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What Does It Mean To Be Wealthy?


“These individuals have riches just as we say that we ‘have a fever,’ when really the fever has us.” — Seneca

We all know those people who have lots of money, and yet, they are miserable. On the flip side, we all know people who live happy and fulfilled lives despite not having lots of money.

Money, the Stoics said, is not an indicator of wealth.

The slave turned teacher Epictetus liked to tell his students of a man who had been offered a lucrative job by the emperor Augustus. “I told him not to touch it,” Epictetus told his students. 

But, the man told Epictetus, I will make a lot of money. 

Yes, Epictetus said, “for little in return.” 

But, the man said, a lot of people will learn my name. 

“Ok,” Epictetus said, “are you planning to be there every time someone utters your name?” 

But, the man said, my name will outlive me. 

“So will a rock you carve your name into,” Epictetus said. 

But, the man said, I will get to wear a gold crown. 

“And they will put a crown made of roses on you for your funeral,” Epictetus said. “You will look even more elegant in that.”

The man saw the sum of money, but he didn’t see that a sum of money is a poor indication of value. As Epictetus liked to ask his students,

“What decides whether a sum of money is good? The money is not going to tell you.” 

It’s not going to tell you about all you have to give up in exchange for that money. It’s not going to tell you that you might be happier in a job that offers less money. It’s not going to tell you about all the losses that come with the gain.  

We will. We created this guide—rooted in the experiences and writings of the Stoics—to give you a time-tested playbook to help you learn how to be truly rich, how to get out from under the thumb of money, how to be happy with enough, how to thrive, succeed, and live a good, happy life. This post is going to cover the high level ideas. If you really want to get serious about living what the Stoics called the good life, we suggest checking out our course The Wealthy Stoic: A Daily Stoic Guide To Being Rich, Free, and Happy, a 9-week course designed to equip you with the tools, mindsets, and habits of the wealthiest Stoics in history.

This is a long post. It should be saved and revisited. It can be read straight through or if you prefer, feel free to jump around…


Money Doesn’t Make You Rich

Look at any millionaire, Seneca tells Lucilius in one of his letters, they are some of the poorest people in Rome. Money has made them obsess over public opinion. Money has control of their schedules and their decisions. Money has put them in the center of a circle of sycophants and grifters. Money has escalated their tastes and expectations beyond quenching.

“These individuals,” Seneca writes, “have riches just as we say that we ‘have a fever,’ when really the fever has us.” It’s a sad sight, he says.

What’s sadder is that the look-at-any-millionaire experiment still works today—a lot of rich people in this world live very poor lives. They’re rarely not thinking about money. About how to acquire more and of it, about what they can trade of their life in exchange for it, about who they know who has more of it than they do. These poor souls know they have a lot of money, but what they don’t understand is that, really, money has a lot of them.

“Money never made a man rich,” Seneca adds, “Do you ask the reason for this? He who possesses more begins to be able to possess still more.” This is a universal human battle. It doesn’t really matter the number in your bank account, it is hard to turn off the brain’s desire for more. Until you can turn it off, until you have a sense for what is enough, you are poorer than the poorest people in Rome.

“[H]e who has enough,” Seneca writes, “has attained that which never fell to the rich man’s lot—a stopping-point.”

To learn more on this topic, check out Ryan’s interview with Morgan Housel on the Daily Stoic podcast.


Define What Wealth Means To You

“It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.” — Marcus Aurelius

If Ramit Sethi didn’t beat us to it, we might have named the Daily Stoic Wealth Course, “The Rich Life.”

Ramit is the bestselling author of I Will Teach You To Be Rich and host of the I Will Teach You To Be Rich podcast (one of Ryan’s favorite podcasts), and of the Netflix series How to Get Rich. His work focuses on how to help people live what he calls “The Rich Life.”

The title is a bit misleading because he doesn’t use “rich” solely in a monetary wealth way. It’s more an all-encompassing philosophy about living a good life. Ramit talks and writes about entrepreneurship, spending, investing, social skills, fitness, psychology, productivity, and on and on—all these interconnected components that go into living well.

Key to Ramit’s work is the idea that the definition of The Rich Life varies from person to person. When we interviewed him a while back, he gave this example:

I have a friend who always has fresh flowers throughout her tiny New York apartment. They look amazing. When I asked her how she keeps up and maintains all these fresh flowers, despite her busy full-time job, she told me that she spends the equivalent of a cable bill every month to surround herself with beautiful, artisanal flowers that are delivered to her house every week. Every week…on “just” flowers!

This is the idea of living a Rich Life: If you love how flowers look and make you feel in your home, you don’t “save” buying flowers only for special occasions. You make sure you have them around you all the time.

Ramit, on the other hand, doesn’t really care about flowers. So his Rich Life looks different. His definition of a rich life, he says, is never having to step into a Home Depot.

The point is, everyone’s different. Therefore, everyone’s definition of wealth is different. We live in a world that constantly bombards us with messages about what a rich life is supposed to look like. We see pictures of lavish vacations, designer clothing, expensive cars, and luxurious homes. We are told that having more money, more possessions, and more status is the key to happiness and fulfillment.

But the truth is the Rich Life means something different for everyone. What makes one person feel rich may not do the same for another.

This is why it’s essential to figure out your definition of the Rich Life.

Watch Ryan Holiday discuss some of the key Stoic concepts of wealth in The Stoics Guide To Becoming Wealthy on the Daily Stoic YouTube channel.

Know What Enough Is

“If you don’t regard what you have as enough, you will never be happy even if you rule the entire world.” – Seneca

Seneca said this is what it means to be poor: wanting more than you have.

Consider, Seneca says, the person who has or wants the nicest stuff—the furniture with gold trim, the silverware made by ancient artists, a team of butlers, jewelry from every part of the globe. “Though he should pile up all of these,” Seneca writes, “never will they satisfy his insatiable mind…This is not a thirst, but a sickness. And it is not merely money or food that leads to this result; the same nature is to be found in every desire that derives, not from need, but from vice: all that you pile up to satisfy it will not terminate but advance desire.”

That’s the irony of material riches. It’s a series of moving goal posts. You think having X will be sufficient only to find that 2x is better and that 3x is preferable still.

“Prosperity is a restless thing: it troubles itself,” Seneca says elsewhere. Or rather, it propels itself.

See if you can find one millionaire who isn’t trying to become a billionaire. See if you can find one billionaire who doesn’t check the Forbes list every year and glare jealously at the names above them.

That’s what getting rich does to us. It rarely gives us a sense of “enough.” Instead, it gives us a sense of how much more there could be.

Needless to say this is a path to bankruptcy, mentally and emotionally if not financially. It’s a hedonic treadmill that eventually breaks down…or breaks the person frantically running atop it.

The Stoics would try to caution us from ever getting on, or to get off while we still can.

There is a story Ryan Holiday writes about in Stillness is the Key. Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller, the authors of Slaughterhouse Five and Catch-22, respectively, were once at a fancy party in New York. As they stood in the home of some billionaire, Vonnegut needled his friend.

“Joe,” he said, “how does it feel that our host only yesterday may have made more money than your novel has earned in its entire history?”

“I’ve got something he can never have,” Heller replied.

“And what on earth could that be?” Vonnegut asked.

“The knowledge that I’ve got enough.”

Knowing what is enough. Living in a place of fullness rather than of craving. That, the Stoics would say, is a wealthy person. That is someone whose life is one of abundance.

Practice Poverty

“Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: ‘Is this the condition that I feared?’” — Seneca

When Benjamin Franklin was 18 years old, he asked his father for a loan to start a printing business. His father refused to help, so Franklin saved and eventually founded The Pennsylvania Gazette.

The business chugged along for a while, but eventually ran into financial troubles, at which point Franklin received a lucrative offer from a customer who wanted to publish a piece in the Gazette.

Franklin, whose first son had just been born, would have greatly benefited from the money. But the customer’s piece, as Franklin described it, was not only completely misaligned with his principles, it was “scurrilous and defamatory.”

Franklin lost sleep deciding what to do. It seemed irresponsible to say no. He had a family to take care of. He was afraid that if the business failed he would be poor, they would be poor. Franklin was terrified of poverty. With all that at stake, with all those emotions roiling inside him, why not bite the bullet and just publish the piece?

To figure out if he should accept the money, Franklin tried something new by doing something with ancient roots. He channeled his inner Seneca and decided to live like a poor person, to test whether poverty was really the burden he feared it to be. For a few days, he restricted his diet to just bread and water and for a few nights, he wrapped himself in a coat and slept on the floor.

“From this regimen,” he said, “I feel no inconvenience whatever. Finding I can live in this manner, I have formed a determination never to prostitute my press to the purposes of corruption and abuse of this kind for the sake of gaining a more comfortable subsistence.”

Isn’t that why many of us do the things we do, take the jobs we take, make the sacrifices we make?

It’s why Seneca stood beside Nero for so long. It’s why people continue to work on Wall Street despite being miserable. It’s why people become lawyers despite having no interest in the law. It’s why people take jobs in the incoming administration despite not voting for the president.

For the sake of gaining (or holding onto) a more comfortable subsistence, we take jobs we don’t like, we put up with people we don’t like, and we do things we know aren’t right.

That is not a rich life. That is not the life of a Wealthy Stoic.

When we interviewed Tim Ferriss, he told us that once a month, he does a three-day fast “to simply expose myself to the rather, often unfamiliar, sensation of real hunger.” Then he mentioned his friend, a wealthy CEO, who schedules a week every quarter where he sleeps on the floor in his living room, limits his spending to $15 for the week, and survives on instant coffee and instant oatmeal. With the reminder that he can thrive on very little, his decision making improves—he doesn’t do things out of fear. “At the end of such an experiment,” Tim said, “people will very often be in a better mental state, feel more content than they did beforehand. It’s very freeing.”

But do not misunderstand, Tim is not saying these people no longer care about anything or that they no longer have grand ambitions. To the contrary, many of the people he’s talking about who have run this poverty experiment are elite performers at the top of their industry or sport or craft who only got better, stronger, happier, richer as a result.

For The Wealthy Stoic, as Seneca wrote, “Freedom is the prize we are working for.” The freedom to decide what you do most days. The freedom to do what you think is right. The freedom to spend time with who you want to spend time with. The freedom to pursue the things you are interested in. The freedom to leave a job that makes you miserable.

The freedom that comes, Seneca wrote, after you “learn how far poverty is from being a burden.”


“It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor.” – Seneca

“Any man, who does not think that what he has is more than ample, is an unhappy man, even if he is the master of the whole world. ” – Seneca

“At last, then, away with all these treacherous goods! They look better for those who hope for them than to those who have attained them.” -Seneca

“Anything at all: the applause of the crowd, high office, wealth, or self-indulgence. All of them might seem to be compatible with it—for a while. But suddenly they control us and sweep us away.” – Marcus Aurelius, 

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


If you enjoyed these principles and want to incorporate them more into your life, check out….

The Source Of True Wealth

How To Own Things

Poverty Is Good For One Thing

There Is Nothing Special About MoneyWho Owns Who?

The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel

I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Sethi

If you want to take a deeper dive into Stoicism’s foundational concepts and daily practices how to be truly rich, how to get out from under the thumb of money, how to be happy with enough, how to thrive, succeed, and live a good, happy life, check out The Wealthy Stoic: A Daily Stoic Guide To Being Rich, Free, and Happy!

It’s a 9-week course designed to equip you with the tools, mindsets, and habits of the wealthiest Stoics in history.

This is not a get-rich-quick kind of a thing.

This is not a ​​hustle culture-esque course.

It’s the exact opposite. It’s about what Stoicism’s foundational concepts and daily practices were designed to teach us: how to be truly rich, how to get out from under the thumb of money, how to be happy with enough, how to thrive, succeed, and live a good, happy life.

If that is the kind of life you want, the Stoics can show you the way.

“And if you can’t stop prizing a lot of other things? Then you’ll never be free—free, independent, imperturbable. Because you’ll always be envious and jealous, afraid that people might come and take it all away from you.” — Marcus Aurelius