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We Are All Surrounded by Immense Wealth

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Everybody used to be naked, all the time. Naked at birth, naked at death, naked while sitting around with people, naked while meeting strangers, naked while preparing and serving food.

This condition is hard to imagine, because everybody you’ve ever met has been in the habit of wrapping themselves in woven fibres. Coating our bodies with textiles is such a useful thing to do that everybody does it now. But the technology to do that had to be invented, and many people lived their whole lives before that happened.

In fact, many people lived and died before any material goods had been invented — at least anything more complex than sharpened sticks or stones. Biologically, those people were basically the same as us. They still had to stay warm, they had to keep their kids safe, and they had to eat. Just with no stuff.

Mother Nature gives all human beings the same raw deal: with a gun to your temple, she whispers, “Find 2000 calories today, for each member of your family, and you may live one more day. Don’t let your bodies get too hot or too cold, and don’t let anything puncture or break them. Good luck.” There is no negotiation, and no crying foul; you have to do this.

If a group of beings survives this arrangement for long enough, their children become old enough to do it themselves. We know some number of them succeeded, because we’re their descendants.

Really caught on

You could call that condition – naked, with no possessions – abject poverty. You really can’t have any less materially. This poorest state of human beings is our default state. It’s what we are, actually, before you add any accessories.

Wild animals all live in abject poverty, because they can’t invent any stuff to make it easier. Humans can improve their condition significantly by acquiring objects and knowledge. Anything useful we gain, on top of our basic no-stuff state, can be broadly called wealth. A bearskin is wealth. A sharp obsidian flake is wealth. A log placed across a stream is wealth. Knowing how to make twine is wealth.

Wealth For Sale – Cheap!

A few items of wealth can go a long way.

Imagine a group of pre-clothing, pre-stuff people, coming across a modern bag of kitchen garbage, left behind by careless time travelers. There are some food scraps in there, some balled-up cling wrap, some soiled rags and other useful materials, but the real prize is an empty jar of Kraft peanut butter. After eating the high-calorie remnants, they can use the screw-top container to carry a ration of water any distance without spilling it. Now they can go that much farther from the water source, to find more food and survey more terrain for other advantages.

That bag of garbage alone could elevate a small group of people to something slightly above the default no-stuff state, in terms of ease, maybe for a long time, if they can keep that peanut butter jar intact. The bag of garbage is wealth.

Early infrastructure

Imagine if instead of a bag of garbage, this group found the unsold stuff from a single American yard sale. Now we’re talking life-changing wealth. Enough clothing for six people. Containers galore. A stack of Danielle Steel novels, providing thousands of sheets of paper. A claw hammer and a hand saw. A screwdriver, and some screws. Forks and knives. Towels. A box of matchbooks. A bundle of ballpoint pens. Zoo animal figurines. A package of hair ties. A blue tarp and a four-man tent! Who could ever be so lucky? This group’s battle with the human condition is by no means solved, but it will be far easier than any of them thought was possible.

Now imagine they came across a modern landfill. What we might see as an embarrassing pit of refuse, they regard as a fertile mountain of food, tools, and inspiration. Just its ability to attract seagulls would be a boon they’d sing legends about. We may find it disgusting, but when compared to the absolute poverty that is our baseline condition, a landfill contains an unbelievable amount of wealth. Why do you think the seagulls and rats are always so excited about them?

Mountains Upon Mountains

We don’t regard landfills or unwanted yard sale stuff as wealth, because the life of even an ordinary modern human rests on far richer and more enormous piles of wealth – layers and layers and layers of wealth, which have elevated us so far beyond our base state that we’ve lost all perspective of what wealth even is, and how much of it we have.

Rich and still naked

Aside from all the cheap and free objects and tools that abound in the modern world, there’s such an abundance of food energy that even the least wealthy members of industrialized societies have to be careful not to consume dangerously excessive amounts of it.

Then there’s the wealth of countless institutions and systems that quietly deliver all sorts of ease, know-how, and services, directly or indirectly: libraries, maps, journalism, art, construction standards, computer networks, and ten thousand other layers of advantage.

Wealth levels vary greatly between individuals, which is inevitable when there’s so much wealth that has accumulated from so many sources. But even if you literally grew up in a garbage dump, you’ve probably always had access to an abundance of useful tools, helpful systems and infrastructure, accumulated human knowledge, and caloric energy galore — not everything you want, not everything others have, but much, much, more than zero.

Layers upon layers
Layers upon layers
Layers upon layers

Most of modernity’s wealth benefits us even when it’s owned or controlled by others. Living in a place where there are phones, even if you don’t have one, makes life far easier, and might even save your life. Simply existing within in a society with industries, courts, banks, hospitals, roads, electricity, professional expertise, and schools – even if you have no direct access to those things yourself — frees you from huge proportion of the survival burden Mother Nature still puts on every human being.

That stuff alone constitutes immense wealth, in the absolute sense. Virtually any random person from history would agree. The only person who wouldn’t is a contemporary person who’s measuring wealth not from zero but from how much some other person has.

Yet people somehow lived with none of this stuff. They had the same fragile bodies and the same propensity for suffering, and they presumably still experienced moments of connection, happiness, peace, and meaning in a zero-wealth condition.

Man, with accessories

True Value is Measured from Zero

Measuring wealth from zero is a different way to think about it than normal. What makes you wealthy, in the way the word is typically used, isn’t what you have, but what you have compared to the people near you in time, space, and culture.

It’s useful for politicians and pundits to describe wealth in this relative way — as a comparison to some arbitrary standard — because it allows them to exploit our capacity for envy and pity, and maybe convince us to blame society’s problems on their political enemies. Did you know you’re supposed to have a house and a car and an investment portfolio? If you don’t, guess who’s screwing you!

Layers upon layers, and adding more layers

Humans are prone to seeing wealth in relative terms. Watch this 1-minute clip of a capuchin monkey getting caught up in the relative view. Mother Nature prods us to strive for more than we have, as a failsafe. A bit of burning covetousness now might help you survive a future drought or famine. But it can also make you miserable, even when you’re sitting on a centuries-deep mountain of advantages.

How to Measure from Zero

Getting new things feels exciting. Simply having the things you already have, even if those things are immensely valuable, doesn’t usually feel like anything. The relative view only allows new acquisitions to feel strongly rewarding for a brief time, before you fully assimilate your new identity as an iPad-haver or Blundstone-wearer.

Feeling the full wealth of what you’ve already got is possible only when you measure that wealth from zero. Then you can feel its absolute value, rather than its relative value.

The “bottom”

The easiest way to feel the absolute value of something is to imagine, as vividly as possible, its disappearance.

Next time you go to bed, imagine the bed, the covers, the building and its contents, all disappearing from around you, dropping you naked onto the cold ground.

Pretend this is the new condition of your life. There you are, blowing in the wind. You’re still you, just with no stuff. You have to carry on with your life from here. Where do you go?

Your first impulse will probably be to rely on the abundant layers of wealth that still surround you – nearby structures to shelter in, available materials to wrap yourself in, phone systems, emergency services, friends and strangers and their piles of stuff.

Now — only if this surrounding stuff was gone would you actually have to contend with your real birthright: the base state of human beings.

But you don’t, and almost certainly never will. Now come back from this fantasy. Suddenly your ratty Wayfair duvet and noisy radiator feel like the riches they are.

My kingdom for some flannel!

Measuring from zero helps us keep perspective. I’ve often recommended a similar exercise, but in this version you make your friends disappear instead. You might know it already: when you’re with a loved one, imagine that they’re gone from your life and you’re not actually seeing them in the room with you, you’re just remembering what it was like when they were still here.

A moment later, when it clicks in your brain that they are still here, their true value – as measured against zero, not against some arbitrary status quo — becomes palpable. Who could ever be so lucky?

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Photos by Sarah Brown, Matthew Moloney, Luca Bravo, James Wainscoat, Robinson Grieg, Chris Tweten, Alex Hudson, Element5Digital, Chandler Cruttenden

{ 49 Comments }

Vsd May 17, 2024 at 2:33 am

Great great article.

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Lian Tanner May 17, 2024 at 2:37 am

This is such a great reminder. Thank you, David.

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Anna May 17, 2024 at 2:44 am

Hello, i got this same perspective that helped me enormously from a tedx talk about world wealth. If i compare myself to the world then i am extremely rich because i have a toilet, a matress, a house and a car. I am in the same box as other millionnairs. Thay have the same things but perhaps more of them but you actually only need one toilet. Some countries have most people that dont even have a toilet. If i compare myself to other people in France then we are just above poor. I tell my ids this but they dont get it really.

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gretta May 17, 2024 at 6:11 am

Thank you for this beautifully explicit thought experiment. The implications, or perhaps more accurately, the ramifications of the pretense that we can take care of ourselves because of what we have leads us to greater and more outrageous ideas of what we need. Your tying down that perspective is brilliant. And I love the understated captions, “Really caught on” and Rich and still naked”. Thank you.

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David Cain May 17, 2024 at 10:37 am

Definitely. It’s hard to see the absolute view of wealth, because comparisons happen so easily, which is why I advocate these thought exercises.

There are those moments when we do see our own wealth though, such as when our flush toilet breaks, or when the power goes out. Then we get a different kind of comparison than the usual envy/pity-based kind.

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Hazel Long May 17, 2024 at 2:44 am

Really thought-provoking. Thank you. I have been leaning towards minimalism in my possessions, and this resonates.

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David Cain May 17, 2024 at 10:41 am

I think minimalism lends itself to recognizing the wealth in things. If you have fewer things, the value of each is somehow more obvious, and I’m not sure exactly why. It seems to make your attention less diffuse or something, like you spend more time considering the usefulness of each item. If you think of a hoarder-house full of stuff, the usefulness in the stuff is a lot harder to see, even though there’s way more of it.

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Beth May 17, 2024 at 3:16 am

Yep David, I often think about exactly this – how we’ve lost so much perspective in our lives – wanting, expecting, demanding more, while not appreciating what we really have in terms of Life, health, friends, basics (food, a roof over your head, a toilet) while the ‘more’ we demand, is ruining our planet.

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Jane May 17, 2024 at 4:25 am

Excellent article. You have changed how I think about “things” and really made me appreciate everything I have. Thank you.

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Susan May 17, 2024 at 5:27 am

What a great article! I have been thinking about this very topic this week as I saw the newest Planet of the Apes movie. The monkeys had a simple civilization and were so happy. No clothes, just fires for light or warmth, lived in a community. We all have too much and your article said it so well, thank you, thank you!

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Rocky May 17, 2024 at 6:16 am

In the immortal words of Navin Johnson…..”All I need is this remote control”

Brilliant piece of work here, David….
Gracias!

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Arnold May 17, 2024 at 6:37 am

Thanks for this. It’s amazing how little we need as humans, I’ve been watching Itchy Boots on YouTube, she is a motorcyclist exploring remote areas of Africa, she meets many Africans who have very little but always offer help and appear to be happy.

Unfortunately our western economies would collapse if we all stopped wanting the latest stuff or more of it.

I am old enough to still have a ‘make do and mend’ mentality passed on from my parents, my adult children are just discovering the joy of second hand purchases.

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Arnold May 17, 2024 at 6:46 am

Sorry, this was a general comment not a reply to Rocky.

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David Cain May 17, 2024 at 10:44 am

I’m sure in a decade or so we’ll have some good research on how internet connectivity has made us much more prone to misery-by-comparison. Too much information can be a problem in so many ways, and one form of it is being hyper-aware of what you could have but don’t. I don’t doubt less connected societies are better at being happy with less material wealth for that reason.

I will check out Itchy Boots.

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Louise June 10, 2024 at 6:08 pm

In the early 90s my husband and I hired a guide to go hiking in Copper Canyon in Mexico. While hiking our local guide said this ” having too many options is not good” good insight from someone who had enough to live and prosper!

Ragnar May 17, 2024 at 6:32 am

Hedonic adaptation has gradually made most modern humans in western countries (me included) feel dissatisfied with a level of wealth and convenience that even kings and emperors couldn’t dream of a hundred years ago.

A hot bath on command, fresh strawberries and other 100% fresh fruit in winter, air conditioning and ice cream in summer. My grandmother lived through the advent of many of these conveniences, and even my dad remembers using a communal freezer powered by ice blocks to store meat and fish as a kid.

But even they had access to reliable shelter, safe heating and lighting, and predictable access to food, after that everything is a bonus really.

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David Cain May 17, 2024 at 11:01 am

I am just old enough to remember people who still used the term “ice box” to refer to a refrigerator. Ice was an important commodity and it was melting from the moment it was harvested, and it had to be transported from the harvest site packed in straw or however they did it. It seems like such a janky system, yet it worked well enough to do it, and it would have made such a difference.

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Jayme May 17, 2024 at 8:15 am

This is fine for your audience, but I think it’s really dismissive of modern people living in poverty. You seem to be saying “well you have one set of clothes and a bucket, you’re fine.” I think if more people knew the true reality of people living in poverty in this country, our policies would be radically different and articles like these would not be written.

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Tricia May 17, 2024 at 9:00 am

The social safety nets vary way too much in the U.S.
There are extremely poor people in some states who don’t qualify for Medicaid. There are “middle class” families that due to premiums, co-pays, and high deductibles have health insurance policies that are rendered useless.
If a family is lucky enough to own a decent vehicle, it can disqualify then from food assistance programs.

This part of the essay- “and maybe convince us to blame society’s problems on their political enemies. Did you know you’re supposed to have a house and a car and an investment portfolio? If you don’t, guess who’s screwing you!”
People are being hurt by those hoarding wealth. And hoarding the power to maintain that wealth. There absolutely are people and systems to blame.

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David Cain May 17, 2024 at 11:59 am

> People are being hurt by those hoarding wealth. And hoarding the power to maintain that wealth. There absolutely are people and systems to blame.

I used to assume that people who have relatively lots of wealth must have done something bad to get it, or somehow robbed the rest of us of it. That’s what people around me said, and so I said it too.

The most likely reason someone has a lot of wealth is that they produced something of value, at scale, and sold a lot of it to people who voluntarily offered their money for it. There’s definitely corruption and ill-gotten wealth, but the majority of wealth is generated by the production of the various forms of helpful and useful stuff I described in this post. The belief that large fortunes are all stolen or ill-gotten, or that wealth production is zero-sum, is an empty political meme of exactly the kind I was referring to.

I suggest putting that assumption to the test, because I promise you it does not stand up to scrutiny. Once I learned wealth doesn’t work like that, the world started making a lot more sense to me.

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Clint May 17, 2024 at 9:03 pm

Hi David. I like your blog but I am disappointed by how dismissive you are of the point you are replying to, without really sourcing anything to back up your assertion.

In a personal sense, your mindset is definitely a good one to have – being thankful for things we take for granted is a good and ancient thought. It’s even an Aesop Fable: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dog_and_Its_Reflection

From a systematic point of view, I ask that you recognize this is an extremely dangerous mindset – and one that malicious actors have used in attempts to undermine the betterment of maltreated groups. Both John C. Calhoun 200 years ago and Dinesh D’Souza in the present day.

David Cain May 18, 2024 at 12:25 pm

@Clint. I did acknowledge that there are malicious actors. I was responding to what I perceived as the zero-sum fallacy, that people with more wealth than some arbitrary standard can be assumed to be doing something bad or harmful. Maybe I inferred too much from her comment.

As you know, a lot of people assume that any wealth disparity is direct evidence of wrongdoing and I think that is a dangerous mindset. We can talk about it more if you like. There is not a lot of room in comments to unpack things.

Clint May 19, 2024 at 6:52 am

YMMV I suppose, I didn’t infer “all wealth is zero-sum” from Tricia’s post.

“People are being hurt by those hoarding wealth. And hoarding the power to maintain that wealth. There absolutely are people and systems to blame.”

This seems reasonable to me.

My main point: “Earned wealth” vs “stolen/ill-gotten gains” is a false dichotomy.

A ton of wealth, arguably the majority of wealth, is obtained a third way – plain luck or fortune.

To speak personally, I am financially well-off. Why? 1) Born to a stable family that emphasized education throughout my childhood. 2) Avoided being born with a mental or physical disability. 3) Born as a straight white male, so I wasn’t guided away from a STEM profession. 4) My career interests purely by chance happened to line up with an industry about to explode with jobs.

To link it back with your post –

“The most likely reason someone has a lot of wealth is that they produced something of value, at scale, and sold a lot of it to people who voluntarily offered their money for it.”

This might be literally correct, but why was that person in the position to be able to produce and sell those widgets in the first place? Probably some skill, but probably a lot of unearned luck too.

David Cain May 19, 2024 at 10:25 am

@Clint. Oh absolutely. In fact you could say it’s all luck from the beginning, which is why I resist the all the moralizing about what having or not having wealth says about a person’s character.

David Cain May 17, 2024 at 11:44 am

Ok, so there’s already tons of discourse about poverty and inequality. It’s a worthy topic of discussion, but it tends to take a relative view of wealth. It doesn’t say much about wealth for what it is, only what it could be / should be / how everything in the world is wrong until I feel okay about the human condition and everyone owns a house.

We seldom discuss the value of wealth itself, and how far it has already removed us (yes, everyone) from our basic condition. Political discussion of wealth and poverty doesn’t account for this because it’s invariably relative — who doesn’t have enough as compared to an assumed standard. You even said “this country” as though the yardstick for rich/poor is fixed to a given view of poverty in a particular country at a particular time. I’m trying to get us to zoom out here and see why we talk about wealth at all.

I think our fixation on relative views of wealth diminshes well-being and causes us to take even immense amounts of it for granted. I don’t think I made any normative claims about how many buckets or pairs of pants should make a person happy.

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gb May 17, 2024 at 11:44 am

If I may register my different take..
What I take from this write up is that even what you’d consider “people living in poverty in this country” would be absolute luxury compared to those from centuries ago with nothing close to what they have. So while I don’t undermine conditions of poverty and I believe it should be addressed and lifestyle elavated where possible, your different view is welcome but not enough to warrant a comment such as “articles like these would not be written”

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Erling Storvik May 19, 2024 at 1:31 am

I feel with you Jayme, and empathy with people in need is a good thing, but you missed the point. David is encouaging us to look at this on a personal level — not looking at anyone else — what they may or may not have. If you are avle to read this, and comment it, and argue, and post it, you, even if you have huge problems paying your bills and have borrowed your computer or phone, you are immensely rich.

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Tricia May 17, 2024 at 8:49 am

I live fairly simply. I have no desire for the “latest-greatest” anything. I’ve been able to live on very little income but that is thanks to general good health and a good Medicaid system(where I live) when I became ill.
I rent a small, very imperfect apartment that, for now, I can afford.
Even continuing to live simply, my wealthy life is not sustainable in the long run. Rents, heating and electric bills, food, internet and the electronic tools needed to work are all increasing in cost.
While I may never be at “near zero” the small comfort of safe housing isn’t something anyone can take for granted anymore.

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Paul Anthony May 18, 2024 at 12:50 am

Hello, Tricia. After reading everyone’s comments, yours is the most germane. Comparing ourselves to prehistoric people, people in other countries or even other times etc, is just not apropos. Most everyone, if not all, reading this blog in the here and now have real creature needs to worry about in order to sustain themselves and their loved ones to live at a most basic level, which are: clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, healthy food to eat, shelter (which includes adequate clothing) from the elements and harmful intrusion, some form of viable healthcare, and meaningful activities in order to keep our bodies and minds in a state of wellbeing. Therefore, I can readily understand your constant struggle and concern to have these things in the future. This should be the topic of discussion instead of so-called “thought exercises/experiments” with regard to “Mmm, what do we mean when we say ‘wealth’?” Instead, a discussion about how to deal with these creature needs issues, and enlarging our understanding about them, would be far more helpful.

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David Cain May 18, 2024 at 12:31 pm

> This should be the topic of discussion instead of so-called “thought exercises/experiments” with regard to “Mmm, what do we mean when we say ‘wealth’?” Instead, a discussion about how to deal with these creature needs issues, and enlarging our understanding about them, would be far more helpful.

Please help me understand — why can’t we talk about it both ways? There is already endless discourse about wealth from the perspective of our own place and time; do we need to resolve that discussion to everyone’s satisfaction before we think about the different between nothing and something? I don’t understand this take at all.

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Amanda May 17, 2024 at 9:13 am

Our life experience boils down to our perception of it. So many of us, myself included, zoom our lens into our very small portion of a much greater reality we are part of. We compare it to our friends and family or the celebrities we see on TV, and conclude our lives are lacking because others have accumulated more stuff, greater status, and assume this equates to more happiness which couldn’t be further from the truth. This is a perception issue and nothing more. An example I just read in the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali, offered the example of prisoners and guards. Guards are behind the same walls as the prisoners, but because they know they are getting paid and get to leave, they experience the same reality differently than the prisoners. Another example I have thought about many times are individuals who work for the ultra-wealthy, often living in the same home. They are living in the same expensive house, eating food from the same fridge, and enjoy many of the perks that come along with being wealthy. The only difference is the man-made title put on them: nanny, butler, housekeeper etc.
Really great article David. You always get me thinking.

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David Cain May 17, 2024 at 3:24 pm

Yes, excactly… So much of the way humans evaluate things is relative to norms and expectations and other things that change utterly when you go to a different place or different time. We can zoom out though, and use a different reference point than our own culture and expectations, and it really changes how we value things.

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Lorraine May 17, 2024 at 9:22 am

This reminds me of the first ‘The Gods Must Be Crazy’ movie. Someone dropped a coke bottle from their small plane. The tribe found many uses for it, but started fighting over it when they had never fought like that before. Time to get rid of it!

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David Cain May 17, 2024 at 3:24 pm

Ah I’ve heard of that movie but have never seen it. Premise seems right up my alley :)

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Sarah May 17, 2024 at 10:49 am

Great article, David! very insightful!

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gb May 17, 2024 at 11:34 am

Thanks for sharing
This resonates well with me with helping to keep the balance between striving for “more” and appreciating what already “is”.
Also now that you mention, more than politicians and pundits, describing wealth in the relative way I now see is also the tool for religious leaders that promise a “better life” and all the schemes they come up with around that.

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Lee Ann May 17, 2024 at 4:17 pm

I have always had a healthy perception concerning wealth.
1. Mother Nature is not motherly. She has perfected every way to kill you off. Don’t think so? Imagine NOTHING man made on a day in February in New York. You’ve got maybe a half hour to live.
2. Money is the physical representation of someone’s labor. Its only purpose is to buy things. Other humans decide what and how much for these things.
3. Money has only one true power: It makes you more of what you already are. Imagine an addict winning the lottery. How about a generous soul?
4. Comparing yourself constantly to other humans is a gross waste of your most precious commodity; your life’s time. Once spent, it’s gone forever. Happiness does not reside in things. It is born of gratitude. Be thankful in every moment you’ve got because someone else has it much worse. You wake on a bed more luxurious than all the kings and queens of Egypt and Rome. You have hot water in a shower waiting for you whenever you want as well as wonderful soaps, clothes, food, and your home. Plenty wish they were you.

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Eugene May 17, 2024 at 6:05 pm

Fine essay. It gets easier, in one sense, to imagine life without a loved one as you get older, and realize rather constantly that there’s less and less of life. I’ve done something analogous for a while. And when I lay down to sleep, the one constant I am grateful for, no matter what happened during the day, is the presence of my wife in my life.

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Russell May 17, 2024 at 6:46 pm

Hi David, thanks for the article.
I think you miss an important source of “wealth” that people used to have and now don’t necessarily, which is an abundant natural environment and free access to it, and the benefits of close social connection. Being a hunting-and-gathering human alive 30,000 years ago was no picnic, I’m sure, but at the same time they usually had access to abundant healthy food, daily exercise (they had no choice), an environment rich in “green spaces” (the world), and the support of their closest 100 friends and family, all the time. Compare that to people poor by modern standards who are hemmed in by private land ownership which forbids them from moving to better places, living with pollution, and often victims of war and displacement. The poorest people in any society often have damaging upbringings and tenuous social support networks.

Being aware of our extremely affluent position in the modern age is worthy of remembering. I wonder, however, how many modern indigenous populations would gladly wind back the clock and do without peanut butter if it meant having their pre-colonisation ways of life restored.

Thanks for the article and your website :)

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David Cain May 18, 2024 at 3:53 pm

There are definitely forms of wealth pre-stuff people had that many of us don’t, or have less of at least. There are many forms of wealth I did not name in this post, because there are just so many. On the other hand I think we sometimes romanticize idyllic images of the past. Generally modern people choose to live with modern amenities even when it is possible to live in more traditional, lower-tech ways.

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Russell May 19, 2024 at 2:10 am

Light, heat, not being eaten by wild animals: these things really are amazing!

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Robert May 17, 2024 at 7:56 pm

One of your best, but we cannot compare our lives today with the cavemen, life was too different then, but the circumstances they and we , did and do live under are the same in a way because death is always present around every corner, they had wild animals waiting to kill and eat them, we have cars and criminals, electricity and sharks to electrocute us and if we swim eat us,and Cancers! I like the use of the word wealth in the article, I think it is harder nowadays to not have any wealth, homelessness today is very unkind to anyone living with it , very unkind on cold nights!!

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David Cain May 18, 2024 at 4:02 pm

> I think it is harder nowadays to not have any wealth, homelessness today is very unkind to anyone living with it , very unkind on cold nights!!

This is a genuinely interesting question, and I don’t know the answer. I don’t think modern homeless populations in affluent societies have zero wealth the way we are defining it here. I’m sure it is quite miserable, but the access to clothes and caloric energy alone makes it much easier to survive than on the savannah. Happiness is an entirely different question.

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Peggy May 20, 2024 at 8:36 am

Great, thought provoking, gratitude inducing I have read twice and will re read again. It should have us all thinking and thanking. I’ve never replied before so I hope this does send.

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Peggy May 20, 2024 at 8:52 am

WOWOW my missive went through. At 85 I’ve mastered a new “trick.”

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Linda Myers May 20, 2024 at 2:21 pm

Wow. You are so right. Thank you.

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Linda Lesperance May 27, 2024 at 11:14 am

I loved, loved this article, David. So witty but profound at the same time.

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Heidi May 30, 2024 at 1:10 am

A useful thought experiment for sure, one which I will try to remember to induce whenever i find myself grumbling about minor (and maybe not so minor) discomforts and inconveniences (pillow is too soft:too hard, airconditioner temperature is too hot/too cold, i don’t have a maserati and so on). Seriously though, I love this perspective of comparing to zero for a couple of reasons: it will be a helpful way for me to reignite my gratitude practice when i have trouble believing myself about why i am so lucky. And it will help me broaden my perspective and appreciation of the suffering of others. I mean, in the process of thinking about and peeling back all the layers of wealth I have, my mind casts about for comparisons, for where i sit in the wealth heirarchy ‘i have clean running water available to me but i know there are many that don’t”. I am unsure if i articulated this clearly. Anyhow, thankyou.

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gamas May 31, 2024 at 12:33 pm

David, your article beautifully highlights the often unnoticed wealth that permeates our daily lives. It’s a refreshing reminder to appreciate the natural beauty, relationships, and endless opportunities for personal growth that we frequently take for granted. By shifting our perspective from scarcity to abundance, we can foster a greater sense of gratitude and fulfillment. Thank you for this enlightening piece!

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