We all want to be rich. I know I do and I’ll be the first to admit it. But I’m not sure my definition of “rich” fits with traditional thinking. When you describe someone as rich, you are typically not talking about their fat content. That’s reserved for rich foods like triple chocolate, salted caramel hot lava cake. When we say someone is rich, we are not saying they are fat; we are saying they have lots of money.
And I’ll be the first to admit (again) that I’d welcome the opportunity to be rich in the traditional sense. To not have to worry about the mortgage payment and braces and car insurance and how much a college credit costs these days and whether the expense is worth it in the long run. I think most of us would like to be rich in the traditional sense, while also understanding this is quite unlikely.
Most of us live paycheck-to-paycheck or close to it. We may delay a large purchase until the tax return money comes in. We try not to overcharge on the plastic because that could get us into trouble. When we splurge on something extra like a vacation or clothes with a fancy label it is most often for our kids. If there is money left over at the end of the month, we are glad.
Most of us don’t have firsthand experience having lots of money in the bank or funds tied up in the stock market, but we can be rich nonetheless. And it’s a richness that far surpasses the monetary kind.
I’m talking about family. I’m talking about friends. I’m talking about relationships and a purpose above and beyond the realm of mere money. I’m talking about a richness of life.
How can people in underdeveloped countries – those living in poverty, without adequate shelter or clean drinking water or indoor plumbing or the season’s latest version of a name brand sneaker ever find it within themselves to smile, much less be truly happy? Easy answer: they are rich. They know what is important – and it isn’t things.
Things are needed and necessary, of course. But they can’t ever make us rich. Not really.
Here in the U.S. we take so many things for granted. We are a culture based on things, money and the power it can buy for us. We forget sometimes what it means to be rich – in the purest sense of the word.
During our marriage, my husband and I have lived through various levels of monetary richness. It seems we’ve always had enough to put some gas in the car and buy the groceries for the week, but despite income fluctuations we’ve always had just about enough. Nothing more. Nothing less. But we’ve always been rich.
We began our married career with a whole lot of love and not much of a bank account balance or income. He was still in school and I worked two jobs. The best one paid about $10 an hour. The money end didn’t matter. We were happy and we were rich.
I remember one Saturday when we were still newlyweds we wanted to go to a new movie, but didn’t have enough money for the tickets. This was in the days before debit cards worked everywhere and people actually used real-live paper money when they needed to purchase something. We looked under the car floor mats for errant quarters and dimes and found enough to go to a matinee. We were rich.
We welcomed babies into our lives and became even richer.
We made the bold and brave decision for me to stay home with our babies and our income was cut in half while our richness expanded along with our family size.
Over the years, we’ve invested in our family and it has paid off and I am glad for our decisions. They have made us rich in ways we maybe didn’t contemplate, but are glad for today.
Do I wish I had a million dollars in the bank? Absolutely. Most days, at least. Would I swap my choices and family for that outcome? Not in a million years. A million dollars doesn’t make a person rich; family, people and connections do. Every minute of every day.
Here’s hoping for your personal richness – and mine, too – even and especially if it involves a triple chocolate, salted caramel hot lava cake.
Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, published playwright, author and member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Don’t miss a slice; follow the Slices of Life page on Facebook.