At its worst, this recession has left countless people homeless, jobless, hungry, angry and injured. At best, it’s led many Americans to cut up their credit cards and cut out unnecessary spending. Others are voluntarily simplifying their lives, reducing consumption, sharing resources with neighbors, and finding new value in the so-called “simple” pleasures of a not-so-big life. I say “Amen” to that.
I know a lot of people with very rich lives and small bank balances, and I know some wealthy people who feel trapped and miserable in their lives. Of course there are lots of folks in between those simplified extremes, but I’m starting to know in my bones that feeling rich has more to do with how we are living that what we earn for a living.
I should disclose that I’m an American who has never known poverty. As a kid, I watched my parents struggle when my father was starting his own business, but that just meant more homemade gifts and hand-me-downs during lean times. I myself have never earned six figures, but I’ve always paid my bills, pursued my pleasures and lived comfortably. I have a roof over my head, food in the ‘fridge, health insurance, disposable income, and a ’98 Corolla that gets me where I need to go. I recognize that I live in a state of abundance compared to most on the planet, and I try not to take it for granted.
And so while my income is smallish these days, I feel rich in many things, including time. I work from home and make my own hours, which allows for sleeping in, dressing comfortably, taking walks in nature, and running errands leisurely. I also feel fulfilled by the work that I do as a writer and teacher. I have a husband and family who love me, and cherished friends with whom I can share the good, the bad and the ugly. While these things alone put me in the lucky camp, I also get a 20% family discount at Whole Foods Market, my version of Bergdorf Goodman. Ch-ching!
Curious to know what was making others feel rich these days, I asked. Most who responded to my query echoed my appreciation for family, friends, good food, pets, and natural delights like trees, sunsets, dragonflies, and a night sky thick with stars. One friend said, “I like who I’ve become in recent years,” while another feels enriched by “clarity, mutuality, partnership, and learning.” A former student says she feels wealthy when she orders whatever she wants from the menu, including dessert, without sweating the bill.
“The thing I’m most grateful for these days is all the spiritual teaching I’ve received over the years,” says a new acquaintance. “It’s been a reliable friend through some tough times and always something I can count on.” Others said they find tremendous value in feeling seen and validated, connecting to people with similar interests, donating to the local food bank, expressing their creativity, experiencing synchronicity, being there for someone in need, and enjoying art and music.
Comforting pleasures made the list, too, including fresh sheets, warm beds, purring cats, belly laughs, home-canned goods, home cooked meals, long distance calls, fireplace fires and cuddling. One friend appreciates easy access to organic produce, while another luxuriates in “reaching for something to wear after all the laundry is washed, dried, and put away.”
Good health makes many feel rich, including me. Last month I watched my dear friend Tom lose a noble battle with cancer at the young age of 50. While it was a sobering, terrible loss, those of us who companioned him during his last days actually felt gratitude—not only for our own health, but also for the chance to be included in his passage. For months, members of Tom’s spiritual community came forth to offer him support, prayers, sacred chants, and loving presence. Many of us remarked about how rich in community he was—in life and in death.
“My yogic breath makes me feel full of life,” my sister-in-law reports. “There is nothing like a deep, sweet sip of healing breath to make me feel blessed.” I agree with her, and with a fellow writer friend who says, “I love the feeling I get when I write without effort…and sometimes I am just blown away by the fact that I can see and hear and have a home to rest in.”
Whether or not you’re feeling abundant and giving thanks this week, consider these words from writer/astrologer Rob Brezsny, who notes that, no matter what’s troubling you, “Thousands of things go right for you every day, beginning the moment you wake up.”
Including the fact that you can read this right now, while many lack literacy. Give thanks. Feel rich.
This essay was also published at www.jasminbalance.com/rethinking-rich/