I will never to my dying day embrace the idea of keeping up with the Joneses, conspicuous consumption, and all that this includes. Rather, I fully understand the maxim that - money won't buy you happiness. I do not know why some people are perfectly comfortable with rocking the newest iPhone and also struggle to pay the rent. In a world where people need to borrow $400 for an emergency, how can those same people bring themselves to pay $1000 or so for a phone?
Take this one telling statistic: "About 46 percent of Americans said they did not have enough money to cover a $400 emergency expense. Instead, they would have to put it on a credit card and pay it off over time, borrow from friends or family, or simply not cover it at all." (Mui, 2016)
The Federal Reserve report that the Washington Post article is based on uses data from 2015, and was published in 2016. Maybe the overall economy improved in 2016 enough to lower that 46%. We should find out soon. Still, $400?
I checked prices for a new iPhone 7, and its true, once you buy the accessories, some of which are essential, your bill is up to around $1000. And, then there is the monthly on top of that. I find it endlessly interesting that the search analytics on www.faldp.org show that around 38 - 40% of the site users accessed the site through an iPhone and also that the word "indigent" is within the top 15-20 search strings used to find the site. Does that mean that a lot of indigent people have iPhones? I don't know for sure from that data, but it seems to be a reasonable assumption.
I learned early in life that even people that are financially comfortable can make a total mess of their lives. Poverty not required. The Happiness Studies claim that the magic income number is $75,000. per year. I maintain that - it depends. Cost of living varies drastically place to place. So $75,000. in a rural town may buy a nice home with acreage and leave plenty left over for private schools, new cars, vacations, etc. On the other hand, life in a big city on 75k a year may be financially difficult, especially with a family. But, their point is well taken. That after a certain income level happiness does not increase much as income increases. http://aplus.com/a/75-year-harvard-grant-study-happiness?no_monetization=true
My early lesson in life was my parent's divorce. I'm way past caring that they were divorced, but that event changed my life forever. I would say, changed me for the better. Early life lessons are not easily forgotten. I was eight. Our family was financially comfortable until then. I didn't really know or think about it, I grew up that way. My brothers and sisters and I all went to private schools, we had horses, we had an extra 10 acres to keep the horses, we lived in a 5,000 square foot house on the river, we had a tennis court in the yard, we had a housekeeper. Comfortable.
After my parents' divorce, dad re-enlisted in the military, married his patient, took a huge pay cut, and my mother could not afford to keep the house. She was court ordered to sell it. And she did. The private schools went on for a while after the divorce. I'm not sure if it was scholarships, kindness, or if someone paid. Everything else went. We moved to a three bedroom apartment. My two sisters and I shared a room. My two brothers shared a room. And my mom had her own room.
I saw with my own two eyes that my parents despite having everything had no idea how to be happy. Despite having all the material things that go with success they were not able to make themselves happy. Their divorce was acrimonious and awful.
Although the sudden shock of not having the things and privileges that I had before the divorce hit hard. The effect did not last. I learned early on that it was up to me to make myself happy. To do the things that would make me feel good. And to never depend on anyone else for my happiness. My happiness is my own responsibility, completely independent of anyone else.
I think some people go a life time without ever learning that. I can thank my parents for teaching me that as a child. A lesson they didn't mean to teach ... but they did.
Throughout my life I have never put a lot of importance on material things. All I've ever wanted in a vehicle, is one that looks presentable and dependably gets me from point A to point B. Likewise for the house I choose, looks presentable, affordable, low maintenance, and comfortable. Clothes are the same, I don't think I've ever gone out of my way to buy a designer thing. I honestly don't care.
A family member is the opposite. He only wears Ralph Lauren, is obsessed with his luxury vehicle, and does not understand how I can be the way I am. He is also the absolute unhappiest person I know. And, yes, he has the iPhone 7. He's tried to convince me to buy one, but I don't see the point. He has tried for years to get me to understand that people judge me by what I have. I frustrate him to no end, because I don't care. I have even explained that if a friend were to judge me or like me better because of what I have, then that's not a friend I want to keep. I have no place in my life for such superficiality. And if a stranger judges me for not wearing designer clothes, or not having an expensive car, then I don't care at all. I don't even know the stranger, so why would I possibly care?
I don't know if we chalk our differences up to generational influences. My materialistic family member is 30 years younger than me, so he is within that broad group called Millennials. Born in 1986. He grew up watching TV with plenty of commercials. The internet is awash with advertising and offers. Today, we have people who are famous for being famous, and for having money. Paris Hilton. Kim Kardashian. Nicole Richie.
It could be that the differences in our attitudes towards acquiring things is simply a personal difference. Surely there have been acquisitive people throughout the ages, people that flaunt their material wealth. We can go Biblical, Mark 10:25 "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." Or look to pop culture, "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend", sung by Marilyn Monroe in the 1953 film, "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes". The Madonna hit, "Material Girl" was on her "Like a Virgin" album released in 1984.
I do know that things don't make you happy. Once I told my acquisitive family member this simple fact. Things can't hug you back. I hope one day he'll listen. So far, he reacts with anger if I say anything like that. It must be lonely for him.