As a parent whose profession is education, I realize I will probably not pass down a large trust-fund to my children, nor will they inherit great financial capital or a slew of possessions, and I could not be happier about this. They will probably not get from me a life of privilege and power, and I believe they will be better off for it. I am always amazed at how we define success in this country. Typically we hold up as paragons of virtue money, power, fame, popularity, prestige, etc., but, when you look at the folk who most embody these qualities, their lives seem to be a total wreck. If we take those whom we value most in society for those traits–the rich, the powerful, the famous–we see very quickly that, almost without fail, these are the people whose personal lives are train wrecks. Everyday we are bombarded with stories about failed marriages (TomKat), multiple divorces, drug and alcohol addictions, rehab (Lindsey Lohan/Britney Spears), empty promiscuity (John Edwards/Tiger Woods) and on and on. It is enough tabloid fodder to keep The Enquirer busy for a lifetime! This seems paradoxical to me. Why do those with the greatest collection of “success” (in whatever way we choose to define it) seem to be the most broken, failed, miserable people? Even Tom Brady, a 3 time Super Bowl MVP, making millions of dollars a year, married to a supermodel (!!!) begs to know why his life feels hollow and meaningless (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4HeLYQaZQW0). It doesn’t add up. If we are told that the attainment of money, power, more possessions, fame, etc. will make us happy, why does it have the very opposite, often tragic, affect on those who actually attain those things?
I think it is because we have incorrectly defined wealth. I secretly grieve for those I know who pursue the above without giving any thought to whether or not actually having those things will bring them happiness. The word for happiness for the ancient Greeks (eudaimonia) did not mean a passing feeling of thrill, desire or delight we commonly associate with happiness; for them, eudaimonia was connected to human well-being and the innate idea of wholeness. In other words, happiness for the Greeks came in the realization of a life well-lived (and this was connected to the greater good, not just one’s own personal accumulation and consumption).
We have come quite a long way from this idea today. For us, wealth is only connected to one’s pocketbook. To speak of one being wealthy in our society is to speak of one having more money and more of the stuff money buys. And yet, again, I don’t see very many examples of those with wealth living “whole” lives. Scandals, bankruptcies, broken relationships, and despair seem to haunt too many who have achieved “success” in the modern context. Perhaps, given its failure to live up to its own promise, we need a new definition of wealthy.
For me, I want to be wealthy in relationships, particularly in regards to my marriage, my children, and my friends. I want my marriage to be wealthy in trust, openness, communication and love. I want my children to be wealthy in memories, experiences, and the knowledge that they are valued. I want to be wealthy in deep friendships that are honest, raw, and healing. I want to be wealthy in wisdom, humility, and grace. I want to be wealthy in leaving a legacy of blessing. I want my home to be a wealth of warmth, laughter, and hospitality. I want to be wealthy in sacrificial practices. I want to be abundantly wealthy in simplicity. I want to be wealthy in things that last far beyond my lifetime.
As you can see, the ways in which I pursue wealth will not garner many awards, accolades or distinctions, and that is probably a good thing. They also will not take me away from my family, and that is a great thing. They won’t find me climbing a ladder, gaining a competitive edge, brokering a deal or hobnobbing at privileged social events; instead, I hope they find me having more coffee with friends I deeply trust, admire and love; coaching my sons’ little league sports teams; making smores in the backyard; planning more family vacations; sleeping under the Christmas tree; singing songs at bedtime; going on nature walks; doing more father/son campouts; spending time with my boys reading for hours at Full Circle; doing more date nights with my wife; in short, having a full, rich, thick answer to the question, “What does it mean to live a meaningful life?”