Wealth is easy to measure but hard to value.
When George Vanderbilt moved into Biltmore – the largest home in America at 178,000 square feet – one newspaper in 1899 wondered what the point was.
The goals of the country’s richest during the Gilded Age, it said, seemed to be “devoting themselves to pleasure regardless of expense.” But often they got the reverse: “Devotion to expense regardless of pleasure.”
George didn’t spend much time in the 250-room mansion which, by the time he died, had nearly bankrupted him.
Twenty years before Biltmore was constructed, the New York Daily Tribune wrote that “The Vanderbilt money is certainly bringing no happiness to its present claimants.”
That wasn’t closet jealousy. Armed with the world’s greatest fortune, the Vanderbilt family seemed committed to proving the idea that money doesn’t buy happiness.
They took it a step further, showing that when managed poorly money could in fact buy resentment, insecurity, and social anxiety. It could buy it in bulk.
Money buys happiness in the same way drugs bring pleasure: Incredible if done right, dangerous if used to mask a weakness, and disastrous when no amount is enough.
The highest forms of wealth are measured differently.A few stick out:
1. Controlling your time and the ability to wake up and say, “I can do whatever I want today.”
Five-year-old Franklin Roosevelt complained that his life was dictated by rules. So his mother gave him a day free of structure – he could do whatever he pleased. Sara Roosevelt wrote in her diary that day: “Quite of his own accord, he went contently back to his routine.”
There’s a difference between working hard because you want to and working hard because someone else told you you had to, and how to do it, and when to do it.
Even if you’re doing the same work, the independence of doing it on your own terms changes everything in the same way that sleeping in a tent is fun when you’re camping but miserable when you’re homeless.
To me, the highest form of wealth is controlling your time.
*Featured Photo credit: Ben White on Unsplash