What Constitutes a Rich Life?

When I was in college, every spring a group of friends and I would go on a canoe trip on the Manistee River in the middle of nowhere in Northern Michigan. It was something of a last hurrah before school was out for the summer.

During one of my final trips, after a long day on the Manistee, we were picked up by the owners of the canoe rental shop and driven back to our campsite. We all had a few too many Busch Lights in the sun all day on the water, so we began to wax philosophical with the rental owner, a guy in his mid-to-late 30s.

He was telling us all about his life in the wilderness with his wife. It was a simple, minimalist lifestyle. They lived in a small, beat-up trailer, didn’t have many material possessions and didn’t make a lot of money from the canoe rental business. They both had to pick up odd jobs in the winter to stay afloat.

But he told us that they couldn’t have been happier with their life. They got to work outside during the summer and be on the water all day. They worked together and got to spend quality time with each other every day. They didn’t have a much in the way of material possessions, but they didn’t want for much either.

This was at a time in my college experience when many of us were looking for jobs. My friends and I were all worried about much money we were going to make and what cities we would end up in. And I remember being struck by this guy and his wife, living a very simple life in the middle of nowhere, but completely satisfied with what they had. It made no sense to me at the time, but their attitude really stuck with me over the years.

I was reminded of this story when I read that the number of people with a net worth of at least  $25 million (excluding their home) reached a new record last year. And here’s what a group of these people had to say in a survey:

Yet the same survey found that those wealthy Americans still have plenty of financial concerns. Actually, they sound fairly miserable… and that’s in a survey taken well before the stock market took a recent tumble. They may travel more, go to ballgames or concerts, or buy nice jewelry, but 70 percent of those surveyed said they get more satisfaction out of saving and investing their money than from spending it. More than half said they worry about the next generation wasting the money they inherit. And almost a quarter (23 percent) said they worry “constantly” — constantly — about their financial situation.

Having a high net worth and living a rich life are two completely different things. In Simple Wealth, Inevitable Wealth, Nick Murray says, “No matter how much money you have, if you’re still worried, you aren’t wealthy.”

Something to think about.

The super-rich are just as miserable as the rest of us (The Week)

Further Reading:
My book review of Simple Wealth, Inevitable Wealth


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What's been said:

Discussions found on the web
  1. Martin commented on Nov 16

    It is exactly a matter of priorities, dreams, and goals an individual wants from a life. There are people who are happy poor so to say, and happy people rich as well as unhappy poor people and unhappy rich people. If you are into living in a beat up trailer and live in a nature and it makes you happy then great, good for you and go for that life. If you are happy living in a city, have a big house, travel around the world, have expensive cars, and all that makes you happy, great go for it.

    I think the problem is that many people do not know what they want and later get trapped into a life style they though would make them happy and later they realize, they were wrong and cannot get away from it. Sometimes I have such feelings, but I always strive to find happiness in everything I do in my life, be it work, job, place I live. I also dream of winning a powerball or inherit a stash of cash (there is no one I could inherit that from anyway), but later I realize that I enjoy building my wealth rather than win it.

    So if you have money and you are still unhappy, go for a life which will make you happy. Give all your money away and start from scratch (I actually did it 10 years ago). Pursue your happiness and do whine about it.

    That’s my philosophy.

    • Ben commented on Nov 16

      It’s difficult to do, but prioritizing is the key for most people.

  2. Barbara commented on Nov 16

    I think far too many people live lives that they think other people want them to live or to impress other people instead of living for them. Its sad. Don’t do that, one will never be happy as I think you would then be constantly stressed in trying to keep up.

    • Ben commented on Nov 16

      Yup, envy is a tricky one to deal with. There will always be someone richer than you are so it’s a never ending game.

  3. Michael Stern commented on Nov 16

    The “Ethics of the Fathers” about 1800 years ago already said it well:
    “Who is rich ? He who is happy with what he has.”
    They also said: “Who is strong ? He who can control himself.”

    • Ben commented on Nov 16

      Nice. I like that one. I’m going to use that in the future. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Mrs. Frugalwoods commented on Nov 17

    Such a great point. This is exactly why my husband and I plan to retire early (in 3 years at age 33) to a rural homestead. We won’t make much money, we won’t have a lot of stuff, but we’ll be out on the land working together every day. We want to build a life of purpose and intention and, from our perspective, we think we’ll be able to do that best out in nature and on our own terms.

    • Ben commented on Nov 17

      Wow. Retiring at 33? That’s impressive. Very difficult for people to have that same perspective. Very cool. Good luck with everything.

  5. Kapitalust commented on Nov 17

    A rich life is one where you have the freedom to choose how to live your life exactly the way you want to.

    Speaking of that last quote about the millionaires, this quote by Buffett comes to mind:

    “I’ve never believed in risking what my family and friends have and need in order to pursue what they don’t have and don’t need.”

    • Ben commented on Nov 17

      Good one. That’s a new Buffett quote to me.

  6. David commented on Nov 18

    As a general societal norm, I’ve found that most people’s lifestyles and priorities align with their level of income, and move in tandem with it, whether that is up or down.

    If you are the type of person who will blow through paychecks and rack up debt with a $50k income, you will most likely do the same with a $150k income. You’ll just adjust up the price of the things you blow money on.

    While I think it is great to be happy with what you have, it is also hard for most people to feel high self worth without goals and ambitions. I think the “richest” folks, so-to-speak, are the ones who can balance having goals with a controlled lifestyle, and an ability to live within their means regardless of their level of wealth. Most people are always looking to some future event that will finally make them happy. But if you don’t take a step back and find ways to be happy in your current situation, you’ll always be chasing/worried and never achieve satisfaction/wealth.