Wealth-gap-itis got you down this holiday season? Having less disposable income is never easy during the holiday season, and given that the current gap between those who have and do not have money is one of the largest ever in American history, many more of us simply don’t have the money to fulfill our holiday wishes, our desires to be generous and show our love to those who matter. The holidays encourage us to open our hearts, to be generous, caring, and connected. In our society we use gift giving and charity as a way of showing our love and compassion. And then there is the chorus of print and electronic media, screaming “it’s the holidays—buy, buy, buy”, and the 24/7 box stores as well as the pressures of “always on”cyber shopping that follow suit. As much as you would like to be able to bring light and good cheer during this time of year, your bank account isn’t as full as your desires, leaving you feeling frustrated, powerless, and depressed. This is Wealth Gap-itis: Increasing symptoms of anxiety and depression resulting from the increased demands and financial pressures of your daily life, amplified by the very real impact of the wealth gap. Even though you are aware of the economic conditions, you still blame yourself for not having the financial resources you believe you need, not being able to get financially ahead as you thought you could in a society that brands itself on the virtues of the American Dream. The longer you have Wealth Gap-itis, the more you feel powerless and hopeless—as if you have been left out (or kicked out) of the party. The demands of the holiday season only add fuel to this psychological fire, which over time, can result in damaging burns to your self-esteem and self-worth.
Think for a moment about how you define a “successful” holiday season: How much of it is determined by purchasing all the right gifts? Or is it more about relationships, finding ways of connecting with those who matter to you? Or is it about giving back? America suffers from a cultural and psychological overvaluation of money: How much we can spend and show what we have is too large a part of our self-esteem, our desire for admiration from others, as well as proof of our love. The changes in our economy are part of large socio-economic forces that gained traction in the last three decades. In the USA, globalization has been good for the few, bad for the many. Many of us feel that the middle class of Asian nations has risen at the price of the American worker--the backbone of our economic machine since the end of World War II—who has been overlooked and devalued. Unless you are one of the winners in the Tech economy (or an inheritor of wealth), these social forces and global changes have, like a slow poison, seeped into your bloodstream and have likely resulted in less income and personal well-being.
We wanted to give a name to this syndrome to bring the psychological impact of the wealth gap to light and most importantly, to help you identify and take charge of its impact. So what can you do with the pain and suffering of Wealth Gap-itis?
- Don’t blame yourself for being a victim of the wealth gap; blaming the victim only makes matters worse. Listen to the wisdom of people like Robert Reich (Inequality for All) or Pope Francis, who has openly expressed his concern about the wealth gap, and said, “Money must serve, not rule!”
- Get out of your money fog. Many of us deal with our anxiety or uncertainty about money by telling ourselves a false story by believing that the understanding or taking charge of money is hopelessly lost in a fog zone. There is a price and payoff for every defense we use. In this case, staying in the “money fog” may reduce our immediate financial anxieties but with the price of increasing our experience of feeling powerless and stuck. Anyone can learn Finance 101, and there are numerous free resources online to help you learn.
- Be an activist in your own life. Become aware of and maximize your strengths. Focus on ways to increase your sense of personal agency—of being in the driver’s seat of your life. Take small steps to be proactive and positive about your real capacities, your love, and goodness as a human being.
- Give the gift of connection—your time and attention in an open-hearted way with those people that matter to you. This is the most rapid way to start the cure. Human connection is the one commodity that money cannot buy; bringing the holiday spirit and warmth we all seek this time of year. People young and old will remember true acts of kindness and the giving of time and attention (lending a hand) with the same if not more significance as a monetary transfer.
- Give the gift of humility and the offer of open, two-way dialogue. Keep in mind that a gift of money will not heal a broken heart, or mend a torn fence between you and another. Instead, consider offering the gift of your humility and openness to having a conversation about a conflict in which each party takes the time to carefully listen and consider steps toward resolution and/or forgiveness.
- Give the gift of charity in any way you can to at least three people who are in need. Random acts of kindness no matter how big or how small count.
- Re-set your Affluence Intelligence Thermostat. In our book we talk about how each of us has a ‘thermostatic setting’ for our Affluence Intelligence—which, in part, translates into how we regulate our relationship with money. If your thermostat is set too low, then you are more likely to feel and think negatively about changes you need to make in regard to money. Wealth Gap-it is will lower your thermostat. Each of us can take small, doable steps in our daily lives to change your AI Thermostat setting.
- Practice Regenerative Economics. In a prior article we spoke about a framework for financial decision-making that we call Regenerative Economics, in which you make money and lifestyle decisions that support you, your family, and your community's capacity to grow and regenerate. Each of us needs to craft a plan, a personal lifestyle design that is attuned to your unique personal and financial ecology that will guide your financial decision-making so you can reach your unique balance point. Use a Regenerative Economics mindset: Review your spending and saving decisions. Are these decisions regenerative or degenerative? What do you need to do to shift the balance?
- Stop the “comparisons.” There will always be someone who has more as well as those who have less. The self-talk of making comparisons between the economics of you and others may be human nature, but when it becomes ruminative it will erode your self esteem, and leave you feeling inferior and trapped. So stop the the cycle of self-flagellation.
So if you want to heal from the wounds of Wealth Gap-itis
, go with what you can do and stop looking at what you can’t do. Be productive and creative with the best of you. Most importantly: Don’t confuse your self-worth with your financial worth. Do have empathy for your financial struggles, don’t get caught in self-pity, and find people and processes that empower you to get out of your own way and take do-able action steps that are aligned with your most important values and goals.