Ben Stein on what real wealth is

(CBS News) It's been yet another week for enjoying summer pleasures and appreciating our blessings. That's what our contributor Ben Stein has been doing:


My wife and I spend most of the summer in a beautiful small North Idaho town called Sandpoint on an immense lake. It has a lovely beach, and a busy line of a major railroad.

Several days ago, I rode my bike by the beach. I saw many young people lying in the sun, swimming in the cool water, looking thin and carefree. "Youth," I said to myself. "That's real wealth."

I rode my bike under a rail bridge just as one of the trains passed by, pulled by three powerful locomotives. They made the ground shake. The railway is majority-owned by one man, Warren Buffett, who happens to be a good friend.

To think that one man owns those mighty locomotives -- and much, much else besides -- just made my head spin. "Stupendous money," I thought. "That's real wealth."

Later that evening, I took a small party of friends celebrating an upcoming wedding to dinner at a waterfront restaurant. The bride-to-be's father had been a close friend of mine who died in 1996 when she was a teenager. She was obviously still grieving painfully for him. "To have a father," I thought. "That's wealth."

She was also obviously madly in love with her fiancee. "To be young and in love," I thought. "That's also real wealth."

At the dinner table, a young Asian woman told of how her father had barely escaped murder by the Khmer Rouge in the Cambodian genocide. Now he lives quietly, golfing and gardening in Oregon. "To be alive, to survive a genocide, to start a new family and go on after Pol Pot, that's wealth."

As for me, I'm not hiding from the Khmer Rouge. I am a senior citizen, as we laughingly say, and can still ride a bike on a beautiful day along a beachside path. I have by far the best wife in the world.

There are many kinds of wealth, and I am living the dream up here in Sandpoint. And if you look for the wealth in your life, I suspect you'll find plenty of it in your own backyard, Toto!

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