April 20, 2021

The Greatest Wealth: Contentment

Have you ever dreamt about winning the lottery? Do you have a list of the things you would buy or the vacations you would go on if you won that money? It would be amazing, right? Acquiring such wealth sounds like it would help our worries and fears disappear. In the U.S., the largest winning lotto was $1.6 billion, split among three people, meaning that each of those people won over $500 million. For most of us reading this, that number is inconceivable. But it’s safe to assume that winning that much money would erase all of our worries, fears, and pain, right? Maybe.

Most people don’t play the lotto regularly, so this may seem like too lofty of a dream, but many of us get into a profession where we do well. We may become a lawyer, doctor, or dentist and as a result, make a lot of money. Our lives would then be awesome and everything would be perfect! Maybe.

Perhaps entering into one of these professions doesn’t seem achievable, so we focus on something else. We turn our focus towards making enough money to pay our bills and putting enough away from each paycheck so we can retire comfortably in the future so we can eventually travel the world. Making just enough money to be comfortable would be wonderful. Maybe.

You’re probably wondering why I keep ending each scenario with ‘maybe.’ Isn’t wealth the ultimate path towards happiness? After all, if we had access to all of the things rich people had access to, life would be great. Maybe. Let’s explore this more.

Having wealth, in and of itself is neutral. It doesn’t make us unhappy or happy - it just is. Wealth can provide nice thrills like flying first-class or going on fancy dates. You yourself may have always wanted to fly first class, or frequently want to treat your partner to fancy dates, but you just don’t have the funds right now. Or maybe you live in a loud apartment and you find yourself daydreaming about living in a home that overlooks the ocean. Wealth can certainly provide comfort, along with thrills like these.

But one thing wealth cannot guarantee is happiness. We may know people personally or can think of a celebrity who has access to all of the comforts and thrills but is not happy. However, many people assume that wealth has the ability to bring long-lasting happiness, but that isn’t always the case. We might think “If only I had more of this, I would be so much happier.” However, this isn’t always the case. Typically, the older we get, the better off we become financially. But this doesn’t necessarily make us happier. For example, when we were young we had very little to no money, but we had an easier time accessing happiness. As adults, we might have larger bank accounts but still, find ourselves miserable.

I believe it’s safe to assume we all know someone who had access to so much but lost their lives to suicide or turned to drugs and alcohol. On the flip side, we also might know someone who has accumulated very little wealth yet their life seems to go well. Why is this the case? To understand why this happens, it’s important to differentiate between thrills and contentment. Thrills may be drugs for a drug addict, skydiving for an adrenaline junky, or traveling the world for a jet setter. Many people don’t interact with these thrills or can’t access them, yet they seem content and at peace with their lives.

The greatest wealth that we can possess isn’t money but is contentment. This means being content wherever we are at with our lives. When we learn to cultivate this wealth, we’ll find that our lives go well no matter what. So if contentment is the greatest wealth, how do we get it?

Contentment is a mindset. People feel discontentment because they feel as though something is lacking in their lives or they wish that things were different. Many people cannot achieve happiness with what they have, even if they have means that can provide thrills. They might buy a new car that makes them excited for a few days. Or they might buy a bigger and better house and feel happy for a few weeks. What happens when we continue to achieve happiness by buying more is we find ourselves on a rollercoaster. We might feel great one day and bad the next day because our happiness is tied up in wanting things to constantly be different.

We can achieve happiness and contentment by choosing to embrace life, rather than fight it. For example, you may have reached retirement age and have been expecting to travel for a very long time. Suddenly you find yourself experiencing health problems because of age. Instead of fighting this change, you may say to yourself “This change is okay. I’m going to enjoy the health I have and when I need to go to the doctor, I’ll go. Though I wish I could travel pain-free, I’ll do my best to enjoy it as much as possible, or if I’m limited in my traveling abilities I’ll enjoy the people I do get to see and the things I am able to do.”

When we allow ourselves to flow with life, it becomes a beautiful adventure whether we’re cooking dinner or exploring the world. This is because we’re experiencing contentment. When we fight life, we become discontent. Whether you have means or you don’t, we are all capable of finding happiness and peace. Because even though life doesn’t guarantee us wealth, it does provide us with the ability to love what is before us and enjoy our lives through the struggles.

To develop this skill, it’s important to enjoy your everyday tasks just as much as you enjoy life's thrills. Having a glass of wine on vacation AND cleaning up the house can both be good experiences. When we internalize this, we’ll realize acquiring wealth is irrelevant to acquiring happiness. The greatest wealth we can achieve is finding contentment with what we currently have.