I recently asked about your opinion of “rich” and got a range of responses. Some people said a 6-figure income is rich, while people IN the 6-figure income range said it’s not. For me, I conceded it’s a matter of perspective and relativity. Here in America, many people, if they really thought of it, wouldn’t consider $100,000 per year in salary as rich because it doesn’t let you live the “lives of the rich and famous”. Instead, you need to be making a good half-million or more to even start living the “rich life”.
But when you compare a 6-figure salary to the rest of the world, especially developing countries, it’s a salary more than entire towns make…and more! In fact, America’s poor live like kings and queens compared to the rest of the world. Only the poorest and most destitute of Americans live without running water, sewage, electricity or HD televisions. And that’s only because they refuse a government handout (ooh, will I get blasted for that statement?).
Frugality out of Necessity…A Chilean Story
Last night, I spoke with a couple who immigrated from Chile in the early 70s and who still visit the country every year. The husband is now 80 and the wife is about 71, and through his work, they have visited many places across the globe. They’ve seen palaces in Europe, mansions in America, and slums in Central America and Africa.
But one thing they really got to see first-hand was the deterioration of their home country when a communist leader took power. They told me that, while in America, they offered their friends in Chile money. The friends replied “We have more than enough money, but nothing to spend it on“. My new friends couldn’t explain what happened to all the goods normally for sale, but they did describe how lines would form and people would stand in them not even knowing what was for sale. They just knew they would buy it, whatever it turned out to be, because they had nothing else.
One other interesting story was how all the wild dogs and cats disappeared from the streets. Apparently they couldn’t buy meat for up to 6 months at times. Guess where they turned to get it. Even the horses were fair game. People bartered their sugar for coffee. If you had thread, you found someone with a needle and shared. It was true frugality, but only because there was no other option. When I talk about frugality here, it’s more because I don’t want to waste, or I want to help save for our future, not because we NEED to but because we WANT to.
The Only Way to Appreciate What You Have…
is to experience the other side of life. The Chilean couple repeated to me over and over that we have it SOOO good in America. They’ve been lucky enough to experience it for the last 40 years, but they lived half their lives in Santiago, Chile where, even as the capital of this South American country, it was far behind many U.S. cities. The poor in Santiago are unlike the poor in New York, Pittsburgh or even Miami. It’s true poverty, and they saw it first-hand.
For me, during my youth we were in the lower middle class range (at best). I was too young to recall living in a trailer, and my grandma helped us by building onto her house and letting us live there. But during these years, I don’t recall every feeling “poor”. I’m sure I complained when I couldn’t get designer clothes and had to settle for Value City (or even Goodwill/Salvation Army), but at least I had a selection of clothing. I had toys, books and even video games.
No, I wouldn’t say I was poor growing up. Not by a long shot. Thanks Mom and Dad (and Gram).
But that also means I don’t really know what it’s like to be poor. Or what it’s like to dumpster dive out of necessity. Or what it’s like to beg. Because I don’t know these things, I don’t believe I can truly appreciate how good I really have it.
How to learn to appreciate life
There are self-help books, websites, movies, TV shows and probably conferences on how to enjoy life more. Marketing departments of companies revolve around the theme of “our product/service makes your life better”, but what does that really mean? Why do I need my life to be “better”? Isn’t my life good enough?
No, to many people across the globe, their life isn’t good enough. That’s why consumer debt is so big of a problem. That’s why we have the financial turmoil rattling the globe today. People want more, but they don’t appreciate what they already have.
So here are a few tips on how to improve your appreciation of your life:
– Volunteer. The most direct way you can learn about “the other side of life” is by volunteering in those communities. Soup kitchens, homeless shelters, home rehabilitation projects, and Big Brother/Big Sister are just a sampling of ways to experience a different culture than you’ve grown up with. However, bear in mind you’re out to help someone and appreciate what you have more, not make this into a war story to tell your friends.
– Educate Yourself. Watch documentaries, read books, view photographic evidence of poverty in real life. If you can’t experience it first-hand, at least educate yourself through the eyes of others.
– Stop Buying. Most likely many of us have all that we need to survive. Just because you want a flat screen TV to replace your CRT doesn’t mean you should go out and buy it. Live with what you have and learn to love it. That is, love living life that way; don’t love your stuff.
– Get Rid of Stuff. Along with not buying new stuff, consider selling off all that clutter in your life. I don’t intend that you become a survivalist or minimalist, but try de-cluttering your life so you’re not burdened with the need to take care of your stuff — Then you can begin to take care of yourself. You’d be surprised at how much time that inanimate object takes out of your life, just by being there. Reduce your possessions and thus reduce your obligations to maintain them.
However, be aware that nothing can really substitute for a true life of hardship and the lessons learned from that life, and I don’t wish that kind of life upon anyone. Don’t feel bad about your life and how good you have it; rejoice in it and share it with others.