My friend recently quit her job as a school psychologist to go back to graduate school. When she told me her news, I sent her a message that said, “Welcome to the Poor But Happy Club.” The Poor But Happy Club is an organization that I have come to know a lot about over the past year or so. We are friends of the Rich And Happy, and the Middle-Class And Happy Club. We even love our Rich But Miserable and Middle-Class But Miserable counterparts. In addition, we understand that poor is a relative term, because we Americans are 98% richer than most of the other people on this globe. With that said, our bank statements look absolutely terrible. Our perspective, on the other hand, looks out-of-this-world.
For me, “Poor” has come to mean, “not possessing the financial status that my mother thought I should.” Without jumping onto the therapy couch, I will say that my mother shaped me to view financial security above all other pursuits. The words, “I only want you to be happy” were uttered, but we all really knew what they meant. “Happy” meant Rich But Happy. It most certainly did not mean Poor But Happy.
“Poor” looks like me making half of what I made when I worked in the corporate world. “Poor” also means I can’t afford daycare, so I stay home with my youngest son during the day. In the past year, I floated the mortgage payment for a week or so, on more than one occasion, until my husband’s paycheck direct deposited. On more than one occasion, I looked at a bank account with only two digits in it and crossed my fingers that it wouldn’t go into the negatives before payday (of course, occasionally, it did). And let’s not even talk about the credit card. Sigh. I worked so hard to pay that off before.
“Poor” means day trips instead of vacations, the library instead of the bookstore, and cooking dinner instead of going out. “Poor” means setting my heat really low, and covering up with blankets, or turning my A/C off when my husband isn’t home (he is a human nuclear reactor who cannot function without A/C). “Poor” is driving one car that is eleven years old, and another that has body damage and smells like old cigarettes.
Wow. When I look at “Poor” on paper, it looks pretty whiny, compared to what so many other people experience. At least I can pay my mortgage, even if I pay it a few days late sometimes. At least I have a home, when so many other people don’t. Of course, it’s the ugliest house in town, and it’s falling down around me. But that’s a story for another time.
So what does “Happy” look like? “Happy” is taking my son to the toddler program at the library, listening to him sing the songs he has learned, and knowing that I know the words. “Happy” is getting up every morning excited about what I do, even if my income has been slashed. “Happy” is walking to school with my oldest son, picking him up in the afternoons, and giving him cookies and milk (so what if the cookies are pre-packaged?).
“Happy” is actually going out on a date night once a week with my husband, who I used to see so rarely when I worked a corporate job. “Happy” is in the little things, like reading books, getting some exercise, and learning to use Skype to keep in touch with family. When I look back at the Middle-Class But Miserable Club, of which I used to be a member, I can say with honesty that I would not go back in time. I would not ask for one dime of the money I used to make, or one shred of self-importance from the career that I chose to leave.
People can make good money, and work corporate jobs, and be absolutely Happy. The lesson in all of this is not to be a slave to money. It’s very unlike me, but I’m starting to have a little faith. I’m starting to believe that if I do what rates as Happy, as long as I’m doing some good in the universe, then the universe may be willing to help me out just a little bit. I think the attitude is called “Optimism.” That’s a new quality that I’m glad to embrace, even if I had to become Poor to do it.