“If I had a million dollars. If I had a million dollars. Well, I’d buy you a house. I would buy you a house.“
The lyrics begin one of the Barenaked Ladies most recognizable songs and a 1990s anthem. Providing a humorous take on an individual’s unique acquisitions with a million dollars, throughout the song the lead character offers to buy an emu, elephant bones, and dijon ketchups for a romantic interest. Beyond these eccentric things, our protagonist further promises, “If I had a million dollars, I’d buy your love” for as the ballad closes “I’d be rich.”
While still a good deal of money almost 30 years after the song’s release, “a million dollars” pails in comparison to the $1.3 billion Powerball pool recently available starting 2016. The largest lotto jackpot ever had many fervent and hopeful winners asking and wondering, “If I had a billion dollars.” The answers, I can imagine, ranged from the purchase of objects such as cars, houses, and art to sharing the winnings with family and friends, to investing and donating. While there are no right or wrong decisions in “how” one might spend this significant salary increase, no matter the potential purchasing power, would it make one rich?
Literally defined, being rich includes having a great deal of money. However, financial wellbeing does not guarantee a satisfied life. According to a Wall Street Journal blog post from 2011, 120 people with a net worth of $25 million or more, “turn out to be a generally dissatisfied lot, whose money has contributed to deep anxieties involving love, work, and family.”
Moreover in reply to whether someone should envy their wealth one respondent shared, “If we can get people just a little bit more informed, so they know that getting the $20 million or $200 million won’t necessarily bring them all that they’d hoped for, then maybe they’d concentrate instead on things that would make the world a better place and could help to make them truly happy.” More than means, being rich, even to those that many would assume to be so, is something money cannot buy. So what then is worth more than “a million dollars?”
As a Yiddish proverb expresses, “money will buy you everything, but good sense.” Being rich is the ability to embrace and be grateful for the abundance of things that make life incredible. This includes understanding our unique qualities, realizing our own potential, harnessing our distinct strengths, and giving and receiving our self to our family, friends and community. By asking, not what would I do with “a million dollars, but rather questions such as what are my greatest strengths, how can I be more appreciative, and how can I be joyful, we can pinpoint the treasures so often ignored. Through this introspection, identification and enrichment of our personal assets, we accumulate much more than a million or a billion dollars. We acquire happiness.
Happiness allows us to live life no matter the wealth we have, the things we obtain, and the desires we seek. It releases us from the prison of the mind so that we can experience the world for the beauty it holds rather than what we hope it will. Being rich with happiness offers us balance even when life hands us painful or disappointing moments. Mickey Singer in his book The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself explains:
“If you want to be happy, you have to let go of the part of you that wants to create melodrama. This is the part that thinks there’s a reason not to be happy…You gain nothing by being bothered by life’s events. It doesn’t change the world; you just suffer. There’s always going to be something that can bother you, if you let it.”
Letting go of the unreliable riches found in things can be challenging. Yet, we can do this every day simply by taking a walk acknowledging the beauty around us, opening our arms to help another person, or being comfortable with saying “I don’t know” and “I failed.” We have a choice in life, as Mickey Singer shares, “People tend to burden themselves with so many choices. But, in the end, you can throw it all away and just make one basic, underlying decision: Do you want to be happy, or do you not want to be happy? It’s really that simple. Once you make that choice, your path through life becomes totally clear.” Then, we might all “be rich.”
A social entrepreneur, Rabbi Adam Grossman was ordained in 2008 from HUC-JIR and has been at the forefront of groundbreaking and nationally recognized initiatives to engage Jews with meaning, practice, and action. He was Associate Rabbi at Temple Israel in Memphis, Tennessee from 2008-2014, and co-founded Convue, an online system to help relationship-focused professionals enhance their customer connections. He was selected as a Clal Rabbis Without Borders Fellow in 2013. Hired as the new CEO at the University of Florida Hillel in July 2014, he continues to rethink old paradigms by illustrating new ways to anchor Judaism in individual?s lives. His inspiration comes from his family ? his wife, Amy, three children – ages 8, 6, and nearly one year – and his dogs, a Dalmatian and Greyhound.