When have you felt rich?
Your answer is likely to be “never” or “not in a long time”, but that response might be wrong because of a disconnect between reality and perception that materialises for two reasons:
1. There are people richer than us; and
2. There are things we can’t afford.
Let’s consider both...
Yes, there will always be people richer than us. But in all likelihood, there are millions of individuals in Malaysia and billions globally with lower incomes and less wealth than you. If they knew what you own — perhaps one or more handphones, computers or vehicles — they would label you “rich”. And they would be right.
Also, yes, there will always be things we can’t afford. But that’s true for everyone.
As an extreme example, check out the daily Bloomberg Billionaires Index at www.bloomberg.com/billionaires/. It is a fascinating, inspiring list of the top 500 US dollar billionaires in the top quartile of our planet’s current 2,043 billionaires (according to Forbes at www.forbes.com/sites/kerryadolan/2017/03/20/forbes-2017-billionaires-lis...).
I used the Bloomberg daily list on Nov 7 to snag a snapshot of the five wealthiest people: Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Amancio Ortega and Mark Zuckerberg. Their total wealth that day came to US$417 billion or more than RM1.7 trillion. But even they, working collectively, can’t buy everything. For instance, almost two years ago in early 2016, it was reported that all the real estate on Manhattan Island was valued at more than US$1 trillion. I’m picking such an outlandish hypothetical to underscore a point: No one can afford everything.
Accept that some people will always be richer than we are and that even if we can’t afford everything we set eyes on, we might still be rich.
Frankly, most people capable of — and keen on — reading columns such as this one already enjoy economic and educational standings that position them well above the average human being on Earth in terms of income or wealth.
Sadly, there are forces in our world and our collective culture that collude and conspire to embed a deep conviction that we aren’t rich... yet.
Numerous fascinating studies have been conducted, asking people a straightforward question: Are you rich? Most people say no, including — get this! — many US dollar multimillionaires. It’s intriguing that almost all who say, “No, I’m not rich,” later admit that to feel rich they would need to earn or own twice their current sum!
Please test yourself:
If you now earn RM2,000 or RM6,000 or RM18,000 a month, am I correct in assuming you don’t — yet — feel rich?
Well, how you would feel at the end of this month if your income magically doubled, respectively, to RM4,000 or RM12,000 or RM36,000?
Elated? Liberated? Rich?
Our joy would be short-lived. We all have an internal economic thermostat, so to speak, that rapidly resets our new equilibrium point so that in three to six months our elevated income becomes our new normal.
When that happens, our latent human sense of unease kicks in. We begin looking around increasingly and unsurprisingly perceive that lots of people make more money than we do. Once again, we’ll begin to notice lots of things we still can’t afford. We again give in to the lie.
We really shouldn’t because we are genuinely rich! (Should you need further convincing, please enter your income and wealth at www.globalrichlist.com; it will shock you to see how many people worldwide are poorer than you and how few are wealthier!) In fact, it may stagger you to realise how well off you are by national and global economic standards.
So how are we to fight against the lies our insatiable appetites and our endless tendencies to compare ourselves to the Joneses tell us?
In his extraordinary book How to be Rich, author Andy Stanley explains: “’Rich’ is a moving target. No matter how much money we have or make, we may never consider ourselves rich. The biggest challenge facing rich people is that they’ve lost their ability to recognise that they’re rich.”
We should all accept that we’re at least moderately rich even if we don’t — for argument’s sake — have more than US$1 million (RM4.2 million) in investment assets. Most of you reading this will have far less. A few will have much more. But that quantum of wealth must not be used as the cut-off separating the rich and the not-so-well-off. According to the most recent World Wealth Report, in the second quarter of 2017 only 16.5 million of our world’s 7.4 billion-plus people (1 out of 448 or 0.22 per cent of those alive today) are that wealthy. Obviously to qualify as “rich”, a lower income or net worth benchmark should be used.
So I suggest you acknowledge unashamedly that you are rich by writing every day this week the words “I am rich” at the top of a fresh, crisp page of a journal. This entry must be followed by several reasons you accept your riches gratefully; ways you exercise your status as a rich person by generously giving to charities and causes you care about — intelligently and within the rational bounds of your current capacity to give; and by deciding to be happy and seeing yourself each day as the rich person you truly and genuinely are.
© 2017 Rajen Devadason