I've never been poor, only broke. Being poor is a frame of mind. Being broke is only a temporary situation.
-- Mike Todd, movie producer, 1903-1958
I always enjoy my journeys to the States, and this year was a bonus. Billy and I were able to spend a total of 10 weeks split between the pristine, sugar-sand Gulf coast of Florida and the majestic, panoramic West Coast of California.
These longer stays allow us to settle into the rhythm of daily life with family and to chat with their neighbors and friends. Because our stays are long and graceful, we are able to get personalized glimpses into viewpoints held by people in these communities.
We felt privileged staying in the manicured gardens of gated communities and in million-dollar private homes. Showers felt like rushing rivers, original artwork graced the walls, food choices at markets were vast and fresh. Carpets were plush, air conditioners kept the temperature stable, and professional house cleaners came regularly and on time.
But I noticed something disturbing on both of these visits.
Neighbors, family, and friends were wealthy beyond a mere comfort level. We attended country club luncheons, enjoyed yacht harbors, and played tennis in locations with an ocean view. Riding in plush vehicles, we had access to satellite radio, friendly GPS, and hands-free phone.
Yet there was a so much disgruntlement with their lot in life.
With more than $10,000 a month in retirement income, one man complained that he had no discretionary spending money. Another woman, who lived in an immaculate community without so much as a gum wrapper on the sidewalks or streets, moaned continuously about how awful the maintenance and yard work was. One musician friend who was preparing for his European tour sat with us amid a large private flower garden and grumbled about smokers.
I wondered where they were.
"Oh no, not here, it was in..." and he named a city far away.
Where was all this sour dissatisfaction coming from? I asked myself. And why?
Poverty of perspective
One evening, I sat with my sister, relishing in our $30-a-pound aged-steak dinner, with baked potato, fresh asparagus from the farmer's market, and imported, pricey chocolate for dessert. I mentioned to her this observation of deep discontent in the people I was meeting.
"It makes no sense to me," she confided. "You seem so happy, so easy to be with, and you don't have any of this stuff," she said as she waved her arm in the direction of her hot tub, Koi pond, backyard lawn furniture, and massive barbecue grill. "It's like the parameters are skewed. Personal balance is gone. Everyone has so much, but it's not enough. Where's the happiness?"
I reminded my sister that Billy and I have been traveling the globe for over two decades. We have spent on average less than $30,000 a year. Could I eat more? How many more clothes do I need to wear? Is there a location I absolutely must see where I have yet to go?
We meet such interesting people and see spectacular scenery without it costing nearly as much as these people spend on maintaining their daily lives...
I started feeling like a walking cliche when I spoke to her about gratitude for what I have and for my internal freedom from feeling so much need.
My sister nodded in agreement, yet we both knew we hadn't solved this poverty of perspective.
I could only think to myself that in these situations that I was observing, being poor really is a frame of mind.