What is “Wealth”?

Singapore, 2016
Singapore, 2016

I feel one of the biggest mistakes is that we confuse the difference between being “rich” and being “wealthy.”

Being “rich” means you have a lot of money.

Being “wealthy” means that you are content, and don’t need anything else.

Rich vs wealthy

What is the difference?

A lot of people who are rich are not wealthy. Meaning — even if you have 10 billion dollars, and you desire more, you are poor.

You can earn $40,000 a year and be more wealthy than a billionaire— if all your basic needs are met, and you feel you don’t desire anything anymore.

Wealth as a negative concept

I consider “wealth” best understood as a negative concept.

To be “wealthy” isn’t to have an excess of money, but rather an absence of desire, deprivation, and lust.

For example, you are truly wealthy when you don’t feel deprived. When you don’t feel like you need a new car, a new house, or a new camera.

How to kill desire

The quickest way to become wealthy isn’t to make a ton of money. Rather, the quickest way to become wealthy is to subtract from your desires.

But how do we kill desire? Some ideas:

1. Live in simulated poverty:

For a week, only eat the cheapest food, without buying anything, and not doing anything that requires a lot of money. Live far below your means— and you will figure out you don’t really need much to survive or be happy. For me, I often live in “simulated poverty” when I am traveling. I stay with my friends (usually on an air mattress or their couch), I only have 2 pairs of clothes (one on my back, and one in my backpack), and I usually eat pretty simple food (eggs and coffee can sustain me).

2. Desire what you already have:

Don’t desire what you don’t have — desire what you already have. You can also re-read old reviews of the camera, gear, or stuff you own. Then try to re-live your excitement before you bought that thing you already own.

3. Imagine losing what you have:

We don’t value anything until we lose it. If you’ve ever lost a laptop or a wallet on the train, and miraculously retrieved it afterwards, you know how amazing it feels to re-gain what we previously thought we lost. This is not only a great way to think about our possessions, but our loved ones. Whenever you meet your loved ones, imagine it is the last time you see them, and you will value their company even more.

4. Prefer 80% “good enough”:

My biggest miseries come from when I want the “best.” If we seek “good enough” (with our phones, cameras, laptops, etc) — we will be a lot happier.

5. Remember the “2 week rule”:

Humans adapt to everything— good and bad. If you buy a new BMW, you will get used to it after 2 weeks. If you suddenly fall victim to poverty, you will probably re-adjust in about 2 weeks. Psychologists call this “hedonic adaptation” — that whenever we get an increase of lifestyle, income, or anything else— we adapt to it. The interesting thing is this happens not only to good things in life, but bad things in life. So whenever you desire to buy something new, know that you will sooner or later adjust to it (which kills desire). Not only that, but if you buy things which are below your standards, you will also get used to it.


As a conclusion, don’t think that “wealth” is having a bunch of money.

Being “wealthy” is to not have desire in life. To be satisfied. To be content with what you have. To have love, family, friends, and the opportunity to do meaningful work.

To end, the ultimate wealth is time. That is the one resource we can never “gain” more of — no matter how much money we have.

So when in doubt, always value your time over money. It is the ultimate wealth.