However you measure it, it’s more about value than currency.


Researchers for Harvard Business School recently surveyed 4,000 millionaires about the correlation between money and happiness. Among their findings were that wealthier people are somewhat more content than those with less money. Overall, a person with a net worth of $10 million is happier than a person worth $1 million.

Yet regardless of how much money somebody had, the survey participants felt like total happiness was always still a few more dollars away. Whether their net worth was $1 million or $10 million, they all indicated that they needed just a little bit more to be completely content.

“The biggest misconception is that more will be better,” concluded Harvard business professor Michael Norton, who conducted the study with Grant Donnelly.

So what, then, is wealth? Business Alabama asked three non-businesspeople to reflect on the question. Their responses have been edited for length and clarity.


Tony Cooper

Executive Director of the Jimmie Hale Mission in Birmingham

Wealth is not just money. Webster’s says wealth is “a plentiful amount.” Does that mean you have more than you need? It may not be more than you want, but more than you need. It’s not about having enough finances or materials. It’s about having your needs met. That’s a whole different concept.

According to Maslow’s Hierarchy, there are four levels of needs. Food, shelter and clothing are physical needs. The next level is emotional needs. That you know that you have worth and value, that you’re accepted and approved and have a proper self-esteem. Then you have intellectual and philosophical needs. What is your purpose? Then the fourth is the spiritual need. I define that as fulfilling the God-spot that is within you.

You can be financially wealthy and still be poor by not having your needs met. You are poor emotionally. There are a lot of rich people who are just not happy. They make that first million and think that’s going to take care of all the needs that they have, but it doesn’t.

There’s nothing wrong with money. Money is neutral. All of us want more money. But we don’t want money controlling us instead of us controlling it. Do you love things and use people, or do you love people and use things? Do you define yourself by your possessions? Do you define yourself by how big your bank account is? What does a person feel is going to bring about well-being? And once they obtain it, were their expectations realistic?

So true wealth comes when all your needs are met, whatever they might be. Because if your needs aren’t met, then you’re operating from a deficit.

Cary Estes is a Birmingham freelancer for Business Alabama.


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