Wealth and richness are all around us. The wealth of pine needles illuminated by frost, or the way the golden light of the sun bends and shatters over moving water. The richness of connection, so prescient for many of us this time of year, the promise of gathering loved ones close, of memory making.
It might seem that this interpretation of “wealth” or “richness” is, well, generous. So often we associate wealth and richness with possession, with having an abundance or overabundance of material things. In these modern times, images of “having” are constantly at our fingertips. We’re always a few taps of a screen away from a video of a glittering hoard of a closet, or so-and-so’s post of their shiny new car, or an advertisement for an expensive potion or lotion that will finally fix our acne, our wrinkles, our insert-flaw-here (as if any of us walking miracles ever needed fixing.)
As an editor (read: professional nerd) I love words. Words are what gives meaning to my life, they’re my trade, how I make my income and how I understand the world. Words are living things. They are born. Someone, somewhere, was the first person to say “sky” and mean sky, “moon” and mean moon, “beloved” and mean the person they hold most dear. Words also die or fall out of use. But even words no longer used hold stories, just how we might know the stories of the people we came from. For people, this is ancestry, for words, this is etymology.
Every word, like every person, has an individual history, even the seemingly common ones. To say, “Well, I have no clue,” may not feel particularly profound when your spouse is asking where you left the car keys, but the word “clue” holds an entire mythos. “Clue” comes from the Middle English “clew,” meaning, ball of thread. Why would a clue be a ball of thread? It refers to the myth of Theseus, who, with the help of a ball of thread given to him by Adriane, was able to solve the labyrinth and defeat the Minotaur. How did he get safely out of the maze? He had a clew- a clue- to follow. How funny it is, then, to see a wall of clues in a crime show linked together with red string. How inherent thread seems to our experience of solving.
But back to wealth, and to richness, though we never really left. (Richness is words, richness is story! Wealth is a ball of thread to guide you through the dark, wealth is my father reading to me from a picture book of Theseus and the Minotaur when I was very small.) “Rich” comes from the Old English “rice,” meaning strong, powerful, great or mighty. So, who wouldn’t want to be rich? Richness is our birthright. Richness is our own sovereignty and our authority, our capacity for choice. It is the strength of our bodies and the dazzling creativity of our minds, and the ever-expanding bounty of human invention.
This is a richness that is egalitarian, something to which we all have access, something inherent in each of us that can never be taken away. You need only to remember your strength, your power, your own unique greatness and there: You’re rich!
I also want to consider the ways in which we describe foods as rich. Rich foods are decadent, we might eat them for nourishment, yes, but usually these are foods we eat for pleasure. When I think of rich foods I think in French, ganache, creme pate, the dizzying jewel box of a patisserie. Richness is pleasure, and the way great pleasure (the melt of chocolate in your mouth, the delicate layers of a croissant giving way into butter,) requires a sort of extreme presence. This is the richness of a life well lived, of truly soaking in joy. The richness of catching every last crumb of happiness, being fully in the moment of contentment. It is the richness of appreciating, of savoring. This richness is the recognition that simple pleasures are extraordinary, freshly washed sheets, the soft fur of a beloved pet, sun on your skin. This is also the sacred richness found in joyful purpose, being in love, or watching the growth of a child.
It’s often said that health is wealth. Sometimes, the wealth that is healthiness is often something we notice most in its absence. When we are ill, when something hurts, it feels extremely pressing. Our bodies send us constant signals that something is amiss. This is also true when something is amiss in other arenas of our lives, when we find ourselves dissatisfied or worse, suffering. It is no accident that these unpleasant sensations and emotions feel experientially loud. We are wired to notice the negative- this is a blessing. This is the same instinct that kicks in to yank your hand away from being burned by a hot surface or seems to shout “MOVE!” when you are in harm’s way. It is the instinct that forces us to come up for air when we spend too long under water. It keeps us alive. It is urgent. There’s nothing urgent, nothing reactive about noticing that you are comfortable. That you are healthy. That you are well, or content. Our experience of pleasantness can feel much quieter than our experience of pain, because when things are pleasant, you don’t have to do anything about it. And this is wealth, too. Not having to react. Not having to rush, or to fix, or to change. Wealth is a moment in your day, perhaps in the morning with a cup of coffee, perhaps in bed in the evening with a book, where everything is alright. Wealth is peace.
Saying health is wealth is also etymologically correct. The word “wealth” comes from a combination of Old English “weal,” meaning wellbeing or welfare, and Old English hælþ, or literally, in more familiar lettering, “health.” In Old English, “health” was also linked to ideas of wholeness, and also that which was holy, or sacred. This makes sense, right? Set these words next to each other, Wealth, Wellbeing, Wholeness, Holy, Health, and they resemble a family portrait. Each individual is different, yes, but look, Wholeness has Holy’s eyes, and Wealth cocks her head to the side just like her mother, Wellbeing. And so, we come to understand that wealth is holy. It is, inherently, our wholeness, the divine conspiracy of energy and matter that constitutes each of us. It is the truth that each of us is perfect. Wealth is the electric magic that constitutes our bodies and our minds.
Wealth and richness are idea nouns. Even as I write this, I can’t help hearing Schoolhouse Rock’s “A Noun is a Person, Place or Thing,” in my head. Though they don’t make it into the title of the song, concepts, or ideas, are also nouns. To me, they’ve always felt like a funny fit in the category. What do a loaf of bread, a pebble, a fish and wealth have in common? They’re all nouns, of course, but wealth sticks out like a sore thumb. I can eat bread, or touch a pebble, or catch a fish, but wealth? I can’t see it, or smell it, or touch or taste it, not literally, anyway. We experience idea nouns differently than we experience the tangible; in that we interact with them metaphorically. We bring our own meaning to them; we color them in with stories. There’s beauty in this, because in telling stories, we deepen our understanding. With every new instance of experiencing a concept, be it wealth, or richness, and love, we reinforce or complicate the narratives we already have surrounding that concept. This gives us tremendous power over our own understanding.
What ideas do you currently hold about wealth, or richness? Take a moment to pause, close your eyes and truly reflect. What stories do you tell yourself about money? Perhaps “I never have enough,” or, “because of who I am or where I come from, wealth isn’t for me.” The first step to changing a pattern of lack is to notice that you’re in one. The second step is changing the story. This is why defining wealth for ourselves and noticing that there is wealth all around us is so vitally important. We attract what we see. We become the things we focus on. Because of this, it can be incredibly powerful to write down what wealth and richness mean to you. The shift from, “there is not enough,” to, “wealth is my birthright and is all around me,” is remarkably profound. To put my money where my mouth is, I’ll go first and give an example below. I like to begin with “I define wealth as…” and continue from there.
Example: I define wealth as wellness, wholeness and oneness. I define wealth as my health, physically, financially, psychologically, spiritually. I define wealth as having enough that my dreams are made manifest.
Now, it’s your turn. How can you attain wealth and richness if you’re not sure what it means to you? So, make meaning. Define it. Set yourself up with signs along the way, a path, a clue to follow. Maybe richness to you would feel like more moments throughout the day to be present in joy. Maybe wealth is a specific number in your savings account, or maybe it is a new commitment to your health and wellbeing.
No matter what stories we have heard in the past about wealth or richness, we always have the opportunity to use our remarkable capacity for creativity to come up with new stories, ones that empower us, delight us, excite us, motivate us. Or, just as we did earlier, we can look to the past to rediscover stories and meaning that remain true throughout time. We might realize we were right all along- that wealth has always been deeper than having. That our wealth is inherent. That we’re quite a lot richer than we think.