatest treasures of life has nothing to do with our financial wealth.
We’ve all seen bumper stickers that say something like, “Whoever has the most toys when he dies, wins.” Perhaps that makes sense to a nine-year-old, but if we’re adults racing to accumulate toys and trophies in order to show the rest of the world that “we’ve made it,” that is a pretty hollow victory. We remain life poor. Unfulfilled. Even despairing.
Don’t get me wrong—I enjoy fine living and affluence within reason just as much as anyone else. But affluence does not equal happiness. Choosing to live a happy life means looking deeply into the concept of what I call being Life Rich. Money can pay for a university education, launch a business, or help someone in need. It can cover the cost of an urgent medical procedure or build a school or hospital in a Third World country. In the hands of someone who is deeply committed to living a life of happiness and passion, money can be transformative.
The Three Life Stages
In our quest to achieve our goals and dreams throughout our lives, we move through three stages:
Survival: When we start out in a career or job, we have few material assets. We worry about paying bills and perhaps childcare expenses, and such financial pressures can stress a marriage. This is not a fun place to be. Feelings of frustration, resentment, and hopelessness may prevail over love and affection and the sense of being a team that is needed to work together to solve challenges.
Success: Through consistent effort, personal development, relationship-building, and the seizing of opportunities, people create traction in their career and start making money. A larger house, a cottage, a luxury car, and finer clothes are all hallmarks of demonstrating success in a world that is ever more competitive and even greedy. Egos are nurtured by climbing the ladder of social success.
Significance: Sooner or later, the excitement of having the latest new toy fades and we’re left seeking the new trophy. But if we pay attention, we come to realize that the pleasure we take in our awards and rewards, as justified as these may be, depends on the difference it makes in other people’s lives. Where can you make an impact with your wealth? Where can what you have strived for and achieved be truly rewarded on a deeper level?
If you could live your life over . . .
People approaching their centenary were asked what they would do differently if they could live their life over. Here are the top two themes:
- They wished they had taken more risks. As Wayne Gretzky famously said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Given the chance, these seniors would have taken more shots in life. They’d have been more daring, bold, audacious and courageous. Taking this to heart, I encourage you to step up to the plate and strive to achieve despite the risk of criticism or failure. By daring more, you accomplish more. Launch a business; pursue a creative dream; do not be timid about reaching out to people to be a mentor or coach. Pay less attention to the opinions of others. Regret comes more so from what we didn’t do, rather than what we did. “The bitterest tears shed over graves,” said Harriet Beecher Stowe, “are for words left unsaid and for deeds left undone.”
- They wished they had done things that would outlast them. The respondents said they’d have invested more time in creating something enduring, something that would have made a positive and lasting mark on their community and the world around them. Most of us set short-term goals simply to manage today’s problems. These wise seniors said that they would have set longer-range goals and spent more of their time supporting a cause that would live on after them.
As the survey demonstrates, people want to know that they have stood for something. They want to leave a legacy and know that they’ve made a difference, that the world is a better place because they walked the Earth. As a spiritual leader once said, the Creator bestows on all of us a gift at birth. The gift could be a talent to sing, an ability to inspire people with strong leadership, or possessing a selfless heart to serve others. Whatever their gift is, many people return it unopened when they die.
With all of this in mind, I encourage you to spend some time thinking about how you can achieve a Life Rich future. Write down your thoughts as you reflect upon the following:
- What is the top priority on your life, and what could you do today, tomorrow, or this week to invest in that priority? If you knew you couldn’t fail, what would you do?
- What can you do that will outlive your mortal experience? What will be your legacy, what you’re remembered for?
To create a Life Rich future, we need to be clear on the priorities that will give our lives meaning, purpose, and a profound sense of direction.