5 things that make you rich (besides money)

That’s the last word uttered by a dying Charles Foster Kane in the iconic movie Citizen Kane, but it has nothing to do with his vast media and real estate empire. Instead, Rosebud is a toy sleigh Kane played with as a child, well before callously pursuing a life of power and wealth.

The sleigh “stood for his mother’s love, which Kane never lost,” the film’s writer/director Orson Welles explained in 1941.

Is it true, as Kane inferred on his deathbed, that material things don’t ultimately add up to a good life? What kinds of things can enrich our lives more than financial riches?

1) Doing vs. buying

A 2010 Cornell University study suggested that experiences bring people more happiness than material acquisitions.

“The satisfaction we get from buying vacations, bikes for exercise and other experiences starts high and keeps growing. The initial high we feel from acquiring a flashy car or mega screen TV, on the other hand, trails off rather quickly,” the study stated.

According to the report, people “are more likely to second-guess what they could have had” (like a flashier model or better price) after buying material items, but “experiences are harder to compare to others’ experiences; they belong to us alone.”

2) Human connections

In 1938, researchers started tracking 268 male Harvard students. Over 80 years, the project expanded to include hundreds of men from lower income Boston neighbourhoods, as well as some participants’ wives and children.

What was the biggest factor in how long and healthy the subjects’ lives turned out to be? It wasn’t their IQ, social class or genetics.

“It was how satisfied they were in their relationships. The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80,” study director Robert Waldinger said in a TEDTalk that’s racked up over 13 million YouTube views.

As Waldinger put it, “loneliness kills.”

3) Engaging endeavours

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi discovered people are most content when they’re completely immersed in an activity that absorbs their focus and attention, a state of consciousness he calls ‘flow.

“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times. The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile,” he wrote in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

Pursuits that push and engage us are the most rewarding.

4) Work/life balance

Charles Kane’s deathbed revelation isn’t the only one worth pondering. In a 2009 blog post, palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware wrote about regrets expressed by her patients before they died. One of the most common regrets, especially for male patients, was “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”

“All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much time on the treadmill of a work existence,” Ware wrote. “By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.”

5) Helping others

It sounds like a platitude from a Facebook meme, but generosity towards others can actually enrich our existence. After researching what makes people happy in 156 countries, the UN’s 2019 World Happiness Report concluded that, “engaging in pro-social behaviour generally promotes happiness.”

“Specifically,” the authors continued, “people are more likely to derive happiness from helping others when they feel free to choose whether or how to help, when they feel connected to the people they are helping; and when they can see how their help is making a difference.”

Naturally, we learn the value of money and are taught that material wealth is important, at least to a certain degree. There’s no denying that many modern comforts require money to acquire, but beyond the basics, we make choices to decide what we think will make us happy. Perhaps, what will truly make us rich doesn’t require money at all.


About Christine Wong

Christine Wong has been covering business and technology since 1995, when Mark Zuckerberg was in sixth grade. A former associate producer at Business News Network and Slice TV, Wong freelances while chasing after the biggest story of her life — Ben, who is 10.

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