One of the tasks that is always on my to-do list: “Come up with some original new essay ideas for ETR.”

Not an easy job.

I’ve been writing essays for Early to Rise for 10 years. When I began, I had about 12 ideas in my head — 12 exciting thoughts, mostly about business building, that I was dying to express.

But I wondered, at the time, how long I’d be able to keep coming up with new ideas — how long I’d be able to keep writing. Twelve ideas would last me two weeks if I published one essay a day or 12 weeks if I published one a week.

Now, 10 years later, coming up with new ideas is even more of a challenge.

“I’ve written about so many things,” I said to JG, a close friend. “I’ve written about entrepreneurship, leadership, time management, investing, retirement planning, health and fitness, travel — even art and music. I’m not sure I have anything more to say.”

“Why do you have to write about new things all the time?” JG asked me.

“Because I think my readers expect me to,” I replied.

He thought about that for a moment.

JG is a grand master of Tai Chi, and has immersed himself in Eastern philosophy and culture for years. So he always has an interesting way of looking at any subject we happen to be discussing.

“But there are only so many good ideas worth talking about,” he said.

I agreed.

“So maybe instead of new ideas what you need is a new approach to some of the ideas you’ve written about before.”

“I notice that you write a great deal about wealth building,” he continued.

“Yes, that is definitely my main topic.”

“And yet you sometimes write about feelings — depression, frustration, what it feels like to be a success. Happiness, too.”

“Yes, I suppose I do.”

“Have you ever written about wealth and happiness? How to become rich and happy too?”

“I’ve thought about the way it’s worked out in my own life,” I said. “But, no, I’ve never written about it.”

“For most people,” he said, “happiness seems like something that will come automatically once wealth is achieved. But you know that isn’t true. So you’ve been writing about wealth and happiness separately. You’ve been explaining what you know about making money and developing businesses as if the pursuit of those things is not directly related to happiness. But the truth is, they are linked.”

He was right. And I realized that being able to achieve wealth and happiness simultaneously is certainly something any ETR reader — whether a beginning or advanced wealth builder — would be interested in.

JG reminded me that I run dozens of multimillion-dollar businesses and make plenty of money. Better yet, I enjoy doing it. Plus, I’m lucky to have a full life outside of business.

“But,” he said. “I want you to consider that you have several hundred thousand readers. Each is a unique person with unique qualities. You were born in the year of the Tiger, and it seems to me from observing you that you are a natural tiger. What is good for the tiger is not good for the horse or the ox or the snake.

“So you should write not only about the relationship between wealth and happiness, but also about how each individual must discover his own nature and find his own way.

I liked that idea immediately. It made a lot of sense.

“In other words, I should talk about the acquisition of wealth in terms of horse and snake and ox skills, not just tiger skills?”

“Exactly,” he said, and smiled. (I was almost surprised he didn’t call me grasshopper.)

“There is another thing too,” he said. The very concept of wealthy may be different for a tiger than it is for a snake.”

I admitted I hadn’t thought of that.

“So perhaps you should write about the feeling of wealth.”

I wasn’t sure exactly what he meant. I asked him to clarify.

“When people think about being wealthy, what they are really thinking about is the feeling of having those things they think money will buy.”

Now I knew what he meant.

We talked about how common it is for a wealth seeker to be disappointed with the big house and expensive cars and the other accoutrements of wealth.

The conversation was getting exciting.

“What do you imagine when you think of wealth?” he asked me.

When I was younger, I told him, it was all about stress relief — getting out from under all the bills I had that I could barely pay. Later, after I was earning enough to pay my bills, it was about acquiring “things” — the symbols of wealth.

“And how did you imagine those things would make you feel?”

“I think it was self-satisfaction,” I said.

“That’s interesting,” he said. “I am a very different person than you are, and yet I feel the same way when I think about wealth.”

Twenty years ago, JG was my business partner. He made a giant income and took home his share of the profits at the end of every year. One day, he came to me and said that he was going to leave the business and spend his time teaching the Chinese internal systems and practicing them in his own life.

At the time, I couldn’t believe it — but I came to admire his choice.

He has become a master at understanding what makes him feel wealthy and he gets that feeling on a budget.

He lives in a beautiful house that he purchased with some of his savings. He enjoys good food and wine. And he travels frequently with his wife. He doesn’t spend nearly as much money as I spend, but his life is every bit as rich.

Here are some of the things that make JG — and me — feel wealthy:

  • Meeting for a drink and leisurely conversation on the patio of the Ritz Hotel in Palm Beach. Total Cost: $38.
  • Going to a boat show in Miami and looking at the yachts. Cost: A tank of gas.
  • Spending an entire morning reading the newspaper because you don’t feel compelled to spend the entire day working. Cost: Zero.
  • Having a seaside picnic of wine and cheese with our spouses: Cost: $46.

The point is, there is a big difference between the feeling of being rich and being rich in monetary terms. If money is your objective, you may never achieve the feeling. But if you focus on the feeling, you will get what you want… long before everybody you know figures out why you’re so happy.

[Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]

Mark Morgan Ford

Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Wealth Builders Club. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.