When we think of "prosperity," or what it means "to prosper," we typically focus on external circumstances: material possessions, financial resources, physical health, a good job, etc. But in actual fact, the etymology of the verb "to prosper" (from the Latin word "hope") connotes a state of living in accordance with one's hope. It is the opposite of "despair," a condition we might define as loss of hope, without which life seems empty and meaningless, regardless of our material circumstances.
Prosperity then should not be viewed as an end in itself, as something to strive for and be done with, as a synonym for "wealth" or "success." Prosperity is not the equivalent of material abundance but rather the conditio sine qua non (condition without which not) of human flourishing, of human evolution. It is our capacity for hope—the ability to imagine a life better than the one we are living, a world better than the one we inhabit—and to situate that life, that world, in the future and not the past—that propels our forward movement. The desire to succeed, materially and financially (and in other tangible ways!), or at the very least, to improve our circumstances in accordance with our values, is part and parcel of what it means to be human. The question arises, how do we keep this desire alive within us? How do we achieve "prosperity"?
We begin with gratitude. Wherever we find ourselves on our human journey, whatever setbacks and disappointments we have experienced, we can be grateful for the lessons we have learned. We can point to one or two people (if not a great deal more!) who have been helpful to us along the way. At the very least, we can be grateful for the sun and the stars and all of the elements (air, water, earth, fire ...) making our human experience possible. We can marvel at the fact that we exist, however trying our circumstances at the moment. Luckily, most of us do not have to scrape the bottom of the barrel to find something to be grateful for. Once we latch on to that first thing, our minds will gravitate to the next thing, and the next, and before long, we have a whole list right down to the meal we just enjoyed and the bed we slept in last night.
The next step to experiencing prosperity is to shift our minds toward our dreams! Our passions! The ability to imagine a future different than the past is a uniquely human trait, responsible for all the great historical advances of our species. As good as things are, it is human nature to imagine how they might be better. We are always navigating the space between our lives as they are and our lives as we would like them to be. We think about what we can do to improve our life prospects, our relationships, our health and well-being, our spiritual condition. We imagine little changes we might make to our homes and offices and big changes we would like to see in our communities and in the world at large, and we take consistent action toward those goals.
As long as our goals are attainable (goals should stretch us, and even frighten us a little, but they should not feel impossible), they become part of the "continuum of movement of prosperity." The gap between our former and future self never closes as long as we are alive—before we achieve one goal, we are already thinking about the next thing we want to do or accomplish. Along the way, we face many difficulties and setbacks, but we are buoyed along by the expectation that things will improve. To prosper, therefore, is to experience the future as better than the present.
The future orientation is only important because "prosperity" often entails being hopeful for something better, however, we have to realize that it is also a consistent/continuous movement that we can only describe as perpetual. We have always been prosperous (particularly in some areas) and we will continue to prosper as long as we are "in the flow." We fail to prosper when we give up, sabotage or succumb to fatalism or despair. To give up—as many today are doing—is to deny our essential nature, which is to evolve, to fulfill our "life purpose" or "mission," if you will. For humans, life without purpose is unbearable, fueling the widespread desire to "escape." While the marketplace has been happy to deliver the means of escape on a massive scale, through entertainment, drugs (legal and otherwise), voyeurism, etc., it has fueled an existential crisis of equal proportions.
It is important, therefore, when we contemplate prosperity, to do so from a place of trust rather than from a place of longing. On a summer evening, when we are craving ice cream, we begin to experience some of the sweetness and joy of the ice cream on the way to the ice cream parlor. We are not beset with fear and anxiety. In the unlikely case that the ice cream parlor had stopped serving ice cream, we know we could drive somewhere else or wait another day. But when it comes to our dreams, we don't allow ourselves to anticipate their realization in quite the same way. Our limiting beliefs kick in and stop us. We tell ourselves, "Who am I?" Yet, it is the anticipation of success that animates our life and gives us the courage we need to stay the course. If we said to ourselves, "The store is probably closed, there is not likely to be any ice cream, the ice cream will probably be bitter," we would never get into the car!
Thankfully, through the marvel of the imagination, we can gain a foretaste of the experiences we desire. We can begin to feel what it might be like to be rich, to be in love, to be successful, to achieve peace in the world, and these feelings are what constitute "prosperity." Cultivating these feeling states—either through active imagination, or simply living our lives "as if" we were already rich, or married, or in a leadership role at work—is the third step to achieving prosperity. This can become a fun experiment! How would we approach life and behave in our daily routines if we had already achieved our dreams? How would we conduct ourselves and see/be seen by others and how would this affect our overall well-being? The more we can experience our desired feelings, in the present, the more readily our desires will manifest. This phenomenon is often explained according to "the law of attraction." The law of attraction is not—as it is sometimes purported—as simple as "believe and receive." There is often a lot of hard work and even sacrifice that happens in between. Life is full of dry seasons and poor harvests, and we would not choose to incarnate in a world that lacked such challenges. How else would we grow? But we do begin to experience a profound sense that we are not striving in vain. We come to realize that the Universe has our back.
It is important to note that the outlook I am advocating is not the naive optimism of the child, or the archetypal fool. I am not diminishing the structural injustices feeding the growing sense of despair among many who feel "left out." Not every dream will be achieved in a lifetime, but this does not mean we should stop dreaming! In my experience, the first limit, or obstacle, that people encounter when they are pursuing a passion is not structural, but rather, a limiting belief. Many people experience good fortune, but because they are trapped in a poverty consciousness, they are not able to hold on to their money. Or they worry their new status will alienate them from their family of origin, so they subconsciously create hardship or struggle for themselves. I believe it is all of our task to fight against structural poverty, racism, and other injustices. This is a large part of my work at the Star of Life. But we are better equipped for the big struggles when we have overcome our inner roadblocks.
Acceptance is a part of life, including acceptance of the things we cannot change. People are born with physical or mental limitations, suffer accidents, become victims of natural disasters. Our human condition is a vulnerable one. However, I do not believe in using our experience of hardship or our perception that life is "unfair" as an excuse not to prosper. Prosperity is available to all who seek it, with a sincere heart and open mind. And no matter how disadvantaged we are, no matter what our limitations, all of us can point to successes in at least one area of our life! It is important to acknowledge these successes as we can deploy the same talents and strategies to make progress in other areas! When we realize all of the ways in which we are already "prosperous," our expectations of life change: we anticipate good things and in turn we experience them.