I’ve always been rich.
I was born rich.
I was raised by a single mom who never made more than $12,000 dollars a year (she was a teacher at a private school). I grew up on food stamps and free school lunches.
And yet: we had real food. Simple food. I never enjoyed soda or chips or pizza or pigs in the blanket like my friends. I got to eat organic bread, apples, spaghetti, stir fries, salads.
We didn’t own a car, or a TV, half the time. So I read and became a nerd (which wasn’t cool, then). And I played baseball and basketball (my budding career hampered by my being a nerd, and skipping a grade, and therefore being 1.5 years younger and shorter than my mates).
We didn’t have money to do things, so we did free things: we watched movies at the library, we celebrated life with our Buddhist community, we hiked with our rescue dog, we gardened or read (more) books or went to museums. There’s a lot to do for free, you know.
We were so poor that we went Christmases and such without presents. I remember my mom being so sad one year at being unable to give me a gift that she cried. But I didn’t feel sad: she gave me a great life, a fun life, an interesting life, a lot of love. A rich life.
I’ve always been rich: she taught me that I was intelligent, so I assumed that I was and acted the part. I loved learning. I got to be healthy and ride a bicycle. And though I never got to ski or travel (friends still ask me, without understanding, how it is that I live in Colorado and don’t ski, or am almost 40 and just traveled for the first time), I was taught that life is about appreciation, and generosity even when you don’t feel like it.
“Generosity is the virtue that produces peace,” Buddhism reminds us. Giving makes us feel rich, instead of tight, and stingy.
So forget wealth. Instead, focus on happiness. Happiness can’t be bought (though money helps get us there). Happiness has to be given away, and then and only then will it come back and settle into our hearts.