Abundance, Scarcity, and the Idea of Being Rich

Whenever I read or hear things about getting rich, the first thing I always think of is how I don’t really understand what “rich” means.

Rich is a nebulous concept that means something different to each of us. For a lot of us, it means having some quantity of money, probably a large one.

But what does it really mean?

Does being rich mean that you have enough money to pay for every reasonable need you might have in your life? Does it mean that you have enough money to pay for every reasonable want you might have in your life?

Or does it mean something completely different?

Whenever I start thinking about what it means to be rich, my mind starts thinking about scarcity and abundance. I’ll quote from my earlier post:

The terms “scarcity mentality” and “abundance mentality” were coined by Stephen Covey in his best-selling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:

“Most people are deeply scripted in what I call the Scarcity Mentality. They see life as having only so much, as though there were only one pie out there. And if someone were to get a big piece of the pie, it would mean less for everybody else.

“The Scarcity Mentality is the zero-sum paradigm of life. People with a Scarcity Mentality have a very difficult time sharing recognition and credit, power or profit – even with those who help in the production. The also have a a very hard time being genuinely happy for the success of other people.

“The Abundance Mentality, on the other hand, flow out of a deep inner sense of personal worth and security. It is the paradigm that there is plenty out there and enough to spare for everybody. It results in sharing of prestige, of recognition, of profits, of decision making. It opens possibilities, options, alternatives, and creativity.”

If you’re in the workplace and find yourself getting depressed because someone else got a raise, you’ve probably got the scarcity mentality. On the other hand, if someone getting a raise gets you excited because that means there’s a possibility of you getting a raise, that’s the abundance mentality at work.

If you’re at home and find yourself envious of some gadget someone else has because you don’t have one, you’re probably falling into the scarcity mentality. If you’re happy for a friend because they have something they want and you’re also content with your own possessions, that’s probably the abundance mentality.

To me, the biggest difference between the scarcity mentality and the abundance mentality is that the scarcity mentality cares what other people have, while the abundance mentality doesn’t.

Here’s where we come back to the concept of “rich.”

If you have a scarcity mentality, it is almost impossible to be rich. There is always someone out there that has more than you do and since you’re constantly comparing yourself to others, you feel as though what you have is inadequate. That other guy has more than you, thus you can’t be rich.

On the flip side, if you have an abundance mentality, the idea of being “rich” has a very low threshold. As long as you’re able to cover your basic needs and perhaps a few wants, an abundant-focused person feels as though they’re rich.

I’ll explain what I mean using my own life as an example.

I love to read. For a long time, I was trapped in a scarcity mentality, where that love of reading often expressed itself by the size of my book collection. I could never get enough. I would be jealous of the books that others had and I’d pick up books if I even had a vague sense that I would ever read them. I had a scarcity mentality and I’d never, ever be rich with my books.

Now, as long as I’ve got the book I’m reading and a book on the bedside table, I’m happy. My bookshelf looks positively anemic compared to the bad old days. When I think about my book collection, I think about the books I’ve read, not about the books I own. The value isn’t in the collection, it’s in the experience, and that experience is inexpensive and ever-abundant thanks to libraries and other resources.

It’s simple, in a broader sense. There are more interesting and exciting things to do that cost virtually nothing than I will ever have time to do. There are books to read, people to meet, woods to explore, movies to watch, meals to make. There will be teachable moments with my children, romantic moments with my wife, and fun moments with my friends.

I have enough financial stability to enjoy all of this for quite a while.

Does that mean I’m rich? I think it does. I’m not rolling in money, but I have more than enough of the things I need and value.

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