Three Ways to Get Rich (On Life)

Let’s face it: materials matter. From the delicious pasta I shared with a friend last night, to the pendant my sister gave me as a gift, materials around me affect my health and wellbeing.

We are a physical beings in a physical world.

Unfortunately, the materials we produce, consume and discard have serious global and social consequences. The United States’ relentless fixation on low price products has driven a market that results in cheap disposable products we can toss without care.

The result?

  • A diet based on high fructose corn syrup that leaves our bodies hungry while we waste 50% of our food.
  • Slave wages and horrendous textile worker conditions while we shed and export 1,000 tons of used clothes a day.

Often when we learn about strip-mining and sweatshops used to make consumer goods, a common response is to disregard the value of our things. I obediently play this role when I speak disdainfully of my teenaged-self spending an entire Saturday at the mall with girlfriends.

New popular movements such as the Story of Stuff, and Center for New American Dream give us an alternative approach. They all agree that cheap stuff is leaving us empty, but their solutions are refreshingly positive.

Here are three ways they encourage us to get rich on life:

1 To Thine Own Self Be True

Our relationship with our stuff is a little turned around these days.

Instead of seeking materials that meet our needs, we are increasingly becoming defined by our things. Popular culture (driven by massive advertising campaigns) has manufactured “portraits” of who we should be. Teens are especially vulnerable to relying on their things to feel good about themselves, accepted, and attractive. And the drive to purchase all this stuff leaves Americans on what is often referred to as the ‘treadmill’ of work to pay for our stuff.

When we know who we are we can decide what is a need (or even a want) rather than waiting for someone else to tell us. We can determine for ourselves what is ‘enough’ stuff based on our internal values rather than someone else’s bottom line. We might decide to fill some needs with things, but research shows that we are most satisfied by community, family, and health.

2 Love your stuff

Materials have a life of their own. They are vibrant parts of our experience on this planet. The discount culture has cheapened their value. But turning against materialism doesn’t add value to the physical world that is a reality.

The key is to LOVE our possessions. Find out where they came from and what they are made of. Ask who made them. Take care of them. Share them with others. Fix them when they get damaged. And find a good place for their next life cycle - be it reuse, repurposing or recycling.

3 Volunteer

Did you know that volunteering can make you happier faster and easier than material wealth?

According to a Harvard Health publication, the more people volunteer the happier they are.

Compared with people who never volunteered, the odds of being “very happy” rose 7% among those who volunteer monthly and 12% for people who volunteer every two to four weeks. Among weekly volunteers, 16% felt very happy—a hike in happiness comparable to having an income of $75,000–$100,000 versus $20,000, say the researchers.

Of course Master Recyclers already knew this. You have all volunteered an amazing 40,000 hours!