What is wealth? Let’s ask the guy who lives in a hut in the woods (Walden 25)

Let’s follow up on the thought from last time about houses and how much “life” they cost you. Thoreau goes on to talk about people who’ve inherited farms (usually with financial encumbrances):

“The farmer is endeavoring to solve the problem of a livelihood by a formula more complicated than the problem itself. To get his shoe strings he speculates in herds of cattle. With consummate skill he has set his trap with a hair-spring to catch comfort and independence, and then, as he turned away, got his own leg into it. This is the reason he is poor; and for a similar reason we are all poor in respect to a thousand savage comforts, though surrounded by luxuries.”

By “savage comforts” he’s referring to what he sees as the freedom of Indians, who could pick up and move and were not indebted for their inexpensive dwellings.

OK, but do you really want to live in a wigwam? There’s a balance between the financial freedom of simple living and the luxury (which seems like necessity) of modern conveniences. We each have to find our own balance, and it’s a moving target. It’s amusing to hear Henry grouse about the unnecessary luxury of the “modern” house, considering how crude an 1840s or 1850s house seems today. They didn’t even have the futuristic indulgence of indoor plumbing.

But notice how cleverly Henry redefines poverty and luxury. Is it possible to be poor in a mansion? Henry firmly believes so. In many ways his definition of wealth is much broader than ours, and it often has very little to do with money.

What is wealth? First, figure out what’s most important to you. For Henry it was time and freedom from obligation. It was natural beauty and space to think and create. For him, that was wealth, and a big house was just a big house.

(About  “A Year in Walden”)

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