By Megan Poore, Senior Advisor Associate
Does anyone feel rich anymore? We meet with clients all the time who are wealthy by many standards. But they often say they do not live extravagantly and should not be considered rich.
A big factor in this phenomenon is that it is human nature to compare our lives “up” and not “down”. We are far more likely to point to someone who appears to have more of something than we do, and feel lacking in comparison, than we are to look at the many, many circumstances of people living with fewer resources and acknowledge just how wealthy we actually are. Rather than feeling grateful for the abundance in our lives, we’re left with a false, and nagging, sense of scarcity.
Advertising geniuses play a role, too. They are adept at implying that our lives are falling short in comparison to the idyllic conditions of those portrayed in their ads. The more we absorb messages of “buy this and you’ll feel better, more superior, finally happy, etc…” the greater our discontent can become.
Here is some perspective: to be in the top 1% of income earners in the world, you need to earn just $32,400 per year. Pause for a moment and think about this statistic, because that sum is a few thousand dollars shy of what is being spent on the average wedding in the United States these days! In other words, the average American is already fantastically wealthy compared to the overwhelming majority of human beings on this planet. In fact, one-tenth of the people on Earth do not even have access to clean water, much less have the opportunity to agonize over which sofa they should buy to replace a perfectly functional one (we found a great one, by the way!).
Another thing to chew on is that while it may be counter intuitive, societies with greater wealth also tend to have higher anxiety levels. Generalized Anxiety Disorder exists 250% more often in high-income countries than low-income countries, as a matter of fact.
What to do with all this? I propose we start by acknowledging that if we have a roof over our heads, food in the fridge and a car in the driveway, then we have material wealth that is truly extravagant. With this perspective we can take a deep breath and think a little more clearly about the things that are important us. We can infer that having more money does not necessarily make us more fun to be around, but studies do show that spending money in ways that reflects one’s personality does increase happiness levels. Our advice is, and has always been, to spend thoughtfully. We can easily fall into a pattern of squandering our precious resources of time and money by using them without consideration for why we are using them.
Consider taking time to imagine that today is your last day on earth, and write down three things you wish you’d done differently. While the calendar (and thermometer!) assure us it isn’t January, it is never a bad time to make some new resolutions. Perhaps it is time to make more space in your life for time with the people who are important to you. Maybe you need more beauty around you and should buy that art piece you’ve been thinking about. Or, it might be that you have several subscriptions that you no longer use and will take an hour or two to cancel those and re-route those dollars to a great cause or community project that is near and dear to you. Whatever ideas come your way, know that your team at LSG is here to guide these discussions and support you in your quest to make sure that money has a positive impact in your life.