True wealth is not only being able to work freely, as we discovered in last week’s Provision. It’s also about being able to give freely. Understood in terms of optimal financial well-being, true wealth is more concerned with doing good than with getting the goods. The minute doing good becomes your reason for being is the minute you become wealthy.
When Benjamin Franklin suggested that one could become wealthy by making all you can, saving all you can, and resting all you can (“early to bed, and early to rise”) he was putting forward a principle that has served people well since time immemorial. As social order breaks down in Baghdad, we see the other side of the coin when it comes to liberation. There is a fine line between liberty and license.
Franklin • as well as some of the Imams currently serving in Baghdad • sought to hold that line, first and foremost, through the principled practice of moral virtues. Although Franklin saw a valuable role for governmental regulation and services, he did not pin his hopes on the government for either his own advancement or for the advancement of others. He was more inclined to trust an individual’s ability to handle his or her own affairs. When combined with “the blessing of heaven,” Franklin believed that a life conducted on the basis of those moral virtues would generate prosperity more often than not.
This understanding and orientation can be seen clearly in the twenty-sixth and final issue of Poor Richard’s Almanack, published in 1757 and immediately reprinted under the title “The Way to Wealth.” Over the next fifty years, this essay • with over a hundred editions in more than a dozen languages • came to define the quintessential Franklin and even the American dream itself. Here are the highlights in seven paragraphs, excerpted and adapted from the essay itself.
“If time be of all things the most precious, then wasting time must be the greatest prodigality, since, lost time is never found again and what we call ‘time enough’ always proves little enough. Let us then be up and doing, and going to the purpose, so by diligence shall we do more with less perplexity.”
“Those that rise late, must trot all day, and shall scarce overtake their business at night. While laziness travels so slowly, that poverty soon overtakes them.”
“Employ your time well if you mean to gain leisure; and, since you are not sure of a minute, throw not away an hour. Leisure is time for doing something useful; this leisure the diligent person will obtain, but the lazy person never. A life of leisure and a life of laziness are two (different) things.”
“With our industry we must likewise be steady, settled, and careful, and oversee our own affairs with our own eyes, and not trust too much to others. Trusting too much to others’ care is the ruin of many.”
Be careful what you buy. “You call them goods, but if you do not take care, they will prove evils to some of you. You expect they will be sold cheap, and perhaps they may for less than they cost; but if you have no occasion for them, they must be dear to you. (Fineries) are not the necessaries of life; they can scarcely be called the conveniences, and yet only because they look pretty, how many want to have them. The artificial wants of people thus become more numerous than the natural. By extravagancies the genteel are reduced to poverty.”
“Pride is as loud a beggar as want, and a great deal more saucy. When you have bought one fine thing you must buy ten more, that your appearance may be all of a piece. It’s far easier to suppress the first desire, than to satisfy all that follow it. After all, what use is this pride of appearance, for which so much is risked, so much is suffered? It cannot promote health or ease pain; it makes no increase of merit in the person, it creates envy, it hastens misfortune.”
“What madness must it be to run in debt for superfluities! We are offered (generous) terms, but think what you do when you run in debt; you give another power over your liberty. Creditors have authority at their pleasure to deprive you of your liberty, by confining you in jail for life. So disdain the chain of debt, preserve your freedom; and maintain your independency: Be industrious and free; be frugal and free.”
I am struck by Franklin’s definition of leisure. “Leisure is time for doing something useful” or, as I quoted from Tim Gallwey in last week’s Provision, “for making a meaningful contribution.” I am also struck by Franklin’s perceptive and prescient analysis of what drives our economy and yet destroys our lives: consumer debt. Our artificial wants have indeed reduced many to bankruptcy and poverty.
Perhaps this accounts for why Franklin never wanted to title his final essay in the Almanack series, “The Way to Wealth.” That was the publisher’s idea. Franklin would have titled it, “The Way to Contentment.” Seek contentment, and wealth may follow. Seek wealth, and contentment may elude your grasp. As Poor Richard himself once observed, for “the use of money is all the advantage there is in having money.” And Franklin wanted to be sure to use it well.
Reading Franklin’s principles today, almost 250 years later, it appears we haven’t been paying much attention. More people, and more nations, are in debt now than ever before in pursuit of “the good life” which is sometimes satirized as “those who die with the most toys win.”
As consumerism is exported around the world, the problem of artificial wants coming back to bite us gets amplified a thousand fold. Instead of trying to keep up with our next-door neighbors, we are competing with television icons and media stars who have no basis in reality. No wonder the system gets so many of us in trouble!
But there is a better way. One could even call it Franklin’s way. Instead of thinking about wealth in terms of excess financial resources, we can think in terms of optimal financial well-being. We can think in terms of using our money to do something good, rather than to get the goods.
This is what happens when we make the shift from riches to contentment, from excess resources to optimal well-being. We suddenly start thinking of ourselves as having something to share with the world. We focus more on our abundant gifts than on our inherent deficiencies. We are no longer seduced by our artificial wants; instead, we focus on meeting our natural wants along with the natural wants of others.
Truly wealthy people think more about doing good than about getting the goods. On the high end, this is called philanthropy, altruism, and community service. But we don’t have to wait for the high end to start thinking about doing good. Once again, this is a shift we can make instantly, regardless of our current net worth. As soon as we start thinking of ourselves as having more than enough to share, we have entered the ranks of the truly wealthy.
Unfortunately, many people with excess financial resources fail to grasp this important dynamic. Benjamin Franklin once put it this way in a personal letter: “what we have above what we can use, is not properly ours, even though we possess it.” Truly wealthy people understand this. They think of themselves as stewards rather than as owners. If they have more than they need, and most of us do, they become paragons of generosity, service, and social justice.
Why then do lower-income people give away more money, as a percentage of income, than higher-income people? Because higher-income people are caught up with those artificial wants. And lower-income people understand first-hand that what we have today may be gone tomorrow, so better to share when we can and make a few friends then to wear out our welcome through tight-fisted stinginess.
Fortunately, the global challenges of the past few years have caused everyone, all the way up and down the economic ladder, to start thinking more critically about who we are, what we have, and how we want to carry ourselves in the world. My hope is that everyone will become consumed with a passion for doing good. We may not always know exactly how or what to do, and we’ll certainly make plenty of mistakes, but once that idea takes hold, there’s really no end to the good we can do.
Franklin used to start each day by writing in his journal the answer to one question: “What good can I do today?” At the end of each day, he wrote in his journal again, only this time asking himself, “What good did I do today?” This was the practice that made Franklin a wealthy man beyond his humble beginnings and most of his contemporaries. It is a practice that will still work today.
LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)
Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob.
I want to say your site is great. I have been reading Provisions on my Pocket PC for a few months and when I finally went to your web page and found past Provisions I was very pleased. I like your approach of using Provisions, it is a slow and sometimes painful journey that we must undertake to find who we really are and who we would like to be and it cannot be completed over a weekend. Your one Provision a week is the right speed, lest we overdose on too much of a good think.
If we become the model for gluttonous consumption, what happens if China and other developing countries follow suit? We will pollute the planet even more. Already over population is having devastating effects. More mouths to feed, more strain on limited resources…more wars for those resources.
What’s important to understand is that wealth and/or health are not truly achieved until you get comfortable with a fundamental truth • no one, no “thing”, or no amount of money WILL make you happy, wealthy or healthy. ONLY you can allow yourself to be happy, wealthy or healthy in your life. In your thoughts of wealth only you can decide what being wealthy means in your context. We each decide what amount of money constitutes wealth. Even if wealth is judged by something other than financial excess, it still applies that only you can decide what being wealthy means to you.
I live in Connecticut and I was wondering if you could give me any contacts in my area that I could get with or if you know of any type of weekend training like you offer but in my area. I would like to be a better me and be all that I can be and help others reflect a positive attitude. If you can help or know of anything in my area or nearby that would be fantastic. (Ed. Note: I don’t know of anything in Connecticut. You may, however, find LifeTrek telephone coaching to be of great assistance. Let us know if you’re interested. You may also want to search for a coach in your area using the International Coach Federation’s Coach Referral Service, Click)
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
LifeTrek Coaching International
121 Will Scarlet Lane
Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043