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But Alex knew there is a questing, philosophical side of me— and our readers—that would be intrigued. I liked the idea of exposing a great talent like...

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Beyond Wealth The Road Map to a Rich Life


John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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Copyright © 2011 by Alexander Green. All rights reserved. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey. Published simultaneously in Canada. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, scanning, or otherwise, except as permitted under Section 107 or 108 of the 1976 United States Copyright Act, without either the prior written permission of the Publisher, or authorization through payment of the appropriate per-copy fee to the Copyright Clearance Center, Inc., 222 Rosewood Drive, Danvers, MA 01923, (978) 750-8400, fax (978) 646-8600, or on the Web at www.copyright.com. Requests to the Publisher for permission should be addressed to the Permissions Department, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 111 River Street, Hoboken, NJ 07030, (201) 748-6011, fax (201) 748-6008, or online at www.wiley.com/go/permissions. Limit of Liability/Disclaimer of Warranty: While the publisher and author have used their best efforts in preparing this book, they make no representations or warranties with respect to the accuracy or completeness of the contents of this book and specifically disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose. No warranty may be created or extended by sales representatives or written sales materials. The advice and strategies contained herein may not be suitable for your situation. You should consult with a professional where appropriate. Neither the publisher nor author shall be liable for any loss of profit or any other commercial damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages. For general information on our other products and services or for technical support, please contact our Customer Care Department within the United States at (800) 762-2974, outside the United States at (317) 572-3993 or fax (317) 572-4002. Wiley also publishes its books in a variety of electronic formats. Some content that appears in print may not be available in electronic books. For more information about Wiley products, visit our web site at www.wiley.com. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data: Green, Alexander, 1958Beyond wealth : the road map to a rich life / Alexander Green. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-1-118-02761-5 (hardback); 978-1-118-07832-7 (ebk); 978-1-118-07833-4 (ebk); 978-1-118-07834-1 (ebk) 1. Success in business. 2. Success. 3. Wealth—Psychological aspects. 4. Conduct of life. 5. Self-actualization (Psychology) I. Title. HF5386.G73 2011 650.1— dc22 2011002025 Printed in the United States of America 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

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To Karen

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When the Buddha began to wander around India shortly after his enlightenment, he encountered several men who recognized him as an extraordinary being. They asked him, “Are you a god?” “No,” he said. “Are you a saint?” “No.” “Are you a prophet?” “No,” he said again. Perplexed, they asked, “well, what are you then?” The Buddha replied, “I am awake.” — The Pali Canon (29 BCE)

To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake. How could I have looked him in the face? —Henry David Thoreau, Walden (1854)

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Foreword Introduction

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Part One: Dollars and Sense


Are the Rich Smarter than You?


Are You Losing Your Soul?


Impatient Optimism . . . and Radical Generosity


You Can’t Google This


The Only Thing that Really Matters


The Principle Thing


The One Thing that Changes Everything


The Trouble with Happiness


The Key to Personal Freedom


Change Your Perspective, Change Your Life


How Your World Will At Last Be Built


The Most Important Job on Earth


One of Life’s Great Miracles


The Power of Negative Visualization


How to Reclaim Your Life

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Why It’s One of the Seven Deadly Sins


The Ruling Passion of the Noblest Minds


Part Two:


Wealth beyond Measure

Are You Uncurious?


The Road Not Taken


They Make Us All Richer


Are You Ready for the Grand Tour?


The Quintessence of Life


What Women Really Want


An Incandescent Drop of American Fire


The Most Civilized Thing in the World


How to Eat Like a Zen Master


The Sublimest Activity of the Human Mind


Drunken Monkey Ice Cream . . . and the Wisdom of Thornton Wilder


The Lost Art of Conversation


What Success Really Means


What Are Your Sins of Omission?


The Beauty of Slowing Down


When Entertainment Becomes Art


Do You Have a Secret?


Are You Amusing Yourself to Death?


In Praise of Idleness


The Tyranny of the New


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Contents Why You Should Know “The Indispensable Man”


A Revelation at 4,500 Feet


Part Three: Knowing and Believing


Tolstoy’s Forbidden Book


A Shameless Veneration of Heroes


A Path to Personal Freedom


Your Greatest Risk


Are You Part of “The Great Conversation”?


A 2,600-Year-Old Manual for Living


If You Knew What Jim Brown Knows


The Noblest Expression of the Human Spirit


The Art of Living Consciously


How to Let Your Life Speak


A Legacy of Inspiration


The Only Thing New in the World


The University on Your Shelf


We Are All Greeks Now


The Wisdom of Hillel


Meditations of the Philosopher-King


Part Four:

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Matters of Life and Death 211

Discovering a New Sense of the Sacred


The Highest of Arts


Emerson: The Quintessential American


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The Life You Can Save


Coming of Age in the Milky Way


The Literature of Truth


Your Connection to Everything


The Difference between Knowing and Believing


The Lessons of Haiti


Your Trip to “The Undiscovered Country”


The Beginning of Wisdom


Of Lost Souls and Lucky Stiffs


How to Pull the Universe Out of a Hat


It Makes Everything Meaningful


The Truth about Myths


Your Place In “The Great Story”


Seven Principles of Spirituality


Afterword Appendix Further Reading Acknowledgments About the Author Index

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As the head of a $45 million financial publishing company, I lead a very “bottom-line” kind of life. I spend a good deal of time thinking about how our team can generate more products, more revenue, more profits, and more satisfied customers. Yet, like many of us who are employed full time, I strive for balance between work and play, responsibility and enjoyment. Too often, for instance, I’ve forfeited a beautiful Saturday morning outside for work projects that could have been delegated or postponed. That may give you a clue why I consider the book in your hands essential reading. Since you’ve picked it up, it’s safe to assume you already know there’s more to a genuine sense of wealth than just working, saving, and investing. For one thing, we have to define what “being rich” actually means to us. Then, no matter how much financial success we enjoy, we have to learn how to spend not just our money but also our two most precious commodities: our time and attention. During my 20-plus years as publisher for The Oxford Club, I’ve had the good fortune to work closely with some of the most astute investing “gurus” in the business. Certainly, the author of ix

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this book is one of the best. Alexander Green is a “wealth master,” a trusted guide for hundreds of thousands of regular readers. More than 10 years ago, in his desire to help others reach financial independence, Alex left a major investment bank to join the Oxford Club as our Investment Director. Soon after, the Club’s Communiqué track record was named one of the best in the nation, and still is by the leading industry-tracking group. Thanks to Alex and his clearly defined investment principles and recommendations, I’ve made better personal financial decisions than ever before. And, as he leads the world’s largest private investment club, countless others have benefited from his work, too. Perhaps the most rewarding part of my job as his publisher is to read the testimonials that hit my inbox each day. This comment about The Oxford Club was recently posted on the respected financial web site MarketWatch: The key player is undoubtedly Editor Alexander Green, who has developed a dramatically successful track record, expressed through several portfolios, since arriving in 2001. —Peter Brimelow, author of The Wall Street Gurus and an editor of the independent Hulbert Financial Digest

About three years ago, however, Alex proposed a new kind of advisory for our members, one that discusses wealth not in material but spiritual terms. At first, I thought it might be too risky. So did my colleagues. The subject matter would be deeper and more controversial than our normal financial communications. It might offend our most conservative membership. It would take us beyond the “core competence” of our normal business. Worse, it would cost money to produce with no expected financial return. But Alex knew there is a questing, philosophical side of me— and our readers—that would be intrigued. I liked the idea of exposing a great talent like Alex to a broader audience. Once he showed me a few drafts of what he had in mind, I couldn’t say no. I subdued my bottom-line rationalizations and recognized that this kind of “wealth guidance” could be priceless.

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And so, after much going round on the name, we launched the first issue of Spiritual Wealth in February 2008. It was one of the best moves I’ve made and an instant hit with readers, generating more positive feedback and gushing testimonials than anything we publish. Through Spiritual Wealth, Alex deftly manages to present his readers with fresh insights on how to lead a mindful, compassionate, and intelligent life— being ever respectful of different religious and political beliefs. With each concisely written essay, he titillates us with a nugget of truth or lesson from history that we can apply to our lives, here and now. After a year of broadcasting Spiritual Wealth online to our readers, John Wiley & Sons published the first 65 essays in an anthology, The Secret of Shelter Island: Money and What Matters. The book was an immediate success, climbing the best-seller lists within days of publication. Alex has now taken the next 65 essays and turned them—along with some of his other thoughts — into the book you now hold in your hands. If your experience is typical, you won’t just enjoy it, you’ll tell your family and friends about it and give it often as a gift. Alex stands out in the financial publishing world because his writings are smart and accessible to readers. His views are sharp, uplifting, and often amusing. More importantly, his investment advice works. But his thoughts on how to live a fuller life are just as valuable, perhaps more so. In Beyond Wealth, Alex engages us further, both intellectually and soulfully, fostering our inner wisdom so we can see things more clearly and make better choices in our lives. Alex is a master craftsman of the written word. Through each short essay, we are provoked to give attention to the things in our lives that matter most. You will notice in these essays that he virtually never tells you what to do— or even what to think. Yet the sheer persuasiveness of his voice compels you to acknowledge his point of view and follow his pathway to a richer life.

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If you are like me, whenever you come across something that makes you feel energized, uplifted, reborn, set straight, or enlightened, you want to share it. It could be a new song or piece of art that exhilarates you or touches a deep chord. It could be reading a short story that opens your eyes to something new or meeting someone that you want to have in your life. When these magical moments happen, we want to share them. That is how I feel about Beyond Wealth. I already know you’re going to love it. Julia Guth Executive Director The Oxford Club

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“Beyond Wealth?” a friend asked with a strange look when she heard the title of my new book. “Why beyond wealth? I’d be happy to settle for wealth.” No she wouldn’t. You can’t wear your stock portfolio, ride on your bank account, or eat gold and silver coins. Money is never an end, only a means to an end. Even if you have plenty of money and the things it can buy, your life won’t mean much if you don’t have decent health, someone to love, close friendships and personal interests, and something to get you out of bed in the morning. I don’t mean to downplay the importance of money in today’s world. Over the past 25 years, I’ve worked as an investment adviser, research analyst, and financial writer. I feel strongly that everyone should strive for some measure of financial freedom, whether you define that as being independently wealthy or just getting out from under your credit card debt. You can’t reach your potential or live life to the fullest if you spend your days swimming in concerns about money. xiii

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Money is independence. It liberates you from want, from work that is drudgery, from relationships that confine you. No one is truly free who is a slave to his job, his creditors, his circumstances, or his overhead. Money determines the kind of house you live in, the neighborhood your kids grow up in. If you’re sick, it can mean the difference between a good doctor and an amazing doctor. If you need an attorney, it’s the difference between using an ambulance chaser and getting the best legal representation money can buy. Wealth is the great equalizer. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or woman, black or white, young or old, tall or short, handsome or homely, educated or not. If you have money, you have power— in the best sense. Wealth is freedom, security, and peace of mind. It allows you to do and be what you want, to support worthy causes and help those closest to you. It enables you to follow your dreams, to spend your life the way you choose. Money gives you dignity. It gives you choices. That’s why every man and woman has the right—perhaps even the obligation—to achieve some level of financial independence. If the most pressing concern in your life right now is money (or the lack of it), let me direct you to my first book, The Gone Fishin’ Portfolio. A New York Times best seller, it reveals one of the shortest, simplest, most direct routes to financial freedom. However, this book is not about success, but rather, significance. In these pages, I don’t talk about earning and saving more or generating a higher return on your investments. Nor do I have any brilliant ideas about how you should spend what you’ve got. (You have your own ideas on that subject, I’m sure.) Rather, this collection of essays is about something else: living a richer life. You might reasonably wonder how I could tell you anything about that. After all, I probably don’t know you personally. Your passion may be NBA basketball or interior decorating or rebuilding vintage automobiles. You’ll find nothing here on those subjects. And even if I were to hit one or two of your interests, who am I to define the good life?

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The answer is that human beings have had a few thousand years to ruminate on the subject. And the best ideas are not new. That doesn’t mean, however, that most of us are familiar with them. In school, you will learn plenty about differential equations, the life of a cell, or how to find France on a map. But as to what constitutes the best life, you’re pretty much on your own. That generally means learning things the hard way. Too many of us wind up chasing the false rabbits of success—money, fame, status, and possessions—and then feel curiously empty when we achieve them, if we do. Too often, the world is governed by false values. Rather than following our own path, we look around and start doing pretty much what everyone else is doing. You can easily get the impression that you should strive to know important people, gain power over others, acquire expensive things, or be highly thought of by your neighbors. But these are just the tinsel of life, glittering but worthless. Socrates famously said that the unexamined life is not worth living. Yet many of us never really stop to consider what matters most, what it is we are really living for. This subject is so personal, in fact, that it can be a bit awkward to talk about, even with those we know best. Yet the subject can’t help but captivate us. These essays are some of my thoughts about what constitutes a rich life. And while my personal biases are on full display, many of the best ideas here I am merely passing along. However, I did consult some of the greatest minds of all time, including Aristotle, Plato, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Jesus, Buddha, Thomas Jefferson, Tolstoy, Gandhi, Einstein, even Richard Feynman and Stephen Hawking. We are all ignorant of many things. The world is too big and complicated for it to be otherwise. But none of us should be ignorant of how to live. It makes sense to understand something about what the wisest men and women down through history have thought about love, work, honor, trust, freedom, death, fear, truth, beauty, and other important subjects. I touch on all of these—and many more—in the pages ahead, as well as a few personal interests, including wine, jazz, travel, chocolate, literature, art, and . . . um . . . hummingbirds.

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More than anything else, my goal is to convey the sheer delight of discovering things, of seeing, listening, reading, and experiencing great ideas. Perhaps the book of Proverbs says it best: With all thy getting, get understanding. That’s an excellent first step to a richer life.

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Dollars and Sense

In the early spring of 2009, Jay, a good friend and art dealer, called and said he needed to meet with me privately and immediately. His tone was serious. He asked if we could talk over dinner at a local steakhouse that evening. I agreed. I couldn’t imagine what was troubling him or how it involved me. When I walked into the restaurant a few hours later, he was already at the bar and waved me over. We made the usual small talk, but he was edgy and stiff, not his usual relaxed self. I asked what was wrong, but he insisted that we wait and discuss it over dinner. When we finally settled down and ordered our meal, he took a long pull on his vodka tonic, leaned forward, and said he needed my advice. His financial fortunes had recently taken a dramatic turn for the worse. With the economy in a deep recession, his art business was on life support. He had essentially no income. To make matters worse, he had seen his investment portfolio decimated by the recent financial crisis. As he was hoping to retire soon, this really troubled him. Jay had been a good friend for over a decade. I knew he was a conservative guy who invested exclusively in diversified stock and bond funds. But even tried-and-true approaches provided little protection in the meltdown of 2008. And 2009 wasn’t kicking off any better. 1

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“Alex,” he said, looking pale, “I’ve worked hard, saved, and compounded my investments all my life. Now everything is circling the drain. I’m 65 years old and for the last 25, I’ve considered myself financially independent. I’ve always invested smart and added to my portfolio regularly. I’ve never touched principal, not a dime. Now I’m afraid I don’t have enough to retire. Never in a million years did I imagine I’d be in this position.” I nodded. “I’m not asking for investment advice,” he said. “Because even if you told me this was a great time to buy stocks, I wouldn’t move a penny into the market now. I can’t afford the risk of buying anything. But I’m not going to sell everything near the bottom either. I don’t know what to do.” He tipped back his vodka tonic again. He looked pretty desperate. “I brought my statements with me,” he added. “I just want you to take a look at what I own and tell me what you think.” I agreed and he reached down and pulled them out from under the table. Looking over his holdings, I saw a lot of solid, blue-chip names. He was right. He hadn’t invested unwisely. He had just gotten caught up in the financial maelstrom like millions of other investors. As I leafed through the pages, Jay kept shaking his head and muttering that he didn’t know what he was going to do. I asked him a few questions about his investment income, his monthly overhead, and how much he thought he needed to live comfortably when he retired. Then I asked him what he thought— conservatively—his portfolio would earn over the next 10 years. I thought his answer was too conservative, but I didn’t object. “And how long do you think you’ll live?” I asked. “I’m in good health,” he said. “I might live another 30 years.” I pulled out a financial calculator and showed him how much he could draw down his portfolio every month for the next 30 years, even if it never recovered and he earned only the modest return he projected. I pointed out that he would gradually spend

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Dollars and Sense


the capital itself—something he had never done—but that his portfolio would last 30 years, as long as he withdrew only “this much” every month. (Incidentally, this is called a systematic withdrawal calculation, something everyone approaching retirement should do.) The numbers amazed him. Like many lifelong savers, he is a frugal guy. He wasn’t currently spending as much as he could withdraw every month. And he expected to spend even less in the years ahead (a good thing since inflation steadily erodes your purchasing power). He brightened up immediately. The financial meltdown had stung him, but he realized it wasn’t the end of the world. He wouldn’t have to spend his golden years counting nickels or living in a Sub-Zero carton. The change in his demeanor was instantaneous. His whole disposition did a one-eighty. He even grabbed the check with a flourish. Over the next week, Jay called me three times to thank me. He hadn’t been sleeping well before and had been snappish with his wife. He had felt the weight of the world on his shoulders. Now it was lifted. “Thanks to you, old buddy,” he kept saying. “Thanks to you.” This outpouring of gratitude confounded me. After all, what had I done? I didn’t take over the management of his portfolio. I hadn’t suggested he make changes. In fact, I didn’t recommend he take action of any kind. Then it dawned on me. He was grateful for something else. I had helped him change his perspective — and that made all the difference. What does this have to do with these essays? Everything, really. My goal here is to subtly shift your perspective by sharing ideas that helped me change my own. It might be a new finding of science or the rediscovery of an ancient philosophy. It might be a conversation with a historian or a money manager or an experience with a stranger that altered my point of view. In each case, the subject is something that, however slightly, altered my own worldview.

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This may seem unusual coming from an investment analyst who writes a financial letter. After all, I make my living showing readers how to invest, how to reach their financial goals. But I have spent a lot of years reading and thinking about things that can’t be measured in dollars and cents. Here are a few of them.

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Growing up, when I got into an argument with my mother, she would sometimes resort to the nuclear option, her tried-and-true conversation stopper. Putting her hands on her hips and using the worst faux Southern accent imaginable, she’d say, “Well if you’re so damn smart, why aren’t you rich?” I never knew how to respond to this. Of course, I was twelve at the time, and the deadbeats on my paper route kept margins low. Still, it ingrained in me the notion that the rich must have a little something extra going on upstairs; otherwise, we’d all be rolling in it. Right? There is, in fact, some evidence to support this. According to a recent report from the U.S. Census Bureau, there is a strong positive correlation between education and income. Over an adult’s working life, high school graduates should expect, on average, to earn $1.2 million; those with a bachelor’s degree, $2.1 million; those with a master’s degree, $2.5 million; those with doctoral degrees, $3.4 million; and those with professional degrees, $4.4 million. But here’s the rub. Studies show that those who earn the most aren’t necessarily the richest. To determine real wealth, you need to look at a balance sheet—assets minus liabilities—not an income 5

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statement. Just ask Thomas J. Stanley. The bestselling author of The Millionaire Next Door (Andrews McMeel, 2004), The Millionaire Mind (Andrews McMeel, 2000), and Stop Acting Rich . . . and Start Living Like a Real Millionaire ( John Wiley & Sons, 2009), Dr. Stanley is the country’s foremost authority on the habits and characteristics of America’s wealthy. And many of his findings are counterintuitive. For example, we generally envision millionaires as Lexus-driving, Rolex-wearing, mansion-owning, Tiffany-shopping members of exclusive country clubs. And, indeed, Stanley’s research reveals that the “glittering rich”—those with a net worth of $10 million or more— often meet this description. But most millionaires — individuals with a net worth of $1 million or more—live an entirely different lifestyle. Stanley found that the vast majority: 䡲 䡲 䡲 䡲 䡲

Live in a house that cost less than $400,000. Do not own a second home. Have never owned a boat. Are more likely to wear a Timex than a Rolex. Do not collect wine and generally pay less than $15 for a bottle. 䡲 Are more likely to drive a Toyota than a Beemer. 䡲 Have never paid more than $400 for a suit. 䡲 Spend very little on prestige brands and luxury items. This is certainly not the traditional image of millionaires. And it makes you wonder, who the heck is buying all those Mercedes convertibles, Louis Vuitton purses, and $60 bottles of Grey Goose? The answer, according to Dr. Stanley, is “aspirationals,” people who act rich and want to be rich, but really aren’t rich. (The Texas term, I believe, is “All Hat, No Cattle.”) Many are good people, well educated and perhaps earning a sixfigure income. But they aren’t balance-sheet rich because it’s almost impossible for most workers— even those who are well paid—to hyperspend on consumer goods and save a lot of money. (And saving is the key prerequisite for investing.)

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Are the Rich Smarter than You?


In his new book, Stop Acting Rich . . . and Start Living Like a Real Millionaire, Dr. Stanley recalls an appearance on Oprah when a member of the audience asked the question, one he’s heard hundreds of times before: “What good does it do to have all this money if you don’t spend it?” She was angry, indignant even. “These people couldn’t possibly be happy.”

Like so many others, this woman genuinely believed that the more you spend, the better life is. Bear in mind, we’re not talking about people who live below the poverty line. (Clearly, their lives would be better if they were able to spend more.) We’re talking about middle-class consumers and up, those who often live beyond their means and then find themselves under enormous pressure, especially in a weak economy. Some were overly optimistic. Others didn’t realize that they are up against an army of the best and most creative marketers in the world, whose job it is to convince you that “you are what you buy,” that you need to outspend—to outdisplay— others. The unspoken message behind the constant barrage of TV and billboard ads featuring all those impossibly good-looking men and women is that you are special, you are deserving, and you need to look and act successful now. According to Dr. Stanley: The pseudo-affluent are insecure about how they rank among the Joneses and the Smiths. Often their self-esteem rests on quicksand. In their minds, it is closely tied to how long they can continue to purchase the trappings of wealth. They strongly believe all economically successful people display their success through prestige products. The flip side of this has them believing that people who do not own prestige brands are not successful.

Yet “everyday” millionaires see things differently. Most of them achieved their wealth not by hitting the lottery or gaining an

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inheritance, but by patiently and persistently maximizing their income, minimizing their outgo, and religiously saving and investing the difference. They aren’t big spenders. According to Stanley’s surveys, their most popular activities include: 䡲 䡲 䡲 䡲 䡲 䡲 䡲 䡲 䡲 䡲 䡲 䡲 䡲

Socializing with children/grandchildren (95 percent) Planning investments (94 percent) Entertaining close friends (87 percent) Visiting museums (83 percent) Raising funds for charities (75 percent) Attending sporting events (69 percent) Participating in civic activities (69 percent) Studying art (63 percent) Participating in trade/professional association activities (56 percent) Gardening (55 percent) Attending religious services (52 percent) Jogging (48 percent) Attending lectures (44 percent)

The cost associated with these activities is minimal. Most millionaires understand that real pleasure and satisfaction don’t come from the car you drive or the watch you wear, but time spent in activities with family, friends, and associates. They aren’t misers, either, especially when it comes to educating their children and grandchildren or donating to worthy causes. Although they are disciplined savers, the affluent are among the most generous Americans in charitable giving. They “give” in another important way, too. According to the IRS, the top 1 percent of America’s income earners pays 37 percent of the entire federal income tax bill. The top 5 percent pays 57 percent. The top 10 percent pay 68 percent. (The bottom 50 percent pay less than 4 percent.) It’s a far cry from the populist complaint that the rich “don’t pay their fair share.”

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Are the Rich Smarter than You?


Just how prevalent are American millionaires? According to the Spectrum Group, there were 6.7 million U.S. households with a net worth of at least $1 million at the end of 2008. Very few of them won a Grammy, played in the NBA, or started a computer company in their garage. Clearly, thrift and modesty—however unfashionable—are still alive in some parts of the country. So while millions of consumers chase a blinkered image of success—busting their humps for stuff that ends up in landfills, yard sales, and thrift shops— disciplined savers and investors are enjoying the freedom, satisfaction, and peace of mind that comes from living beneath their means. These folks are turned on not by consumerism but by personal achievement, industry awards, and recognition. They know that success is not about flaunting your wealth. It’s about a sense of accomplishment . . . and the independence that comes with it. They are able to do what they want, where they want, with whom they want. They may not be smarter than you, but they do know something priceless: It is how we spend ourselves—not our money—that makes us rich.

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I recently bumped into an old acquaintance I hadn’t seen in years. “Are you still managing money?” he asked. “No, I write investment advice now,” I said. “Well, it must not be panning out too well,” he said with a wink, “or you wouldn’t still be working!” I’ve heard variations of this line over the years. And while it’s always offered in jest, it hints at a particular mind-set: Why would anyone continue to work if he didn’t have to? Yet I’d be bored to death without a job and even more of a pain in the neck to everyone around me, I’m sure. (Warren Buffett and Bill Gates—two gentlemen who have a few dollars— apparently feel the same way.) Yet, according to over 40 Gallup studies, three quarters of us are disengaged from our jobs. The most recent U.S. Job Retention Survey found that more than 60 percent of employees are currently searching for new employment opportunities. It’s odd that we spend most of our waking hours at work—in occupations often chosen by our younger selves—and yet seldom ask ourselves how we got there or what our occupations really mean. When we meet someone new, for instance, the question we most frequently ask, after discerning where they’re from and whether we have any common acquaintances, is what he or she does. Our work, to a great extent, defines us. 10

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Are You Losing Your Soul?


It wasn’t always this way. Three hundred years ago, Voltaire argued that work exists to save us from three great evils: boredom, poverty, and vice. But, as a society, we have since put our belief in two great ideas: romantic love and meaningful work. Historically, our faith in these grew up together. We started to think that we should marry for love at roughly the same time we started to think that we should work not only for money but for self-fulfillment. These are two beautiful ideals, but rarely does either go long without hitting a rough patch. And the pain can be immense. When we are without work, as 29 million Americans are today, we lose more than income; we are cut off from an identity. We can’t explain any more what we do, and hence who we are. It’s always a shame to see a person’s talents wasted. And that’s just as true for those who are employed but disengaged. Ideally, your work should allow you to take the best of what’s in you and express it to the world. It should give your life dignity and meaning, whether you’re writing software, fixing teeth, or just raising happy, productive kids. No matter how you spend your days, you have a clear choice. You can think of your work entirely in terms of responsibilities and obligations, or you can view it as a contest, a challenge, an opportunity. Because if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, there’s little chance your work will please or impress anyone else. I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of folks who are unhappy at work tend to equate a “good job” entirely with money, benefits, and security, rather than whether it allows them to express their talents. Big mistake. Yet even those who recognize the dead-end nature of their current position are often reluctant to change. Why? Reasons vary, but some are so caught up in the pursuit of status, display, and material possessions that they’ve put themselves in a bind. Choosing meaningful employment often means accepting at least a temporary pay cut. But that isn’t always possible if you have a big mortgage, hefty car payments, or a lifestyle that keeps you 60

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days from insolvency. Ironically, giving up the dream of “having it all” is often the first step in the right direction. The other reason so many remain stuck in unsuitable work— whether they admit it to themselves or not—is fear. Fear whispers that, even if you reduce your overhead, you won’t be able to make it work financially. Fear betrays you, insisting that you’re being unrealistic; that you don’t have the heart, the talent, or the discipline to see it through; that doing work you love is reserved for someone else. It’s not true. One of the best prizes that life offers is the chance to work hard at something worth doing. Think enthusiastically about how you spend your days and you’ll put a touch of glory in your life. This is true for retirees, too. A life of meaning generally comes from finding a way to either increase the pleasure or decrease the suffering of your fellow man, whether you’re compensated for it or not. If you’re still in the workforce and— due to circumstances — tied to a job that is less than fulfilling, there are still ways to use your talents in meaningful ways. A few years ago, for instance, the AARP asked some attorneys if they would offer basic services to needy retirees at $30 an hour. They said no. But then AARP’s program manager had a brilliant idea: He asked the lawyers if they would offer their services to needy retirees for free. Overwhelmingly, they said yes. How could zero money be more attractive than $30 an hour? The original offer seemed insulting to some, a request for legal services at below-market wages. But when the request was reframed as volunteer work—and therefore meaningful—most were happy to oblige. In Zen and the Art of Making a Living (Lightning Press, 1992), Laurence G. Boldt writes: Without self-expression, life lacks spontaneity and joy. Without service to others, it lacks meaning and purpose . . . Conceiving of ourselves as artists in whatever work we do gives us a metaphor for a life of integrity, service, enjoyment, and excellence . . . I know of no better nutshell statement of the path to finding one’s true

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