Are you rich? That’s not a question most people would like to answer in polite company. But behind the privacy of your browser you can check where you stand relative to your neighbors. This New York Times tool will help you out. We’ll wait.
Are you surprised? As Quealy, Gebeloff and Taylor write:
If your income rank is higher than you thought, you’re not alone
Most of us prefer to call our incomes “average,” even when, statistically speaking, they’re not. But that assessment doesn’t really come from a deep understanding about our actual place on the income spectrum. For many people, it’s not even a quantitative question at all.
Some 70% of Americans think they are middle class. Yet only 52% of Americans actually are middle class. This represents an American desire to view themselves as average, or of the people. Which is, on some level, laudable. As Pavithra Mohan at Fast Company notes:
When it comes down to it, most Americans probably feel that it’s more socially acceptable to be middle class–or, at the very least, to self-identify as middle class. And much of that may be tied up in how closely money is linked to emotion.
A problem arises when that perspective affects how we actually live in the world. For those aspiring to a middle class lifestyle, certain things may feel necessary. AnnaMaria Andriotis, Ken Brown and Shane Shifflett write in the Wall Street Journal about middle class families leaning on debt. Student loans, credit card balances and auto loans are ballooning as families struggle to maintain middle class lifestyles.
For those who are high income, the pressure to stay on par with neighbors is a difficult thing to resist. This despite the fact that so-called luxuries, like a new, big SUV or luxury sedan, are by no means guaranteed to increase your happiness.
The persistent push and pull of social media is likely playing some role in this surge in “envy.” Ethan Kross, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan states in The Guardian:
We are constantly bombarded by “Photoshopped lives”, he says, “and that exerts a toll on us the likes of which we have never experienced in the history of our species. And it is not particularly pleasant.”
Everybody’s circumstances are different. Nobody from the outside can know them. Money does make life easier. It would be naive to say otherwise. As Barry Ritholtz wrote at the Big Picture:
None of this suggests we should be madly pursuing material things for their own sake, or falling into the financially self-destructive habit of keeping up with the Jones. But dismissing the economic, health and psychological securities provided by accumulating capital goes too far in the opposite direction.
There is only so far money can take us. The real currency in our lives is time. As Anthony Isola at A Teachable Moment writes:
Money can help purchase happiness but our most valuable commodity is time. Time is running out much faster than you think. We are all going to die, the only question is when?
Absent more money there are things we can to try to boost our happiness. Ben Carlson at A Wealth of Common Sense cites ways in which we can increase our happiness without earning more money. These include: having a job you enjoy, being able to work remotely, avoiding long commutes and:
The ability to manage your time effectively. Time is our most precious of assets but it’s also the one people seem to complain about the most. I am soooooo busy is the modern rallying cry for workers, parents, bosses, and pretty much anyone with poor time management skills.
At the top we asked: are you rich? The study will tell you one thing, but on closer examination you may have a very different answer. Does money matter? Of course, but controlling your time and environment may matter even more.