Practicing Gratitude for the "Basics"

By: Chris Hostetler

There was a fascinating report last week from Credit Suisse, which validates something I tell my clients all the time: if you live in the United States, you are probably among the wealthiest people in the world. According to Credit Suisse, a net worth of $93,000 puts you in the top 10% globally.

(If you want to see how your net worth stacks up among other Americans, here’s a cool tool built on Federal Reserve data:

But if you use this information only as a scorecard to satisfy your inner competitor, then I think you’re missing the point. Instead, think about these numbers and recognize how much you have to be grateful for!

The numbers in these studies compare your wealth only to people who are alive in 2018. But think for a minute about what a basic income affords you today. If you have an iPhone and air conditioning and indoor plumbing, your lifestyle would be the envy of kings and queens from just 200 years ago. And those kings and queens wouldn’t have even comprehended wifi.

You and your family have access to high quality public education, good medical care, good roads, free speech, religious freedom. If you live in the South, you probably live less than 15 minutes from a Chick-fil-a – can you imagine the medieval wars that would have been fought to win Chick-fil-a territory?

Even the concept of retirement is a relatively new one which reflects the financial capital and longevity of life that we have built up over the years. Otto von Bismarck designed the world’s first public retirement benefits, which Germany adopted in 1889. Before then, you worked until you died or became dependent on your family. That’s still the case in much of the world.

Stop envying your friends who take all those Disney trips, who have a nicer car and a well furnished house. Those things are eating into their wealth more than helping them build it. All the stuff is not making them happier – if your Instagram feed is telling you otherwise, it’s lying. Happiness comes more from a grateful heart than it does from having all the things you want, because when you get those things you’ll only want more.

It’s one thing to say you should feel thankful, but the amazing thing about gratitude is that you can train yourself to do it. And if you train yourself to be grateful, you’re going to make the world a better place for yourself and everybody around you. It’s not that hard:

  • Write a letter to somebody who showed you kindness years ago
  • Tell a former teacher or pastor about the difference they made in your life
  • Give a gift to a friend
  • Drop some things off at a local charity consignment shop (bonus points for decluttering your house, too)
  • Thank somebody who does a thankless job at your place of work, study or worship
  • Buy some cheap thank you cards – try to write one every week
  • Sponsor a child in poverty
  • For your next birthday or Christmas, ask for gifts of charitable donations in your name (you’re probably already buying yourself all the stuff you really want)

The old adage says that money can’t buy happiness. Although money can give you some financial security, I think the saying is true. Fortunately, it’s very cheap to exercise gratitude, and doing so can make you happier.


*For more ideas, listen to this week’s EconTalk podcast, an interview with A.J. Jacobs, writer of Thanks a Thousand.


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