Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Feel Rich Without Money

Ok, maybe not without any money, but without the tons of money most people imagine they need to be rich. I have nothing against money, and I certainly want to earn a comfortable amount, but as I've said before, you have to want to earn money with some kind of goal in mind, and not just for the sake of earning money.

I've been thinking about this a lot--how much is enough? And while other bloggers have tackled this question recently (like Leo at Zen Habits), I am interested in finding out how I felt so rich as a kid when I know now how little money we had. How was it that it felt like more than enough, when by most people's standards, it was far less?

I was talking to my mom about this the other day, and while I remember the occasional times my parents said that we couldn't buy something, I never remember them making a big deal out of it. It was never the end of the world. And so I guess it wasn't the end of my world, either. I told my mom the other day that despite some tight times, I never, ever felt deprived. In fact, I remember my childhood with great color, texture and richness.

I do think that some of that had to do with how much unconditional love I felt from my parents as a child, but I also recall taking joy in the smallest things. Going to the lake to feed bread crumbs to the ducks, or reading a favorite book in a tent pitched in the backyard. Or the handmade swings my mom painted for me and my brother that hung for years under the old live oak tree.

Now that I'm an adult, I want to make sure that I stay on the path of feeling rich without a ton of money. What were those ingredients? Here are some ideas:
  • Family and friends come first. This may seem obvious, but it really makes a difference. Feeling as though you are giving time, attention and affection to your friends and family and receiving it in return is the surest path toward a feeling of true wealth.
  • Being allowed to find what you love and then having time to do it. Fortunately for my parents, I was never much interested in dance or sports, but instead found the relatively cheap activity of reading my greatest pleasure. (Although at the rate I blasted through those books, we went to the library instead of the store.) I loved that my parents accepted that that was my interest and didn't try to push me into something they wanted to see me doing, like I think so many kids today are. I found what I loved, and I was accepted for it. Today, I think that means you need to find friends and loved ones who support you for who you are and what you're interested in. If you're acting to impress someone else, you'll always feel like something is missing.
  • Finding wonder in the daily world. This one seems hard for so many people, and I wonder why that is. I am constantly amazed that the world is the way it is, that my dog seems to be able to understand English words, that that paint color matcher at Home Depot is so accurate! There are marvels all around, and it's important to appreciate what an amazing thing the world really is.
  • Being thankful for everything you do have. You know, the Christmas ads have started the earliest they ever have, and I for one am indignant about the attempt to storm right through Thanksgiving. Christmas lost its magic for me about the time I became an income-earning adult and realized what a mad consumer push it is. Thanksgiving is the holiday that now has the most spiritual resonance for me, as it is the time where I reflect on how lucky, fortunate and blessed I am to have good health, good friends and a loving family (and dog!) Even if everything else is crap, if you are healthy, you have riches already beyond your imagining. We live in a time where we live longer, better and healthier than at any time in the past, and we have more opportunities to use our healthy bodies for good work and service than ever before. Even if your health is not ideal (as mine has not been this week), you can find gratitude for the capabilities you do have, and for the creative mind you've been given that can help you to maximize your abilities. When sickness strikes or a family member falls ill, do you ever give thanks for a giant TV? It's fine to have a giant TV, but it's not fine to think that it means anything more than what it is. It's just an electronic box. That's it.
I'll leave you with some more of Joseph Campbell's wisdom, from The Power of Myth:

Campbell: I came back from Europe as a student in 1929, just three weeks before the Wall Street crash, so I didn't have a job for five years. There just wasn't a job. That was a great time for me.

Moyers: A great time? The depth of the Depression? What was wonderful about it?

Campbell: I didn't feel poor, I just felt that I didn't have any money. People were so good to each other at that time.
And there you have it. If he could feel rich during the Depression, anyone can feel rich today.


Anonymous said...

Your Blog rings true in many ways, but I see a problem with using Campbell's wisdom from 78 years ago.

Campbell did not feel poor because he was amongst his peers that were on the same socioeconomic standing that he was.
And with the great divide currently that this country is seeing between the wealthy and poor with the middle class being all but wiped-out it is hard not to feel like you need to be a top performer for the livelihood of your future and future family. To give them the best possible chance to succeed and not struggle in their future endeavors. That is of course if you and your family has their health. But as a counter point if you do not have your health then it is at this point that you realize how important money really is at this point.

"People were so good to each other at that time." Campbell

Well, this is just not the case anymore the world has just become too segregated with classifications for everyone and everything. With every a new genre for music, movies, socioeconomic classes, etc...being created every minute.. we have been taught to look at everyone and everything in categories, not just as Americans trying to live, survive and thrive in this new country for the ambitious and free called America.

Anonymous said...

In response to the anonymous post:

I believe the point Tiffany is trying to make via Campbell's teaching is that feeling "rich" has nothing to do with socioeconomic standing. Rather, feeling "rich" is a form of living with wonder and thankfulness. As she points out in the first paragraph, this form of living isn't about glorifying poverty or privation. Instead, it is about learning to live without making money or material possessions into the touchstone and purpose of life. I agree that the world is different than it was in Campbell's time, but I am of the opinion that dismissing the past teachings simply because the world is different is to dismiss the timeless nature of true wisdom.

As far as categories and specialization go, I agree divisiveness can originate from them. I especially feel that over-specialization in the sciences, without regard to art, could have disastrous effect. I posit one way to overcome the divide created by increasing categorization is the idea of team work. The show House gives a (dramatic!)example of how a team of specialists can work together and be stronger as a result.* The ka-tet in Steven King's Dark Tower series is another example of people with different skills coming together to achieve a higher purpose. Team-work, tribe: these are ancient ideas. Specialization threatens community and interconnectedness by narrowing human interaction to specific intellectual areas. Nurturing the idea of "team" might help us overcome our own penchant for labeling and recapture the well-being that comes from people being good to one another,as Campbell says was the case in his time.

Another option that can be practiced by an individual is to refuse to label people. Try not to react to people as if they are their labels. I know from trying how difficult that can be; the more enthusiastic a person is for their
particular label (Vegan! Democrat! Feminist!), the more they start to shape themselves into that category. However, recognizing human need and human compassion goes beyond the labels and into the reality of human life, human suffering, human joy. Life is more than labels.

- erzsebet

* My idealized team, though, wouldn't be a team of all scientists, but would include artists, philosophers, scientists, mystics...