Recently, there have been numerous reports highlighting the distribution of wealth and income inequality in both America and around the world. The news is far from healthy:
- It is currently estimated that by the year 2016, the richest 1 percent will control more than half of the world’s wealth.
- Even more shocking, the combined wealth of the 80 richest people in the world is the same as that of the bottom 50% of the Earth’s population—totaling 3.5 billion people.
- In America, the wealth inequality gap continues to grow as America’s middle class shrinks. The share of American households in the middle class fell from 56.5 percent in 1979 to only 45.1 percent in 2012. And there is no indication this trend will reverse itself.
Regardless of how you think the problem should be resolved, this is not good news.
Numerous economic studies indicate the significant dangers to society when the wealth gap widens—both economically and for personal well-being. One of the most important factors designating first-world countries from third-world countries is the size of the middle class and opportunity for social mobility. I have seen firsthand the damaging effect of income inequality.
There are solutions to this problem and we need to find them.
But recently, I have begun noticing another unhealthy trend. One that may be related to the widening gap, but more likely, finds its root in the human spirit. It too requires a solution, albeit a much easier one to define.
This equally negative trend is the wealth gap we focus on in our mind and the resulting division we artificially create because of it.
Let me explain what I mean with a short story from this past weekend:
On Sunday, I was spending some time with neighbors. Economically speaking, we live very similar lives in our suburban neighborhood outside Phoenix. At one point, one of the guys struck up a conversation with one of the teenage boys in attendance—the son of another friend. In response to a question, the teenager mentioned the Soccer Club he had begun playing for. This Soccer Club, not too far down the road from us, just happens to be located in one of the wealthiest counties in the country.
My friend’s immediate response to this information was telling, “Oh, so you’re on a team with a bunch of rich kids?” The jealousy contained in his voice was difficult to mask.
His statement, I believe, is indicative of how most of us view wealth: “Those with more are the rich ones, not me.”
I mean, never mind the fact that earlier in the day my friend had to decide which of their two vehicles he would drive to the party. Forget the part that we were enjoying fine food and drink in a comfortable, well-decorated home. Disregard that he had enough money to care for his health needs, was making plans to retire in the near future, and had even saved a bit of money for his child’s college education… in his mind, he was not rich. The “other guys” down the street were the rich ones.
We experience this often in our thinking. We usually compare our financial circumstance to those who have more. And as a result, we rarely consider ourselves wealthy. The world is big and there is always somebody with more. No wonder 55% of millionaires do not consider themselves rich.
We see this also on a macro-level in our society. In our country and around the world, “The 1%” has become a derogatory term describing the wealthiest among us. Subtly, it is used to designate the apparent, insatiable greed of those who already own enough. We use it in conversation to draw a sharp contrast between those who are “rich,” and those of us who most assuredly, are not.
Again, because we compare our financial circumstance to those who have more, we refuse to consider ourselves among the rich. But something interesting happens when we begin to expand our comparisons.
Globally, an estimated 6 billion people live on less than $13,000/year. And nearly half the world’s population, 2.8 billion people, survive on less than $2 a day.
According to the non-profit group Giving What We Can, an annual income of $40,000 places you in the richest 2.0% of the world’s population. An income of $25,000/year puts you in the top 3%.
Even a minimum wage job ($7.25 an hour, 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year) puts you in the top 8% of all people on the planet in terms of income. Adjusting for actual purchasing power makes little difference in the percentages.
In other words, we are the rich ones. When we begin to expand our worldview beyond those who only have more than us, we quickly discover we are already among the wealthiest in the world today. And in most cases, we are the 1%, globally speaking.
We are already wealthy. And this should change entirely the way we live our lives. (tweet that)
This realization invites us to pursue happiness elsewhere. If I already exist in the top 2% of wage-earners in the world, is reaching the top 1.8% really going to increase my happiness index significantly? Maybe having more money is not the answer, maybe I will need to look elsewhere.
It requires us to rethink contentment. The level of income in our countries is just one economic measurement. In addition to income, average home sizes have nearly tripled in the past 50 years, televisions outnumber people in the average American home, and the average British 10-year-old owns 238 toys but plays with just 12 daily. Despite our material accumulation, discontent fuels more desire, more shopping, and more debt. If all that we already own has not satisfied the deepest longings of our heart by now, they probably never will.
Our wealth calls us to embrace a higher standard. Most of the “us vs. them” conversations concerning wealth focus on how those with more should spend their money differently—whether by governmental authority or by personal initiative. But, if “we” became “they,” shouldn’t we try to live by the same standard we called them to uphold?
It opens the opportunity for greater generosity in our lives today. The thinking runs deep in many of our hearts: Once I make more money, I will become more generous. But the research indicates otherwise. We are already wealthy—most of us ranking in the top 2% globally. The time for generosity is now. And maybe the greatest benefit of generosity is the realization that we already have enough.
Are you the wealthiest human being in the world? Absolutely not (I mean, unless you are reading Bill). But that doesn’t mean “rich” is some far off concept you will never attain. In reality, most of us have already achieved it. And this ought to change both how we live and define wealth.
Love this post Joshua!! I sent it to my whole family! Such a good wake-up call!
Michelle C says
Sooo true. Our mindset depends if we’re looking “up” or “down” the income ladder when we compare ourselves with others. The tendency is to look up and think we’re not that rich, but the reality is that we are economically better off than the rest of the world. I first heard this perspective when I read the book Rich Christians in An Age of Hunger (which I highly recommend). Having lived in a developing country as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I now compare everything I have and purchase from the perspective of my friends from that community – in most cases, I think they would be shocked by our excess.
I need to buy your books x but I can’t afford it lol
I have been telling everybody about this post for the past day! And I can’t begin to tell you how wowed people are by these statistics—every.single.time. It’s such a great reminder to be grateful for what we have, not upset by what we don’t.
D Lando says
Everyone’s comments are so thought provoking.
At age 54 this year, I am the sole bread-winner in a two person household, only making $13.92 an hour for a non-profit Hospice; I worked for an affluent dentist for 6 years, never once being dishonest or having any bad marks on my record. I was let me go “for a zero-intolerance office policy infraction” even though I was the not person who broke the policy/rule(?). She did this to me, fully knowing that I was the only person working in my household. She said she had to prove a point to the other employees and I became “The Poster Child” of breaking a zero-tolerance rule. My good friend and co-worker who was ‘culpable’ in the incident stayed, because she was not as expendable as me). This happened 3 years ago and began my downward spiral economically. I have had three jobs since I was fired, each of them with better hourly pay, but LESS HOURS PER WEEK. Nobody wanted to hire at Full-time 36 hours.
I work my butt off; I have more responsibility than ANY JOB I have ever had so far in life, and although I find this work to be most rewarding, I am earning an hourly wage equivalent to that which I was making back in 1996. This is very discouraging.
I have two cars with no car payments-they are both over 10 years old, a mortgage, utilities, insurance, taxes, NO CELL PHONE, just a computer and an old iPad (which was a gift) and one credit card with debt now, which unfortunately I have had to use and not be able to pay off every month.
I am fearful and very tired. I see no relief in sight, and I have a disabled husband who cannot find and keep a steady job. This year, again we have to PAY INCOME TAX (last year, too). What is happening to AMERICA? I used to be middle class, but I am now approaching lower and lower level. What is going to happen to me in 10 years? I will not be able to retire at this rate.
D—Is your husband on disability?
Content was Superb
Link on “Definite Wealth” was ultra-superb.
Thanks for the post. Helped !
Christa Sadler says
Thank you so much for expressing in such a gracious way what I’ve felt for a long time. I have traveled a lot in my life for regular and humanitarian work. Most recently I started a foundation to provide girls in developing countries with scholarships so that they can go to school. I visit the girls whenever I can—in Nicaragua, Honduras, Mexico, most recently in Uganda and Tanzania. With every visit I see what people make do with in their lives and how happy they are despite what they “lack” in things and money. I am certainly not rich by our country’s standards, but I long ago realized that I am rich by the world’s standards. Yes, a ticket to Africa put me way behind and it will be a while before I dig out of that hole, but the fact is that I CAN do that, and I WILL dig out of that hole. That alone makes me different from so many in the world. It is a good lesson to learn, to remember, and to teach others. It is also good to learn that one does not need wealth or things to be happy, and my girls teach me that every day. Thanks again.
You want to be happy? Trust me on this, realize you can go into the next room and turn a little knob and get cool fresh water anytime you want. Lots of people in the world can’t do that. You go into that same room, open a magic box that keeps food fresh and safe so you can eat what you want, when you want. Another little room has a warm, comfortable pallet to sleep on each night. Another room is where you can clean yourself and dispose of your bodily waste whenever you need to relieve yourself. Hundreds of millions of people would gladly change places with you. You want to be happy? Trust me on this; serve your fellow man. Here’s how my wife and I do it, cheaply and efficiently each week. Imagine what the world would look like if everyone gave 4 hours a week. Like us if you think we are serving our fellow humans.
This post comes at a very appropriate time, as I am preparing for a fundraiser to helping the poor in the fall. One of the attachments is as follows:
The Give It Up For Gulu 5K Run/Walk will be adding a “Doggie Dash” this year, an interactive course where doggies and their owners will “travel” to learn about the life in Uganda and receive treats along the way. This addition was inspired by the visit to a veterinary hospital/doggie day care, by Fr. James Okello on his first visit to the United States from Gulu, Uganda in 2012.
Fr. James was surprised to see the medical advancement for animals opposed to what they have for people in his country. It was even more difficult to explain about the doggie day care adjacent to the hospital. “People never live in a home like this…” -Fr. James Okello .
This was a turning point of bringing awareness of how much we have in the USA and how little others have in our world.
We decided that our four footed friends can also be instrumental in helping the children in Northern Uganda. We invite you to join us in giving these people hope for a better future.
“It has always bothered me that the equipment I donate *because it is no longer medically suitable for dogs and cats* gets shipped to third world countries where it is used for people.” -Dr. Marti Williams, Limestone Veterinary Hospital
Great article! We really don’t need a lot to be happy, and I found out that by giving to others is where you get the most happiness!
What an inspirational post. I’ve been delving into Stoicism lately, and what I realized from reading Seneca was that the struggle with wealth that Joshua outlined has been ongoing since the 3rd century BC!
The thought of the Stoics was that it’s not the person who has too little that’s poor, it’s the one that wants more. What difference does it make how much we have, if we only count what we have yet to get, and not what we already have?
Chris, loved—studied—Marcus Aurelius book on Stoicism!!! ( I love all things Ancient Rome. ) I originally bought his book because of the pretty Romans on the cover! lol Good thing I dove in and started to read it. It’s life-changing! :)
I often say I was born nekked to 2 22 year olds, so everything I have now is an increase over how I started out (gentle smiles). All is good
I LOVE this post and have already shared it with several people. You said what I have been thinking for years but have not had the statistics nor the clarity to communicate so brilliantly. Thank you for this Joshua!
Chris Barker says
Thanks, this is great piece (among many). I concur 100% per cent ith what you say, but the habit energy to always want more remains strong in us. I know I am rich and I am committed to wanting to live more simply, but still i find myself wanting more or spending money needlessly. Training the mind to know that we already have ‘more than enough’ to be happy is a continual practice.Best wishes.
Right on, Joshua!
“To know you have enough is to be rich.” Lao-Tzu
Christina Jurgens says
“To know when you have enough is to be rich beyond measure.” – Lao Tzu
I am a professional home and office organizer. The majority of my clients are happiest when he/she donates time, money and/or goods to others. I have yet to meet the person who regretted making a conscious decision to be generous. Thank you for the well-written article. Reading it was the highlight of my day so far.
Mary E says
Beautiful post, thank you.
As a tax accountant, I can confirm that on average, the more people have, the less they give.
Sometimes I am asked by clients or friends, how much should I give? My answer – it should hurt a little bit. Generosity is meaningless if it doesn’t cost you anything, if you don’t feel it a bit. Give enough that it hurts a little bit. And someday, if you are the one who needs help, you will be grateful that someone else cared to do the same.
Brady Faught says
I remember reading about Michael Jordan, that he won every known basketball award and was by no question the best basketball player on earth. But that didn’t satisfy him, he went to go play baseball in attempt to master a second sport. It’s one of many examples that we are rarely satisfied at our current state. The millionaires are jealous of the billionaires. The mantra we need is simple: I have enough. I am enough. Thanks for the post!
Lori in Prescott says
Wow! That would make a great bumper sticker: “I have enough. I am enough.” Well said.
The income of $13K that is mentioned can mean poverty in one part of the world, and a modest way of life in another. It’s necessary to have a car in most parts of the U.S.–it may not be in rural Africa. It’s not possible for all of us to go live in Finland, or Africa, or wherever you can actually live off of $13K. Where I live, $13K covers our annual health insurance premiums and medical co-pays for my family of 4. Yes, we have a lot to be thankful for and even if the majority of Americans are near the top of the list in terms of income, unfortunately too many are only one serious illness away from bankruptcy. Many would not be able to manage should they be without a job for several months or a year.
A minimum wage job can make you look “wealthy” according to the statistics quoted, but the reality is that many families making minimum wage require government assistance to make ends meet. So the idea that these families are rich and should be more or just as generous as the billionaires behind the 50% of the worlds’ wealth is absurd.
It’s more of the same “one latte a day” argument… You’re rich already–stop complaining! You’re not saving enough, you buy too much, you’re wasteful, you should be giving more… The reality is most of us live modestly and are working just as hard as we did 50 years ago, but we come home with less and less each year while everything is becoming more expensive thanks to economical factors and corrupt leaders who no longer truly work for us, but mostly have their own interests in mind.
joshua becker says
Thanks for the comment Maria. The “actual purchasing power” statistic that you are looking for is not much different from the numbers cited (the link to those statistics are embedded in the post).
I should mention, however, that this is not a post about “not saving enough, you buy too much, you’re wasteful, you should be giving more.”
This is a post about realizing the fact that if we have running water, paved roads, a roof over our head, and clean clothes on our bodies, we are more wealthy than most of human beings alive today.
Joshua–Your main message, encouraging people to share whatever wealth they have and helping others, is a positive one. I believe we should help more and donate more money and goods, or our time, if other resources are not available. However I have trouble with the argument that we should do this because we are wealthy (and wealth is defined by being richer than a large percentage of the world). I don’t think someone making a minimum wage in the U.S. is wealthy, even though their wages are in the top 8% of the world. It’s all relative to where you live and the world around you. $1 here doesn’t buy you what it does in other parts of the world. Many of us are wealthy because of higher salaries compared to the rest of the world, but are poor because of lack of affordable healthcare, availability of affordable education, and ability to grow or obtain healthy food. Our homes and wealth can quickly disappear with a loss of a job, where that small farmer in China will always be able to feed his family. Also, when you remove a couple of statistical outliers (highly populated countries like India or China), the statistical results change drastically.
The fact that we know how many people may be poorer or richer doesn’t change any specific person’s situation or wealth–it’s just looking at the same thing in a different way. If you’re using the statistics to make us stop and think, that’s fine, but I feel each person needs to look at their own specific situation, get rid of excess that doesn’t enrich their lives, and help others because there are many people in need and because it’s the right thing to do, not because one statistical average labels them as wealthy. So I wish you had written this article without going into economics at all! :)
Christel Klinger says
Thank you. This is a wonderful thought. And I know already this changes my mind, how I think about wealth !!
Thanks for your post Joshua. I agree also with most of the comments. Our society (does not matter where you live, I’m from Spain) tells us how to behave and how to feel about money, and this is very different from wealth and life.
Today I thought about this when my boss said: what the other departments do with these numbers, will affect in a wrong way directly to your extra paycheck.
In fact, I do not mind my extra paycheck. It will help my home economy for sure, but I prefer to be collaborative, to communicate with people, and to live fully, better than being jealous and wanting my money at the end of the year, no matter what happens to other people.
So thanks for sharing. It’s a good thought for today :)
Thank you for this wonderful post!
This post couldn’t have found me at a better time. We are about to embark on a minimal adventure: taking our double-income family with two kids in full-time daycare down to a single-income family with my husband staying at home. We have felt like we are hitting our heads against the wall trying to strive for something that isn’t all that important, when in reality, what is important (seeing our kids grow and being a part of it) is passing us by.
I am sharing your post with everyone I know!
i find the ones who never struggle moan the most, never satisfied, they say those that don,t have much are far happier, i find thats not true, its hard making ends meet, i don,t like being conditioned and not to give in and avoid the pressure is so hard to keep up with trends etc, i feel a minority, the smug people are the ones that i really have no time for, they make me angry more than rich people, they have never had a single struggle and have no concept of going without food and yet think they are hard done by if they can,t have a particular meal of there choice or a special diet etc etc, i have just taken a pay loss and to be honest i don,t have the stress, i don,t have money to waste which is what i was doing for convenience sake, when we and my neighbour had little money we often shared food and clothes, a pair of wellies passed down to all 5 kids, we are still good friends and it strengthened our friendship, no selfishness and power struggles, and we were grateful for each other and treats, the bible says when in plenty go and help someone else and so no one is without then, love and hugs Jacqueline xxxxxxx
Jeff Meister says
Joshua, What a powerful post… you nailed it! It really puts it into perspective. We can stand on any street corner and look in any direction and see someone who has less, yet we’re not satisfied. Thanks for this post… Jeff
Joshua—I really enjoyed reading this post! This may be one of your best articles! It is written so well…I have these same thoughts, but I am amazed at how you manage to articulate them. FROM HEAD TO PEN!!! —Thank you for being here. I am always aware of the suffering and I believe it is God-inspired. Like Susan said, I hit my pillow at night knowing that I am blessed beyond measure. Just to be safe, warm and fed is something that should never be taken for-granted. Daily, I pray for law enforcement to “catch the bad guys” in hopes that children/animals need never suffer. Then I ask God to send His son soon, because I know that as long as this world turns…there will be suffering. It’s so easy to look at the guy with the fancy car or something and say “He must be rich!” —And he may be! But in reality, he’s probably in debt debt debt! Thanks for this reminder. I am rich! Not only because I’m a King’s kid…but because compared to most of the world, I make a lot of money! :) Spoiled rotten, 4 sure.
I’m so glad you wrote about this. I have noticed the “jealous” comments more and more and even my kids, who have all they need, will refer to rich people as evil and greedy. its a constant work to review and teach. I feel blessed for all I receive daily, for the warm bed in a safe place, for the food on our table every day, every meal, for a a healthy family and access to care if we need it. Daily struggles can make us lose perspective of all the wealth we live in and I found that it’s only through compassion and staying connected to the divine that we will understand the wealth we receive through giving to those less fortunate than us. I always enjoy your writing Josh.
Phil Pogson says
My kids go to a private school, I love nothing better than dropping them to school (when I have a day off) in the old car and wearing my daggy house clothes – rather amusing pulling up next to the expensive European cars full over over-groomed pretenders…..keeps the kids a bit humble and I remind them each time that their school fees are paid in cash not from a bank loan or a credit card.
A persons life consists not of the things that they own
I’ve noticed the same thing with my oldest. Just last week he was talking about how rich people are greedy and don’t care for other people. I stopped him and said “Look, that’s just as much of a stereotype as saying that all poor people are lazy. People are people. There are good rich people and there are good poor people.”
We don’t have a lot of money. In terms of ‘stuff’ we have to really watch every dime and often go without those ‘must have’ items. (we get teased for still having ‘dumb phones’) And yet, when I consider what it means to be truly poor…we have SO MUCH. We own a PIANO (inherited from my grandmother)…what an incredible luxury! I have machines that wash and dry my clothes and dishes.
Tony W says
Walmart Gives 500,000 Workers A Raise ;-)
Go Walmart! I hope other retailers do the same. :)
Tonya@Budget and the Beach says
Another great article! Although in complete honestly I would like to earn more to be more comfortable and stress free financially, I also do “feel” rich..rich with friends, health, family, a fun life, experiences, etc.
Stacy B says
I think sometimes we believe that all in the U.S. we are all wealthy and poverty happens somewhere else. I once read an article with my students that stated that even the poorest of American citizens live better than kings in the Middle Ages–this assumes there is running water and heat in someone’s home making them better off than a drafty castle. Sadly, water gets shut off and so does electricity when you can’t pay it. So perhaps the statistics listed are high–but who cares the poverty is real and likely very close to you and you don’t even realize it. Have gratitude because your grass is always greener than somebody else and those jars of peanut butter you donate to your kid’s school–somebody needs those–it is the little acts that can be essential.
Eve Johnston says
Christina @ Embracing Simple says
Thank you for touching on this subject! I was once someone who didn’t fully appreciate all that I had, and wasn’t grateful for how well off I actually was compared to most around the world. Since learning how to be more content in regards to my possessions and what I truly “need” to live a happy and fulfilled life, I’ve never been happier!
I have a husband who adores me, a beautiful home near all our family, food on the table every night, and a daughter that brings light to my life. What more could one want? I’m living a rich life in the biggest way imaginable :)
Also, note that many of us are working fewer hours for this wealth. We may complain about the hours we work, but thanks to modern convenience, we no longer have to wash clothes by hand; food preparation is much quicker and more convenient; etc. Thanks to increased productivity, we can meet our needs on very few hours of work–of course, how we define “needs” is where many will complain that this notion is crazy, any why many feel the need to work themselves to death. Of course, hunter-gatherer societies enjoy the most leisure time, but I think I’ve got it pretty darn good.
Stacy B says
Well said Todd:)
“Globally, an estimated 6 billion people live on less than $13,000/year. And nearly half the world’s population, 2.8 billion people, survive on less than $2 a day.”
Could you please support some of this with links and/or additional data? I agree with a lot of what you say, but the math is not adding up for me as the current population on Earth is around 7.1 BILLION people.
The 2.8 billion are a subset of the 6 billion he’s referring to.
Excellent answer, Rochelle!
Thanks! I noticed that 2.8 is nearly half of 6, but I would still appreciate better numbers and sources. When I see outdated numbers, it makes the author look less credible. I found that the clickable words had articles linked to them, but they are not exactly great (one was from 2011 and related to the OccupyWall Street movement). This is an interesting topic and I would love to see some hard data… Are the wages per person or household? Many children, women, and the elderly don’t work. Also, purchasing power varies from country to country, or even among zip codes in one country.
joshua becker says
Maria, the link to the 2.8 billion people statistic source is embedded in the post. The source for the 6 billion people statistic is right here.
I actually have two comments :-)
First, I feel like the richest person in the world EVERY day. I go to bed each night in a SAFE place in a clean bed, and I’m warm and my belly is full. How could I complain?
Secondly, just because someone APPEARS rich, doesn’t mean that they are. Most likely, they are in debt….deep debt…..
And did I mention when I lay my head down, I sleep?
Phil Pogson says
How true about the debt-rich! More fool them.
Really thought-provoking and humbling to think of how we compare ourselves to the wrong side. (And I think this is true in all things … comparison truly is the thief of joy.)
Thank you for this reality check!
We are so wealthy. Just consider how we have:
– Clean, cheap water available at the turn of a dial.
– Vaccinations against deadly and debilitating diseases.
– Free public education (literacy–the ability to read and write).
– Public libraries (freedom of information and access to it).
– A huge standing military force and system of emergency responders (firefighters, police, etc.).
– An overtaxed–but existing–system of shelters, food banks, etc.
– Health, safety, and environmental protection laws (FDA, OSHA, EPA, etc.)
Billions (!!!) of people around the world do not have access to these riches.
Thanks for the reminder, Joshua. I’ve been reading your blog for years.
Mrs. Frugalwoods says
Recognizing my privilege as a well-off American is something that’s been top of mind for me lately. We live such incredibly fortunate lives and I think that approaching life with gratitude is key.
Even when we face challenges, we have the resources to take care of them–we have the money, the access to medicine, clean water, food, shelter, safety, and more. The struggle to simply survive is not our struggle. Thank you for this post.
Phil Pogson says
covetousness – that old fashioned word that rarely gets a look in these days….just sayin’
Catherine Doyle says
I thought you might be intereested in this:
Its within all of our power to make the world change!
Thanks for your thoughts on this. I’ve been working poverty issues for a long time and I see a basic difference between the American poor and the poor in other countries. In America, you are generally shamed if you aren’t an adequately contributing consumer. And you become a hated pariah if your problems cost anyone else money. Other countries don’t seem to be so harsh and unrealistic about poor people like we are.
I am so glad you wrote this. I realized what you write about in my twenties. I worked hard and was so blessed with a good paying job out of college. It was a difficult job but it made me realize that however much you have, someone will have more. If your basic needs are met, it doesn’t matter what other people have. It is an exercise in frustration beyond that and the resulting unhappiness wastes what you have earned and been blessed with. The second part of this post is so inspiring to me. You are right that our wealth should make us more generous. I hope to build that into my own life at every opportunity.
Yes! A thousand times yes! When we wish we had more, we trash talk what we do have, the blessings and what earnings we have from hard work. This idea that we’re entitled to more is a dangerous and enticing one. But ultimately false and hollow. It’s like Gandhi said, “We have enough for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.”
Thanks Joshua for this post. I’ve heard this message a number of times in the last few years, but oh, it is so easy to forget how rich I am, and end up wishing for more, or procrastinating greater generosity “until we can afford it”. Thanks for reminding me.
As a family already living different than many – two bedrooms for six of us (four kids share), and only one (really old) tv – we still have more than enough, never go hungry, have too many toys to pick up and too many clothes to choose from. I am working toward pursuing more time connecting with my kids, more time outdoors and not being managed by “stuff.” Thank you.
As a Child we lived in a
3 BR 1 bath. 4 girls shared one room and 2 boys shared one. We lined up for the bath. We had one black and white TV and no ac (in Deep South). One attic fan which lulled us to sleep at
Night. In my fathers wealthiest days he made 45k and we all attended Catholic school. We played outside til dark and we got one treasured gift
Christmas. Happy memories!
Thank you for tackling such a prickly subject, and doing it well. There are so many things about this subject that have troubled me for quite some time.
1. The jealousy and even worse, envy displayed by so many in our society today.
2. The lessening of generosity as incomes increase.
3. The demonization of “rich” people.
4. The lack of hope that many people in our society feel about their prospects.
I feel that every single one of these problems relates to one thing. Actually, the decrease of one thing. I call it AIP: asses in pews. The fewer AIP each week, each year, each decade that we see in western society, the less virtuous we become. And all of the problems I enumerated above and so many more, stem from that lack of virtue. The majority of our ancestors learned virtue in church. As the majority of our current population decides more and more that they do not need or want church in their lives, our descent into this unvirtuous state will unfortunately continue.
Thank you for saying this Nichole. I completely agree.
Miki Jeffers says
You don’t have to attend church to be virtuous or learn to be virtuous. Nor do you have to believe in a god. In my opinion, it really boils down to taking personal responsibility for your life and your actions.
I agree with you, Nichole! But don’t be discouraged! I know a lot of people who don’t attend church regularly, but trust me—they still have God in their hearts and are living to serve Him.
Kevin @ Christian Simplicity says
Great approach. My wife and I were walking the other day in the freezing cold winter here on the East coast. We started talking about the native American Indians and were wondering what their lives were like. I asked, “other than healthcare and potential issues of tribal violence, do you think that there is much difference in the quality of life they experienced vs what we experience?” Aside from a few modern conveniences we couldn’t think of much. Something to consider – how much of “the good life” is manufactured and cultivated by consumer marketing?
Katrina Kelly says
I love this blog a lot, you write with great sincerity and I often find inspiration from your writings. In this post however, I think there are too many numbers. They really don’t mean anything. Just because someone is in the top 2% of wealth doesn’t mean they can live on that amount. My response isn’t necessarily to this post directly, but just the topic. No one knows poverty until they live it. I made less than $6,000 last year and am currently unemployed because I was let go at the best job I’ve ever had, making $11/hr working around 28 hours/week. That’s the best job I’ve ever had. I could almost pay all my basic bills, but nothing extra besides a small amount of food and gas. The employer had to fire me because they ran out of business. Every place I’ve worked wouldn’t hire me for full time hours, or even near it. My job a year ago, they got down to where they would only schedule me 4 hours per week. These places also treat you like crap, lie about you, make up things and yell at you, cut you down, and make you feel like scum. How bad do you think my spirit is? They don’t treat you like a human. I was in college for 7 years. I earned two college degrees, have all kinds of credentials, and extra education. The past 4 years since graduating I have either been unemployed because places won’t hire me, or have worked for min wage for most all the jobs I’ve had. It really makes me doubt myself as a person. I often think, ‘what is wrong with me?’. These jobs have made me feel like a no-one. They don’t want an educated person like me because I am a risk to hire and they don’t want to deal with a knowledgeable person. I don’t feel those numbers take truly into account the cost of living in typical society America. We live away from our families, we live in a structure where most people need to commute by car. We have to have insurances to protect everything, pay a lot of taxes even out of a poverty line wage. That’s just the basics, on top of that add on gadgets, clothing, things, internet, TV. Living minimalist is necessary now if we want to survive, but it’s still costly to live in America just for the basics, even those who live very much in poverty. We still may be wealthier monetarily, but it can only be related to the cost of living. The problem is what America tells us what we need to own and how to live in its structure.
Well said! And now a person has to have a computer or smartphone with internet to do almost everything, including often to search for or to apply for a job, or to do their job. What you said rings so true: “America tells us what we need to own and how to live in its structure.” This does limit to what degree many of us can minimalize. I wish you luck in finding a job with a liveable wage.
Eve Johnston says
You are not a nobody. I have been desperately poor, have lived in a homeless shelter, etc. Your income does not define you, you need to move past linking self-confidence to how other people behave. I love your comment, because Mr. Becker is making his argument based on the premise that all of his readers have enough. And by enough, I mean adequate housing, heat, food, etc. You are so right that the amount of money you have doesn’t mean squat if you can’t live on it, and comparing someone who is poor here to someone in a country without a money based economy is absurd. But you are intelligent, educated, curious, and at least somewhat ambitious to get through seven years of college. I’m sure you have many other good qualities that come from inside you, please base your opinion of yourself on these things instead of the way that broken people behave trying to man themselves feel better.
Mary Lewis says
Good post. Reality check needed here!
Lori in Prescott says
Katrina, I totally understand what you are saying. Been there. My advice is to move to a better area of the country for jobs. Beleive me there are pockets throughout the U.S. that were virtually unaffected by the downfall in the economy. There are pockets that came back like wildfire. Network like you’ve never networked before. Utilize all the free tech services offered in your local library. Find out about your local county healthcare. The problem is when we are so used to having it all, we are unaware of the services out there because we didn’t need to know. Do you know why people without as much give more? They have empathy.
Mary Lewis says
The charitable donations by those with more money are often driven by goals other than empathy – tax deductions, recognition in their community, etc.
What an excellent and equally thought-provoking comment. I think that living minimally is necessary for many but also very useful for many of us. To live that way, happily though, it does depend on us unplugging from what society tells us we need and that is not easy. I find it easier the more I unplug from mainstream culture. Not watching regular TV with advertisements, not buyin magazines and newspapers where again we are advertising fodder. And so for those who have experienced a similar employment situation as you we need to find solutions. I’m appalled and saddened that employers are so sh**ty (pardon my French) but not so surprised as I learn more about the structure of society and how even they are victims of “I need more”, the result of which is deep unhappiness and the resultant mistreatment of fellow beings.
Mary Lewis says
“I don’t feel those numbers take truly into account the cost of living in typical society America. We live away from our families, we live in a structure where most people need to commute by car.” And there’s the rub. Our cities can’t compare to cities in other countries simply because we have such poor public transportation. Many are like transportation deserts.
Thank you Joshua! Wake up call for all of us in this country!!
Jess Townes says
I think that statistics on how much we give versus our income are also interesting and worth exploring. On the whole in the United States, people with lower incomes tend to give a larger percentage of those incomes than those who make more money. As long as we buy into the principal of scarcity this won’t change. Thank you for adding your voice to this important conversation.
Jess, you make an excellent point! It is the same here, in Australia — lower income earners repeatedly appear to be more ready to demonstrate generosity than “the 1%”. This is especially true of those who have discovered how to find happiness in other areas of life.
Materialism and generosity are a rare couple. When we stop tying our success to our possessions, the currency that bought them becomes much easier to give away.
I’m not sure this is entirely true. I’d rather say that the top 1% show their generosity differently. There are so many people, like for example Hollywood stars or people like Bill Gates who give back to society on a level that we never could – money wise. It might be true that we see more people volunteering who are middle or lower class (if you want to define people like that), but there are different ways to be generous.
Mary Lewis says
Read the study: http://www.salon.com/2014/10/06/study_rich_give_less_to_charity_as_low_and_middle_income_people_give_more/
Thank you for the reality check!!
Kate Roberts says
Thank you for writing this insightful piece. I never thought that I was in the 3% of richest people. That fact makes me realize I have alot to be thankful for.
Janete Canteri says
“Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless.”(Ecclesiastes 5:10)
We are much richer than we think we are even living here in Brazil and with all the problems we have.
Thanks for the post.
Agreed! A change of focus will make a world of difference!
Thanks Joshua and thanks Janete – Ecclesiastes appears to be the spirit of minimalism…I will revisit!