Here is a man, Mark Hopkins, who was one of the richest and most envied men of his day. He owned a mansion that would dwarf many hotels I have stayed in. He had servants at his beck and call. And I would not even consider trading lives or houses with him. What we sometimes forget is that we are all infinitely more wealthy than even the richest of the “robber barons” of the 19th century. We have longer lives, more leisure time, and more stuff to do in that time.
One of the lasting impressions that traveling to India at a young age left me with was the fact that I, in my middle-class American life, was fabulously wealthy by the standards of a considerable chunk of the world’s population. Perhaps this is why I never fell seriously prey to the kind of wealth-angst that apparently large numbers of even upper-middle class Americans feel. Wealth isn’t just a number. It’s about value. And while I may bitch and moan from time to time that I can’t afford all the toys I might like, I never lose sight of the fact that in all meaningful respects I am wealthier than almost anyone who has ever lived. Not only do I have objects of concrete value like a DSL internet connection, well-stocked supermarkets nearby, and a vehicle capable of traversing thousands of miles in a matter of days; but I have the leisure and the resources to invest in the intangibles like meditation, time spent outdoors, and the company of friends.