By Megan Poore, Sr. 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’re far more likely to point to one person who appears to have more wealth 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 absolutely brilliant at implying that our lives are somehow 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. As we head into the holiday season – a time that should be filled with joy and fulfillment, but is more often filled with anxiety about buying and spending – let’s go in armed with perspective.
What do you picture when you envision attaining wealth and fulfillment? Is it a fabulous wardrobe, lots of digits on your investment statements and a car that would make your friends envious? Or are there other important qualities that draw you in? Instead of allowing that picture to be painted for you by Madison Avenue, or by a superficial comparison to others, why not invest some time in developing your own definition? I’ve found it helps to start with an honest assessment of just how fortunate you already are.
Do you ever think about the people around the globe who would look at your life and think that you are rich beyond their wildest dreams? After college, I moved to the big city of Austin and I shared a decent apartment with a roommate. One day a woman who was about our age came door to door selling magazines. We chatted with her for a while and at one point she said “Wait. You live here – just the two of you? WOW!” That comment was a needed dose of perspective! Until that moment, it never occurred to me that we should be amazed and impressed that we had a nice apartment that was furnished with nice, though hand-me-down, furniture. It made me realize how fortunate I was.
Here is some more perspective: to be in the top 1% of income earners in the world, you need to earn just $35,000 per year. Pause for a moment and think about this statistic, because that sum is about 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 wood flooring should be used in the study (I found a great one, by the way).
So we should make a point of taking a break from our constant striving, and make time for actively appreciating all that we already have. I am a firm believer that active gratitude breeds both contentment and generosity.
I recently witnessed inspiring generosity by the inner circle of a beloved client who was faced with terminal cancer. Her network of close friends supported her and her family in ways that were practical and creative, but also courageous and affirming for all that she stood for. Having the support she needed allowed her to reach the end of her days with grace, humor and contentment. On reflection, I’ve come to realize that her example, my friends, is one important way that I would envision the wealth of my wildest dreams.
So I encourage you to pause for a while, and make room for your own reflections on what it really means to be content, fulfilled, and wealthy. May we all live richly.
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