From time to time, I have received emails from people asking me: “Mark, how can I become wealthy?” But in trying to answer that question, I have to assume that they are asking about wealth in terms of money. In other words, they are asking: “How can I get more money?” But do they mean that? The term “wealth” covers more than just money and includes all kinds of things like happiness, knowledge, health, fame, freedom and so forth. A wealthy person could have a significant accumulation of assets, such as land, stocks in companies, private businesses, gold, jewellery, yachts, etc. With all those possessions, he may be considered “wealthy”. But what if he purchased all those assets with loans and, in actuality did not have those assets, which were in the hands of banks?

One famed author says he is wealthy, but all his assets (primarily real estate) have been acquired through debt. He considers debt as money. Of course, he is using debt because the interest payments on that debt are tax-deductible, so he ends up paying little or no tax while acquiring more and more property. And, of course, the carrying of all that debt could also be accompanied by worry, stress and fear.

It is important to remember that wealth is not only about money and happiness. Some very financially successful people have died unhappy, some even committing suicide. Alexander Winston was a prominent figure in his community and in the financial world. He was known for his vast wealth, luxurious lifestyle and good connections. His was a rags-to-riches tale. He was the son of a poor farmer and had to go to school barefoot and in ragged clothes. But through diligence and hard work, he was able to go to college and embark on building a small start-up company into a multinational conglomerate in the packaged food industry. He had a strict work ethic and relentless determination. His intense drive enabled him to become the most knowledgeable in his industry, resulting in his making daring decisions that led to greater profits for his company. He was known for his sharp business acumen, and his decisions often paid off spectacularly. As he became more prosperous, he could live in a gigantic mansion with many servants; he owned a huge yacht, many luxury cars and the most expensive artwork. But this opulent lifestyle separated him more and more from society.

People were more interested in his wealth and not in his well-being. He became detached from his friends and family, and a feeling of profound loneliness set in. He became more isolated under the pressures of operating a major corporation and maintaining appearances. The pressure built up. With no genuine friends he could confide in, sleepless nights, intense anxiety and a feeling of hopelessness developed. He tried to drown it all by throwing lavish parties and losing himself to alcohol. But that didn’t work. One day, as he stood on his high mansion balcony surveying the glittering city below him, he thought about how he had conquered poverty and become one of the world’s wealthiest people. But the pressure of his life had become unbearable. He went to his desk drawer, took out a pistol from it, put the gun barrel to his temple and pulled the trigger.

His death shocked the business community. People were perplexed and wondered why someone with such wealth and success had done such a thing. But his fate was a reminder that wealth and success may not result in happiness.

He seemed to be wealthy, but was he?

Russell was a rich and handsome teenager. He lived in a high-class neighbourhood and had all the privileges that his family’s considerable fortune could afford him. He went to the finest schools, had a beautiful Porsche sports car, sported a gold Rolex watch and could do whatever he wanted. He was attractive too, with dark green eyes, jet-black hair and a six-foot-tall muscular body. Girls constantly called him, and he dated many. But he was reckless. Like other young men, he thought he was invincible and could do anything he wanted and take any risks without consequences. He had an insatiable curiosity and was constantly exploring the world around him and trying everything new that came across his path, even if it involved danger. He loved the rush of adrenaline that dangerous adventures gave him.

In pursuit of fun, he took his friends on spontaneous skydiving, deep-sea diving and mountain-climbing trips. Safety was never a concern, even though his parents gently urged him to be careful. As the years went by, Russell’s daredevil pursuit intensified, with wild parties, drug consumption and excessive drinking pushing him to his physical and mental limits. Despite urgings by his friends and family to curb his reckless behaviour, Russell laughed off all the warnings and told everyone he was strong enough to withstand everything. Maria, a beautiful and wealthy girl from his school, was in love with him. She tried to spend as much time with Russell as she could and started to follow him everywhere. The late nights at parties, the unhealthy fast food they were consuming and their lack of exercise began to affect both, but they blissfully ignored the signs of the toll their lifestyle was taking on their body and mind. They believed that their wealth would protect them from all problems.

But over time, the signs of strain on their bodies became evident. Both were prone to frequent illnesses, and they became fat and flabby. Still, they refused to change, and even when sick, Russell’s stubbornness and arrogance made him unwilling to get medical attention. Of course, Maria followed him in his ways. In January 2000, Russell decided to make a mountain climbing trip with friends. It was the beginning of winter, with snowfall and icy conditions. Maria, Russell and their friends ignored warnings of an impending storm and left without adequate clothing, supplies and shelter. On the climb, they realized it was too cold and slippery on the mountain; they found themselves stranded and needed to return home desperately. As they tried to descend the mountain, Maria lost her footing and slipped off the cliff’s edge. Russell tried to save her and also slipped. They both fell down the high cliff. Their bodies made a free fall onto the rocky surface below and were crushed against the large stones there. They died instantly.

As news of their deaths spread, friends and family were devastated. Some of their young friends started to reflect on the choices Russell and Maria had made in their lives and realized that theirs was a cautionary tale about the importance of health, since without health, wealth is meaningless.

Their wealthy parents were, of course, also devastated. Both sets of parents had planned to leave their fortunes to their children. Russell would have inherited $5 million, and Maria $7 million. Now they would never enjoy that wealth. More importantly, if they had lived for another twenty years and invested that money in the US stock market with an S&P 500 index fund, Russell’s money would have grown to $21 million while Maria’s would have grown to even more. Even a bank deposit with a 3 per cent interest rate would have grown Russell’s inheritance from $5 million to $9 million.

But then, consider the tale of Alex, one of Russell’s schoolmates. He embraced a healthy lifestyle from a young age by engaging in regular physical activity and mindful eating. He did not consume alcohol or drugs and had a positive attitude towards life. He flourished not only in his schoolwork but after he graduated, he also found an excellent job at a legal firm. He pursued opportunities and achieved remarkable success, which earned him the respect of the people around him. His wealth increased as his position in the firm rose. Alex personified the intrinsic connection between health and the creation of wealth.

Although wealth is often associated with financial prosperity, the true essence of wealth transcends monetary gains. And, of course, the longer you live, the better chances you have of creating wealth and enjoying that wealth. For instance, investors like Warren Buffett and George Soros can enjoy their stupendous wealth because they are healthy enough to do so. It is well known that Warren Buffett, also popularly known as the “Oracle of Omaha”, made 99 per cent of his wealth after he turned fifty. On the contrary, India’s ace investor, the late Rakesh Jhunjhunwala (also referred to as “India’s Warren Buffett”), created unparalleled wealth but succumbed to his poor lifestyle and could not live long enough to enjoy his success and wealth into his old age.

Therefore, to gain, you must sustain.

Excerpted with permission from The Book of Wealth: A Young Investor’s Guide to Wealth and Happiness, Mark Mobius, Penguin Business.