The older I get, the more I realize how important your attitude is on life. It’s more important than education, money, skill, or appearance. A poor attitude can destroy a business or a relationship, and the right one can lift it to new heights. The remarkable thing about life is that we get to choose what attitude we embrace. Every day you get to decide how you’ll react to life’s gifts and its curveballs.
Jack London said, “life is not always a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes, playing a poor hand well.”
That’s the right attitude. When it comes to building wealth, my attitude has dramatically shifted. I know money can’t buy happiness. I used to think real wealth was having lots of money in the bank, a nice house, lots of cool toys, and some money in the stock market. I’m not rich by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m doing better than I ever thought I would. As I inch closer to my past definition of wealth, I’ve noticed just how wrong I was. Here are my realizations:
1. Realize You Already Have Enough.
Here’s a true story by the prolific American author, Kurt Vonnegut:
Joseph Heller, a talented and funny writer now dead, and I were at a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island. I said, “Joe, how does it make you feel to know that our host only yesterday may have made more money than your novel ‘Catch-22’ has earned in its entire history?” And Joe said, “I’ve got something he can never have.” And I said, “What on earth could that be, Joe?” And Joe said, “The knowledge that I’ve got enough.”
In Afghanistan I slept on a cot most of the time, I went weeks without a shower at times, I relieved myself outside or in porta-potties, and the food ranged from good to expired and frozen. I worked out in the elements. It didn’t matter if it was scorching outside or ten below. We were working. I did that for over a year, and I survived. In some ways, I got used to it.
That experience gave me a unique perspective. The things I thought were uncomfortable before are now a walk in the park. My current life is grandiose compared to that. Chances are yours is also. Our biggest problems are overeating, spending more than we earn, staring at a screen too long, or not standing up enough. In short, we have more than enough.
How can we show more gratitude for what we have currently?
2. Realize That Relationships Are Invaluable
In a moving commencement speech, Arnold Schwarzenegger said, “You can call me whatever you want, but don’t ever call me a self-made man.” He goes on to say he had a ton of help getting where he is today.
“Friends are better than money. Almost anything money can do, friends can do better. In so many ways, a friend with a boat is better than owning a boat.” – Kevin Kelly
Money will come and go. The most important investments are those into family, friendships, and marriage. The right people in your corner will make you laugh, help you succeed, and pick you up when you fall. The alternative is pouring all your time and energy into making as much money as you can. To end up like the dragon Smaug, hoarding gold all alone in a cave.
3. Realize That Time Is Better Than Money
I always knew I wanted to live life on my own terms. As a little boy, I had problems with authority. People telling me what to do never quite sat right. For most of my life, I felt guilty for that. As if I was stubborn, prideful, uncooperative, or plain selfish. While I may still be some of those things, I now realize that independence was my north star. I wanted to be free more than anything in the world. That’s probably why I left home at 16, while many of my peers lived at home well into their 20s.
My definition of success is the same as Bob Dylan’s:
“A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night, and in between does what he wants to do.”
I realize now that real wealth isn’t about money. It’s about freedom. Real wealth is:
- Not going to meetings when you don’t want to
- Not spending time with rude people when you don’t want to
- Not feeling locked into status games or keeping up with the Joneses
- Not letting other people steal your time and energy
- Not feeling like you have to say yes to everything and everyone
Money can help with those things, but a lot of it comes down to your attitude and how you carry yourself.
4. Realize That Life Isn’t As Expensive As You Think
I have a luxury apartment with extra tall ceilings. I have a brand new off-road truck, and a bigger TV than my parents ever had. I don’t say that to brag, but to make a point. None of those things makes me an ounce happier than I was with an old truck, a basic apartment, and an average TV.
Like most things in life, I take them for granted now. It’s the new normal. As I accumulate more “stuff” I realize what little impact they have on my well-being. It reminds me of a scene from the 1987 movie Wall Street with Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen:
“When does it end? How many yachts can you waterski behind? How much is enough?”
The basic needs aren’t that expensive. Jeffrey D. Sachs, an economist, and author says,
“Living doesn’t cost much, but showing off does.”
Trying to impress people you don’t like is the quickest way to misery. Even if you kind of like them, you’re still chasing a feeling that won’t last. When faced with any major purchase decision, ask yourself, “Am I buying this for the right reasons?”
5. Realize That Money Can’t Buy Happiness
Celebrity deaths usually don’t have a big impact on me. The passing of two of my idols Anthony Bourdain and Robin Williams, hit hard, though.
Shortly after Anthony Bourdain died, I found myself in a bit of a funk. In my mind, he had had everything. I didn’t admire him for his money and fame, but for his lifestyle. It seemed like he had it figured out. His “job” was to travel the world, eat great food, meet new people, and experience life to its fullest. Robin Williams made millions of people laugh and made a greater impact on people than you or I probably ever will.
They both committed suicide. They had everything, and it wasn’t enough. I thought, “If they aren’t happy with what they have, then how the hell are we supposed to be?”
Then I made a life-changing realization. It’s going to sound strange, but their deaths actually gave me some hope. It proved to me that fame, money, and success won’t make you happy. They don’t solve anything. It’s freeing to know that I don’t have to worry about having any of those things anymore. I can just focus on being okay with myself.
What’s real wealth to you?
PS When it comes to managing my money, I use a software called You Need A Budget. Outside of a gym membership, It’s honestly the best investment I’ve ever made. Seriously, try it out!