The Relativity of Prosperity


The Wall Street Journal published an article last week entitled, “Wealth-Less Effect: Earning Well, Feeling Otherwise”. It’s about how Americans who make close to the bottom of the salary cutoff for President Obama’s proposed tax increase—$250,000 a year—are feeling.

The article features one particular family of five who live in Sieverville, TN, and make right at $250,000. They feel as though they are outgrowing their 2500 sq.ft. home, but are now “skittish about renovations”. From the article:

“I’m not complaining, but the reality is Obama may call me wealthy, but I thought we were just good old middle class,” says Ms. Parnell. “Our needs are being met, but we don’t have a load of cash to cover wants.”

My thought was, “How does someone who is actually in the top 2% of the American income bracket become so out of touch with reality that she actually considers herself ‘in the middle’?” 

Of course it’s easy to point the finger at someone who makes more money than I do. But the truth is I too have a skewed view of how wealthy I am, even though I try to be intentional about this issue.

I took the title of my post from the subtitle of the WSJ article: the relativity of prosperity. It’s all about exposure and perspective.

Before Scott and I had kids, we lived in a 2-bedroom apartment in Fort Worth; I’m guessing it was around 1000 sq.ft. We both officed in the second bedroom, and often had guests staying with us as well. At times it felt cramped, and we would dream about a bigger place.

Then one summer while on assignment in East Asia we lived in a small dorm room for about six weeks. Although our bathroom was covered in mold and was only about 2’ X 4’—sink, toilet and shower all together in one space—we were actually grateful because a) we had a private bathroom, and b) it featured a Western toilet (read: with a seat) instead of a “squatty”.

I am telling you, when we got back to Ft. Worth after our summer, our apartment seemed HUGE!

If you’d like to gain a healthy perspective of how your salary compares to others not only in the U.S. but to everyone worldwide, check out a great site called Global Rich List. Their purpose is “to challenge people’s perception of their personal wealth. And while [they’re] at it hopefully raise some money for a good cause.”

Do any of you struggle with an “I’m so poor!” mentality? What do you do to counteract it? For those of you with kids, what practical things are you doing to give them a healthy perspective on the relative wealth of your family?

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