When you type ‘What is wealth?’ into Google, the first definition that appears is “an abundance of valuable possessions or money.” Many of us default to the second part of that definition – money – not the first part – an abundance of valuable possessions. As children, we’re told to seek out the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, not the wealth of beauty and colour within the rainbow itself. As adolescents, we’re told that the careers that can provide a stable income – doctor, lawyer, dentist – are preferable to those that are more financially risky – artist, actor, entrepreneur. As adults, we strive to get onto the ‘property ladder,’ a phrase that gives rise to a hierarchal image based on money. The more you have, the higher you are on the ladder, the better you are.
Don’t get me wrong, money is very important. It puts food on our tables and clothes on our backs. But it also puts worry into our heads and pressure on our shoulders. Research shows that happiness does increase in line with your salary. But only up to an income of £50,000 per year. After that, earning more does nothing to boost happiness. Yet when asked, just 27% of people equate earning £50,000 with being ‘rich.’
Like the word wealth, ‘rich’ is an adjective we automatically associate with money. Equally, many people list material objects among their ‘valuable possessions’ – a house, a car, a laptop. But what if we added things to that list that we can’t switch on or hold, only feel and nurture? Things like health, kindness, creativity.
Lockdown has brought about many changes. For lots of us, financial wealth has decreased. And my heart truly goes out to people who have lost businesses or jobs or retirement pension funds following the outbreak of the coronavirus. It’s shown just how much is out of our control. Yet for me, it’s also that one of the few things I can control is how I define wealth. When lockdown was in full force, instead of growing our client base, I was spending time growing sunflower with my children in our garden. Our shed, previously a place for fixing things and being productive, has become a games room. Symbolically, I prioritised play over productivity. It has been great no longer spending time on apps such as CityMapper to rush from place to place. Instead, I’ve been using the app PictureThis to learn about the flowers I see on my walks.
It’s been almost three months since lockdown began and, like most people, I’ve grown tired of working remotely, away from my clients and colleagues. Lockdown fatigue has set in. But one thing I’ve discovered this year and know I will never tire of is being amongst trees! Shinrin-yoku, the Japanese form of relaxation translated as forest bathing, is something I never thought I would practice. Yet I am so grateful that I was open-minded enough to try it – the sense of calm and connection it yields is invaluable.
As we enter the second half of 2020 and new phases of lockdown, ones that bring back shopping and school drop-offs and haircuts, I hope that we remember some of lessons lockdown has taught us about what really matters. For me, that includes the health and happiness of friends and family, keeping purpose-led businesses going and spending time in nature. These are the parts of my life that I see as my most valuable possessions; the pieces that make up my definition of wealth.