Mash's Musings

Are you rich?

Published May. 2, 2021

However many times this question has come up, the universal answer I hear is "No". Perhaps this is a reflection of my circle or my environment? Maybe I'm surrounded by people working in low-wage service jobs or perhaps I'm in a country with a relatively low standard of living? Alas no, this is the response from yuppies in their mid-20s mostly earning more than $100k/year in two of the richest countries in the world. Ironically, many of these people today would exceed the definition of rich they themselves had given only a couple years prior. Today, that old definition seems irrelevant and any new definition is left vague.

We often snidely refer to rich people as the 1% and yet in my experience the actual 1% and 2% sheepishly deny such classification, instead choosing to self identify as "middle class". People are notoriously comparative creatures, especially when it comes to money, but it seems that 98th percentile income in a 90th percentile country is still insufficient to self-identify as rich. While this is a genuine puzzle to me, I have a few rough thoughts as to why this might be the case:

I don't purport to know why most people feel this way, perhaps they don't know themselves. But what I do know is that by any reasonable measure, they are rich, at least in a financial sense. If you answered "no" to this question, I would ask you to consider why and whether that is really true, and what being "rich" really looks like?

Growing up, I remember at some point asking my dad if we were rich; it seemed like everyone at school lived more luxuriously than us and my mom would often rebuke my asks with a sharp, "We don't have enough money." But I was confused because we had recently moved to a big new house, a big improvement over the old roach-infested apartment, and gotten a shiny new minivan[0], a godsend at the time for my rapidly growing frame. My dad gave me a nonresponse citing that it's not important, much to my frustration. I had wanted to feel superior to the other kids. Everyone else looked happier than me, and I had desperately wanted affirmation that there would be a payoff for this repressive upbringing and angst—that I'd have the last laugh in the end because this is how you got rich. What my dad got right was that I was asking for the wrong reasons. But what he failed to impress upon me were the right reasons.

The reason to ask this question to ourselves is not to gain a sense of superiority over others or breed guilt within ourselves, but to bound the empty pursuit of money and seek real happiness. It is far easier to want more than it is to decide what is enough. And until we truly believe we have enough, we can never find peace.

[0]That Mazda MPV is still running to this day, bless its soul!