4 Different Cultural Measures of Wealth

Written by on October 22, 2012 in Money - No comments | Print this page

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What exactly is wealth? Depending on what part of the world you’re in, the answer will vary wildly. Here are a few different perspectives on what exactly wealth means to different cultures around the world.

1. Bhutan – Happiness

In 1972, the King of Bhutan casually mentioned the idea of basing the future of his nation’s economy on the pursuit of raising its “gross national happiness.” What began as an offhand comment became a central guiding principle for this Buddhist country; their policies aim to promote not only the growth of material wealth but of spiritual wealth as well. The notion of gross national happiness is a rejection of the Western standard of wealth, where well-being is determined strictly using economic factors.

Of course, things like access to basic health services and education (which tend to be associated with material wealth) are not mere frivolities. That’s the beauty of the happiness measurement, however—you’re not going to be very happy if you’re dying of preventable diseases, or unable to pursue the education you want. In order to achieve higher national happiness levels, these basic needs must be met, which is why Bhutan aims for not only spiritual growth but economic growth as well.

2. United States – Material Goods

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, we have the United States. Materialism is the dominant culture here in the United States, where we tend to measure wealth in terms of how much stuff somebody has. Rich people buy ludicrously massive mansions and gas guzzling, unnecessarily huge SUVs, while poor people strive to someday be able to buy these things themselves. In our culture, wealth means being able to buy stuff, and the more stuff someone has the wealthier they must be. Of course, this is somewhat of a generalization, as there are definite sectors of the U.S. that attempt to reject materialism and seek different types of wealth (spiritual, educational etc.). There’s no getting around the fact, however, that we measure our prosperity in terms of our material goods.

3. India – Gold

For people in India, gold isn’t just a precious metal—it’s a deeply embedded, highly cherished part of their culture. India’s love affair with gold goes back thousands of years to the Indus Valley Civilization, where it was featured prominently in art, jewelry, and rituals; it’s remained an essential part of the region’s spiritual and cultural practices ever since. For example, the Hindu deity Lakshmi is a golden goddess who represents wealth, fortune, and beauty, and is a favorite in Indian households. Indian weddings feature inconceivable amounts of gold—in fact, a popular Indian saying is, “No gold, no wedding.” Indians buy gold as a symbol of their prosperity, a universally recognized symbol of success. Suffice it to say, gold is absolutely essential in the Indian conceptualization of wealth.

4. United Nations Development Programme – Standard of Living

The United Nations doesn’t really count as a culture, but it does provide a different perspective on how wealth can be measured. The United Nations Development Programme put together its own definition of wealth, one that encompasses many different aspects of wealth as it’s measured around the world. The program set out to challenge the traditional notion that wealth is purely economic, and while its measurement system does take economic factors into account, it also attempts to quantify other, less tangible factors like equity, dignity, happiness and sustainability as well (similar to Bhutan’s model, but with less focus on spirituality).

The program is essentially trying to take all the different ways we humans measure our wealth and compile them into a general well-being index, and in doing so create an international yardstick with which we can compare the wealth of cultures around the world.

This is a guest post.  Madeline Marshall graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in history and a minor in Latin American studies, and now writes on topics ranging from cultural studies to gold investing. Scottsdale Bullion and Coin is a great place to increase your store of gold with advice from experts in the field.

Image courtesy of M – Pics / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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