Forbes recently came out with its 32nd annual listing of “The Forbes 400, The Richest People in America,” which provides profiles and ranks of the nation’s wealthiest billionaires. According to the article, their net worth increased by a whopping $800 million to a record $5 billion over the last year.
The general sentiment expressed by various news outlets reporting on the new list was that it contains few surprises. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are still at the top and the wealthiest gained back all that they lost during the five years since the financial crisis hit.
Release of the list generated a flurry of posts by other outlets that cited its various facts and figures. Some of these articles also spoke to the widening income gap between the have-a-lots and everyone else in the country.
This growing financial disparity, the entrenched economic difficulties of the middle class, the soaring poverty rate in many American cities and the fact that a surging number of Americans are describing themselves as “lower class,”are subjects that are becoming more frequent news topics in any case.
I imagine the enormous wealth the Forbes list conveys holds particular voyeuristic appeal at a time when the financial footing of so many remains shaky and provokes a range of sentiments that range from envy and distaste to awe and admiration.
For me, the magnitude of the wealth possessed by so few makes for difficult reading. All the more so because the population I focus on these days — the 50+ one — is especially vulnerable to the financial rockiness the country at large faces due to the fact that work opportunities tend to dwindle in the second stage of adulthood while health care demands increase. And a great percentage of people in this cohort have not saved adequately for retirement.
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The Traits of the Truly Wealthy
Fortunately, many people in this stage of life have developed qualities that, to my mind, constitute true wealth. And though there is no guarantee that these traits will ensure a comfortable life ahead, forestall physical decline or dispel the health and long-term care crises that loom, there is little doubt that they can help those who possess them contend with critical challenges and generate a positive ripple effect.
It is not only economic poverty that poses risks; an impoverished spirit and negative outlook also make us fragile. The characteristics and behaviors possessed by the richest Americans I know form a protective armor that lets them weather life’s blows and rebound.
I’ve learned a great deal about the traits of 50+ people leading rich lives from my work here at Next Avenue.
1. They’ve mastered a lot of life lessons and they want to pass them on. So they look for opportunities to teach and mentor others.
2. They’ve pinpointed a few causes they really care about, work at developing deep insights about them and donate their time and energy to them in the belief that they can help change things for the better. They don’t worry about whether they’re impacting a single individual or the world.
3. They are grateful for what they have and take steps to share it.
4. They are seekers and doers who are enthusiastic participants in life — they are fully engaged in work, play and relationships.
5. They have a hunger to keep learning — information, skills, fresh practices — to foster brain health and become better equipped to stay employed and contribute to society in fresh ways.
6. They have an open heart, build communities around them, forge and cherish connections with people of all ages and help others create nourishing bonds.
7. They try to learn from their mistakes and take action to heal old wounds, smooth out past relationships and resolve regrets.
8. They think about life’s big questions, focus on being open-eyed and taking action to become more emotionally insightful.
9. They acknowledge difficulty but choose to believe in the possibility of positive outcomes and try to spread the happiness they cultivate.
10. They respect and take care of themselves. They are conscientious about making healthy food choices, exercising regularly and taking measures to reduce stress. They accept that they have a responsibility to cultivate physical and mental well-being and to protect and honor their bodies. Why? To make the most of their own lives and to ease the prospective future burdens on their loved ones.
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The richest people by Forbes' net-worth definition may also qualify as the truly wealthiest by mine. The thing is, I can’t say for sure though it is clear that many of the billionaires cited are highly philanthropic. Another Forbes article posted prior to the release of the 2013 Forbes 400 list, states that “as a group, the Forbes 400 have pledged to give more to charity than the U.S. as a whole gives in a year. The 400 have pledged $328.7 billion.”
I hope that the Forbes list fires up industriousness and charitableness. But whatever values and sentiments it stirs, it’s important to remind ourselves that a rich life and general happiness do not stem from a large net worth, or, for that matter, a small one.
To feel happy, we have to intentionally pursue satisfying activities and cultivate the personal qualities that let us engage in these pursuits. And, as Shawn Achor, noted in this Next Avenue article, to achieve success, we have to feel happy.
A new study by Satya Paul, a professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, shows that by cultivating the qualities of “inner abundance” and enhancing personal happiness, one can actually engage in work in a way that eases the path to acquiring material wealth.
I think it’s time to launch a new type of yearly list — one that recognizes people over 50 who best exemplify the traits of true wealth I described above. We can call it “The 50 Over 50 Truly Wealthiest People in America.”
Any nominees come to mind?