As the old saying goes, “Money alone can’t by happiness.” That’s true, but there’s something else too: Lacking wealth can make you very unhappy. If you doubt that, try asking people who have lived in poverty.
Much of my work is about helping people build resilience, overcome challenges, and find ways to turn adversity into opportunity. One important (yet often overlooked) part of overcoming adversity is understanding, building and leveraging wealth. And it’s not just about money. Let’s take a look at wealth and understand the three kinds of wealth that everyone needs to build.
Financial wealth is not income
Financial wealth is what most people mean when they think about wealth, and there’s a robust financial planning industry to help on that front. However, too many people make a fundamental mistake: They confuse income with financial wealth. Financial wealth is really about net assets—total assets less total liabilities—and high income doesn’t always lead to financial wealth. Many people with a high income also have high liabilities and large financial commitments—commitments that consume virtually all of their income—thus leaving financial wealth low. Income can also be variable and unpredictable, such as with a job loss or business downturn. When managed well, financial wealth tends to grow at a predictable rate over time, and it can be a stabilizer against the uncertainties of income.
Intellectual wealth in a rapidly changing world
Intellectual wealth is the sum result of education, work experience and investments in lifelong learning—it’s intellectual capital. Intellectual capital pays return in a number of ways, including qualification for higher paying jobs and more effectiveness on the job. However, the ultimate benefit of true intellectual wealth is that it can become self-perpetuating. People with the highest levels of intellectual wealth focus on lifelong learning and continuous self-improvement. They have the ability to gain even more knowledge and to better cope with change. That level of intellectual wealth is critical for prospering in today’s ever-changing world and in the increasingly knowledge-based economy.
Social wealth for an interconnected world
Social wealth is the most overlooked form of wealth. Social wealth is the sum of social relationships, and relationships are often the key that unlocks opportunity. It might be a relationship that points you toward an important job opportunity; a relationship that provides information to address a critical issue; or a relationship that helps secure investment to launch a new business. We build social wealth by investing in relationships and connections, a topic I discussed in my prior article, “Stop Networking! Start Connecting.”
And there’s another way that social wealth provides value: We live in an increasingly interconnected world, where companies no longer hold to strict hierarchies. Instead, most companies now operate as a complex network of relationships. People with higher social wealth have significantly more influence and are best equipped to navigate the more complex modern corporate paradigm.
Access to opportunity, choice, and increased resilience
Perhaps the biggest confusion around wealth is about the benefit it delivers. Most people mistakenly see wealth as access to luxury, and that misunderstanding leads to the “money can’t make you happy” fallacy. Wealth—in all its forms—provides access to opportunity and choice, and it’s those opportunities and choices that lead to happiness. A basic level of financial wealth provides for fundamental needs, such as food, decent housing, health care, and education for your family. On a higher level, financial wealth provides the opportunity to choose more meaningful jobs; to be more selective about choosing an employer that aligns with your personal values; or maybe to pursue a high-risk venture such as starting a company. Similarly, intellectual and social wealth provide access to a broader array of knowledge, insight and understanding—all of which increase options and choice. And people who have more choices have far more opportunities for resilience, and ultimately more opportunity for happiness.