For this thought exercise, you won’t be needing calculators or budgeting apps/spreadsheets. What you will need is an open mind. Have you ever wondered why some people who have millions feel poor and dissatisfied, while others who have very little feel wealthy and content? In short, monetary wealth is only one form of capital. There are many others that contribute to how rich you actually feel.
Jim Carrey once said, “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.” This is because monetary wealth is only one form of capital — financial capital. A person can have enough money to last a few lifetimes and still feel depressed, lonely, and empty.
Patrick Meagher puts it best when he said,
Some people are so poor, all they have is money.”
AppleSeed Permaculture developed a model called the Eight Forms of Capital, which I think represents a holistic model of wealth. The only thing I feel is missing is Health Capital (which I suppose could fall under Living Capital).
Most people only pay attention to financial capital and if they bother with the other forms of capital, they do so only as a means to increase financial capital.
Cultivate One of the Best Forms of Capital: Social Capital
Social capital refers to factors that enhance the functioning of social groups. In particular, the fostering of interpersonal relationships; the real, face-to-face, meaningful connections we all need as human beings. This primal requirement was essential to the survival of our species, especially when we were living in small tribes.
Our capitalist system has led to many advancements for our species, but along the way, it has also caused some unintended consequences. One thing it did was give us some level of independence from our group or tribe. We no longer need to know the people we depend on for survival (e.g. farmers, technicians, sanitation workers, etc.); they are now anonymous strangers always there to support us.
Our liberation from the network of people around us allowed us to solely pursue self-satisfaction, individualism, and extreme competitiveness. And we do it without much regard for others.
The other thing capitalism did was create exchange-values for nearly all aspects of society. A person’s worth was given an exchange-value. This was his labour-power, i.e., his ability to produce capital. As Karl Marx wrote, he “is nothing else, his whole life through, than labour-power… all his disposable time is by nature and law, labour-time, to be devoted to the self-expansion of capital.” Human connections were also, on some level, given an exchange-value. Connections between people became tied to monetary profit.
We used to see human connections as essential to survival, but now many of us view them as a waste of time, unless there’s money/profit in it. Drives that used to be complementary and reinforcing — the need to develop connections and the need to make ends meet — are now in opposition. But the reality is that the need for real, face-to-face, meaningful connections is still hardwired in us.
In talking with Gen Zs and Millennials, I get the sense that a lot of them are lonely and filled with angst. But I also get the sense that much of this comes from emptiness in their lives. They often tell me that they are not close to their family. They don’t talk much to their parents. Time and communication even with their friends are often virtual, through device screens.
“When I get home, I usually go directly to my room. Everyone in my household just stays in their own rooms,” a poly student once told me.
This is what you get from real face-to-face interactions:
- A subconscious message that says, “I like you and enjoy your company. You are worthy of my time and attention, and I am worthy of yours. We both value, appreciate, and respect each other.”
- A sense of safety, security, and belonging. When you get sick or injured, who will you trust to help you; someone you paid, or someone you have a deep meaningful connection with?
- The ability to express yourself, listen, and be heard. When you need to vent your frustration, who will be there with a sympathetic ear?
All these things help to fill that void and give you a sense of self-worth. If you don’t have deep and meaningful connections, marketers are quick to direct you to other things with which you can fill that void. This can cause you to remain on the hedonic treadmill – forever.
Social capital may be more powerful than financial capital, and accumulating it may be far more fulfilling.
Realise Just How Rich You Are
Besides deep social connections, there is another thing that all people who feel rich have in common — they are sincerely grateful for what they already have.
Just think for a moment how many things in your life today were considered miracles just half a century ago (or even a decade ago). In many ways, you’re much richer than any billionaire used to be.
Yet it’s amazing how quickly we adapt to higher standards of living and adjust our expectations accordingly. What was impossible yesterday becomes normal today. Taken for granted, even. And this steady rise of ungrateful expectations makes us feel entitled, dissatisfied, and empty.
And just like a lack of belonging, the absence of gratitude is dangerous and can lead us to seek out ways to fill the emptiness.
In a sense, (once basic needs are met) how rich we actually feel can be altered by factors other than financial capital or standard of living. By redefining wealth (paying attention to other forms of capital), strengthening social ties, and frequently expressing gratitude, maybe we all can be ‘Crazy Rich Asians’.