Types of wealth, we obsess about two but there are many

types of wealth

How courageous do you think you are?

Courage is not easy to define, it’s not just those that are willing to go to battle. It’s also those that aren’t afraid to go out of their comfort zone and make big changes, those that persevere when things get tough, or simply those that aren’t afraid to approach a stranger. But let’s assume there’s a perfect way to measure courage.

And now imagine a world where the level of your courageousness is visible, just like your height or your hair colour. In this imaginary world, your level of courage is represented as a physical attribute.

Those who are gifted with high levels of courage have big noses. The bigger your nose the braver you are. Now that this trait is visible to everyone, can you imagine how desirable this physical feature would be? Nose enlargement would become the most popular cosmetic enhancement overtaking breast augmentation.

Just as men go to the gym to get bigger muscles they would also feel pressured to get bigger noses. But I guess it would be somewhat desirable for women too. If this personality trait of bravery doesn’t work for you, swap it out for something else, maybe empathy or being funny. The point is, what we desire is often only what is visible to others. It’s because it influences our social status.

Now think about that for a minute. It’s not that we want or need the “the thing” it’s that we want others to know we have it. In my less than perfect example of big noses representing bravery, it’s not that large swaths of the population would all of a sudden need big noses or bravery, it’s that they would want others to know they have it.

Now, what does all of this have to do with types of wealth?

The title of this post states that there are many types of wealth but we obsess about two. The reason we neglect the many other forms of wealth is due to them not being visible. Which means we don’t receive social credit. From a purely logical standpoint, it’s absurd. Our evolutionary hardwiring used to be useful for survival and to propagate our DNA, however, in today’s world of abundance, our genetic tendencies are more of a hindrance and serve Facebook, and Amazon’s share price more.

Two types of wealth we obsess about

It’s a close-run contest between the two wealths that we obsess about most. Let’s first discuss beauty.

As much as many of us would like to think so, beauty is not subjective. The old saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” was probably first said by someone that wasn’t particularly attractive.

Beauty is a wealth we obsess about

If you had to define what makes someone beautiful in one word, that word would be “symmetry”. We (or our genes) use symmetry as a proxy for good health. It’s also widely believed that faces that obey the golden ratio are more aesthetically pleasing. On the whole, we generally agree on who’s attractive and who is not.

I’m sure there are people that won’t agree with this systematic way of defining beauty, however, something that most will agree on, is that society obsesses about it. It makes up a gargantuan part of global GDP. Just think about the money we spend on looking good, it’s everything from; cosmetic surgery, expensive hairdressers, fashion, makeup, fitness (to a degree), and anything that falls into the bucket of “conspicuous consumption” (where we’re trying to elevate our status).

Everywhere we look there are beautiful people in advertisements and on social media that make us feel inadequate. When we lived as hunter-gathers we would have rarely seen these stunners. But in today’s world, we have outliers of beauty beamed into our consciousness throughout the day. This makes us feel below average, and more importantly, keeps us spending.

You’re either rich in beauty or not, the fact it’s visible to the world to see and because you can spend money on altering it, it’s one of two wealths we obsess on. The other is money.

There were no prizes for guessing money as the other wealth that society is transfixed on. In fact, when you use the word “wealth”, it is assumed you are referring to money.

Again, just like beauty, money is quantifiable, and more importantly, it’s visible (via goods and services) for everyone to see.

Here’s one final thought experiment for you before we move on to the other forms of wealth (that are arguably more important).

Imagine for one moment that the earth’s population has been wiped out by a pandemic and you’re the only survivor. You are given an option, you can be wealthy in beauty and money or wealthy in mental and physical health, bravery, knowledge, and motivation.

In this imaginary world, retail outlets will deliver to you via drone, so there’s no problem with spending money, you can still buy a flash car and wear designer clothes. But obviously, no one can see. What do you choose, intrinsic or extrinsic wealth?

Without knowing your answer, I’m sure there’s a good probability that fewer people would opt for extrinsic wealth in this world of only you. Money and beauty’s value diminishes when we can’t show it off.

Types of wealth

We can place each type of wealth into one of the following five categories: (1) mental, (2) social, (3) freedom, (4), physical, and (5) financial. Within each category, I’ve come up with the wealth values listed below (which may not be exhaustive).

(1) Mental
Mental wealth

By far the largest category when it comes to wealth is mental wealth. If you’re mentally wealthy then you’re at a distinct advantage to someone that only has material wealth.

  • Intelligence
    Intelligence is an entire category of it’s own, with many sub-values. According to Howard Gardner‘s theory, there are at least eight and probably more types of intelligence. We’re lead to believe that we’re only smart if we’re good with words and numbers, which is a very linear view. IQ tests are an incredibly blunt tool. We are all more intelligent compared to the next person but in different ways. Here are some of the intelligences from Gardner’s theory:
    • Logical-Mathematical (good with numbers),
    • Linguistic (good with words),
    • Interpersonal (good with people),
    • Intrapersonal (good with oneself),
    • Musical (good with music),
    • Naturalist (good with nature),
    • Visual-Spatial (good with visualisation),
    • Bodily-Kinaesthetic (good with the body)
  • Health
    Is there a better wealth than being rich in mental health? This could also be defined just as happiness. On the whole, accumulating money is an effort to become happy, however, some of us are just born happier and are mentally stronger.
  • Purpose
    We all know someone that is driven with purpose, whether that be in their job, private life or both. These people are wealthy in purpose. Would you rather work a job that is purposeful and that you’re passionate about, or paid double to work one with zero purpose?
  • Courage
    Having courage is an enviable quality. I speculate it’s something we all have a lot less of compared to our ancestors that consumed less media and lived less comfortable lives.
  • Memories
    For a memory to be forged you need to have had an experience. What are your memories from this year, and how about last year? Your memories are what make “you”. If you’re wealthy in memories then you’ve had a wealthy and fulfilling life.
(2) Social
Social wealth

We all know people who are socially wealthy. Would you rather have more money and be lonely or have an abundance of friends, family, and loved ones? For most people, it’s an easy choice.

  • Status
    Again, society has us chasing superficial values, and social status falls into that bracket. We wear expensive clothes, drive cars we can’t afford to impress our neighbours and elevate our status. Celebrities spring to mind when it comes to those richest in social status. It’s an empty value though.
  • Friends
    Who wouldn’t want more (real not Facebook) friends? Some of us are naturally better at keeping hold of them and nurturing new ones. There appears to be a relationship between having more money and fewer friends. The theory being, with the accumulation of resources, we need to rely on others less. Also, people that work long and stressful hours are unlikely to create new relationships outside of the workplace.
  • Family
    Family and friends are normally bucketed together into a single classification, however, there’s clearly a distinction here. Being wealthy with family isn’t to do with the size of your family, but the quality of your relationships within it.
  • Love
    I started this post with the two wealths we obsess about (money and beauty), and love would probably make third place. It’s something we posses or aspire to have. Quite often it’s confused with lust or the hormone (oxytocin) which peaks and then naturally diminishes over time. Within this lust period comes more sex which is our DNA doing its job in trying to propagate. If we separate love from lust, it’s safe to say that we want to have loving relationships with our friends and family.
(3) Freedom
Freedom wealth

Some of the least free people are those incarcerated. If you are financially, physically, and socially rich, none of this does you much good if you are poor in freedom. It’s not just prisoners who lack freedom, it’s also those that work long hours, or are stuck in loveless relationships. Being rich in freedom (or time) is a wealth many of us take for granted. If you lack freedom then you can’t enjoy any of the other wealths that you may possess. They’ll be no time to spend with friends and loved ones, enjoying a hobby, or travelling. Because society is so obsessed with material wealth, the wealth of freedom is neglected, moreover, they often work against each other as acquiring more material wealth normally means sacrificing your freedom. How free are you?

(4) Physical
Physical wealth

We have already discussed physical wealth with respect to beauty, however, one that is significantly more important when it comes to physical wealth and that is physical health.

  • Health
    It’s arguably the most important wealth to have. As they say, “without your health, you have nothing”. Some poor health is visible, if you eat badly and don’t exercise, it normally shows up in your BMI, however, just as important is stress which causes inflammation and heart disease but because it’s invisible and doesn’t affect our social status, we don’t worry about it so much.
  • Beauty
    The wealth of beauty has already been discussed so no need to linger on this point. Whether we like it or not, some of us are more wealthy in beauty than others. What’s worth considering is whether spending (or obsessing) on this extrinsic wealth is a good use of time.
(5) Financial
Financial wealth

We are all fully aware of financial wealth so the only point I would elaborate on is that within this category we have two values. In theory, you could be rich in one (goods and services), without being rich in the other (money) and vice versa.

  • Goods and services
    You don’t have to be wealthy in money to be rich in goods and services. Debt can help with that. Lots of people have an abundance of clothes, gadgets, subscriptions and flashy cars that they can’t necessarily afford which makes them wealthy in stuff.
  • Money
    If you’re wealthy in money then you’re probably wealthy in goods and services but on occasion you’ll hear of a multi-millionaire that lives their entire life frugally. So it’s possible to be wealthy in money but poor in goods and services. Being wealthy in money used to about how much gold you owned, now it comes down to how large your digital ledger entry is.

So there you have it. I’m sure there are other types of wealth that can be added to this list. Society only gives value to things that can be counted or seen. But we know this not to be true. No one wants to be a material pauper but it shouldn’t come at the cost of sacrificing life’s non-visible riches.


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