Our society is obsessed with wealth. Wealth creation, wealth management, other people’s wealth. From Refinery29’s famous money diaries, to the latest company acquisition and newly minted billionaire, to personal finance communities.
Personal finance communities are especially obsessed with wealth. For good reason, wealth is the end goal of striving for financial freedom. Money that makes money for itself, i.e. wealth, is the whole point. We’ve considered everything from hierarchies of methods to generate wealth ranked by estimated time and degree of difficulty (startups = hardest but potentially the fastest, by the way), to apps to share wealth tracking updates. Look up a financial influencer and there’s a strong chance you’ll find their net worth in their bio, diligently updated and broken down by asset class every month, for all to see. That's not to say that there aren’t very real benefits to people’s lives and livelihoods from freely accessible financial education delivered via social media.
It's to say that, if comparison is the thief of joy, and you find joy in life, comparing wealth will steal both joy and your life. That’s because it’s not how rich we are, but how rich we feel, that determines our risk for life problems. If we feel that other people have greater wealth, regardless of actual incomes, the more likely we are to experience depression, anxiety, and chronic pain. The more likely we are to have diabetes, heart problems, and shortened lifespans. The more likely we are to make poor decisions and perform badly in our jobs.
Knowing that comparing wealth is harmful for us, we need a new way to think about it. One that recognises that we can’t avoid comparing ourselves to others in the internet age. So what does wealth mean in the modern age?