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“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.” —Epictetus


Epictetus was a Greek Stoic philosopher who lived from 55 – 135AD.  Epictetus was born a slave and obtained his freedom around 13 years of age.  He lived a life of simplicity with very few possessions.  He started a school of philosophy and shared this insightful quote on how to obtain wealth.  But what is wealth???

What Is Wealth???

Wealth is defined as “an abundance of valuable possessions or money.”  Well, that is the first definition that came up with I Googled it.  I believe the key word here is “abundance” which means to have a very large quantity of something.  So, if you have a very large quantity of money, you are considered wealthy.  This is simple enough to understand, but that is not what Epictetus is saying with his words of wisdom.

What Is Epictetus Saying? 

Epictetus is saying that we can be wealthy if we have everything we want.  If we have an ample supply of what we want, then we can be wealthy.  One of the fastest ways to be wealthy is to have fewer wants.  I believe he is saying that being wealthy is a mindset.  For example, one person may consider himself or herself wealthy if they have three cars, whereas if I have one car, the car of my dreams, I may consider myself wealthy.

As long as we are always wanting something, we will never really consider ourselves wealthy.  Based on this example, wealth, as Epictetus refers to it, seems like a mindset, a perspective on what abundance is.  If I only need $500 a month to live, but I make $1000 a month, I have an ample quantity of money.  Some would even call it an abundance.  Is this not enough to consider me wealthy?

“…but in having few wants.”

These words are the gems of what Epictetus was saying.  We are a society of wanting more.  I don’t think anyone would argue that.  As long as we are always wanting more, we will never be satisfied.  As soon as we get one object of desire, we find another one we have to have, thus we are never satisfied…never truly happy.  Epictetus is saying that if we can curb our desire for having many wants, we can be wealthy with what we have.  If we can appreciate what we have and know that it is enough, then we can find true wealth.  The gratitude in what we have can make us rich.

Final Thoughts

Sure, by society’s definition, we need ten cars, a big mansion, and a huge bank account to be considered wealthy.  But being wealthy, by this definition, will not necessarily make you happy.  If you can curb your need for wanting many things, you can find satisfaction and gratitude for what you have and realize that it is all you need.

I use to have a strong desire for more.  I had to have the latest and greatest of everything.  I had to have the best car, the biggest TV, and the newest clothes.  I constantly had the itch for more.  And once I got more, I wanted even more.  I was always chasing the next thing, never appreciating what I had.

Over the past few years things have changed for me.  I have found that I am already wealthy.  I have all that I need, even more than I need.  I don’t crave anything new.  I have become a man of fewer wants and have begun valuing what I have.  I have begun to value experiences with friends and family over material things.  We don’t need great material possessions to be wealthy.  We just need the few, quality wants that make the real difference!!!

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