Embracing True Wealth: A Stoic Approach to Money and Happiness


I’ve been thinking about my money situation a lot these days. Ten years ago it wasn’t money I wanted, but freedom. I quit my job and went off to Europe with my wife to live a life of adventure and indeed: freedom.

Funny enough, I achieved all these goals: I have no boss, I can show up to a cafe at any time of the day when everyone else is working and drink a coffee without anyone furling their brows at me as if to say: “Why aren’t you working, Kevin?”

But recently, like the past 5 years actually, I’ve struggled to appreciate that peace and freedom that I worked so hard to achieve. The money that has flowed in, despite working quite hard and trying many things as an entrepreneur, hasn’t been what I hoped. In fact, it’s been quite static. I’ve started new businesses to increase our income, I’ve tried all sorts of methods to increase our business revenue, but almost nothing has made a substantial difference, a substantial increase, at least when compared to the vision I have about how much money I should be making as an entrepreneur.

And that’s what I would like to focus on right now; these two words: should be. How much should I be making as an entrepreneur, as a small business owner? When I compare myself to other entrepreneurs that I see, I feel I am falling short in that department. When I look at my bank account and look at all the bills I need to pay, I feel short in that department too.

It’s the comparing one’s current reality to an image (a video in the mind) of what you think you should be experiencing, the life you think you should be living, that is so stressful. The Stoics knew this, even about issues of money and finance. This is evident inf Epictetus’ famous words:

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


The more I reach out towards realizing a vision that I am not currently experiencing, the longer my arms stretch towards that fantasy, the more painful and upset I can become. In Epictetus’ words, the more I want – vacations in the tropics that I feel are outside of my current budget, shiny new cars that I know I should not buy, even the sizeable amount I’d like to see in my bank account when I login that I currently do not see – the more deficient I feel and the more I question my life and ultimately myself: “What’s wrong with me?” I ask. “Why can’t I figure this out?”

But what if we were to truly question the following belief?:

I should have be making more money.

Really? Can I really know this to be true? (in the spirit of The Work, by Byron Katie)

What is the reality of my situation? The reality is that I make what I make. It’s not a bad amount, in face compared to so many it’s quite abundant and allows a comfortable existence for me and my family. But of course, being comfortable is never enough for the mind. The mind always wants more. That that fact, that the mind is constantly in wanting mode, no matter how blessed and lucky reality is, is why my mind will never allow me to feel the wealth that’s already existent in my life, why it will never allow me to feel satisfied and content.

Byron Katie is famous for helping folks question their current finances. “I need more money” a participant in a workshop states. “Can you absolutely know that’s true?” she responds. Then a few moments later, “Let’s turn that around: I don’t need more money. How do I know that I don’t need more money? Because I don’t have more money, I have the exact amount of money I need right in this moment.” (I’m paraphrasing).

And Katie is right. Why, what value is there in arguing with reality not just about how much money I currently have in the bank, but also about the incoming revenue I’m likely to bring in this week, or this month, or this year? Why worry about it at all?

What most of the Stoics, especially my favorite Epictetus, realized is that life is less in your control that you would like to believe. There truly is a strong element of fate that affects one’s life. There is a lot we don’t control, including things we believe we are absolutely in control of, such as how we grew up, the experiences that happened in our lives to make us who we are, the intelligence we were born with, and the skills that we’re able to master. For some of us, money and the creation of it has come quite easy: either because they were born into it, or they were born with a natural instinct for how to acquire it. They are often the ones that write books about how to get rich, ironically. For others, our relationship with money hasn’t been a walk in the park, but something we’ve had to make a lot of effort at, often just to break even.

The truth is, we don’t really know how much our ability to earn money is related to things in our control and things out of our control, and anyone who claims that they do know, and they can turn you into a millionaire if you just listen to them and follow everything they tell you, is someone you may want to be skeptical of, while still being willing to listen (after all, not knowing means you don’t know either way, but you’re open).

I’m at the point in my life now where I do not know for sure if I will ever make the amount of money that my mind fantasizes I should be making. Maybe I will get to that point and maybe I won’t. Maybe how much money I make is completely within my control and maybe it’s not. Again, I really don’t know, and doubt anyone really does.

That said, I do know one thing: I am tired of the feeling of stress that comes with believing the thought that I should be making a certain amount of money and then comparing that amount of money to my current reality. That’s suffering and honestly I’m getting pretty done with that. If I can make the same amount of money I make today and find a way to simply be content with it and to be highly skeptical of the thoughts that arise in my head saying that I should have more money than I actually do, then that’s really what I want. In summary, what I want is to experience true wealth in the way that Epictetus lays out: to not want what I don’t have.