“Despite lingering unemployment and a still sluggish economy, many Americans are finding reasons to be thankful this time of year. In fact, for some, unexpected layoffs, financial setbacks, or simply a desire to spend more time with family have served as a reality check, a wake-up call for consumers to rethink their idea of wealth and prosperity.”
This sentiment drew over 3,000 comments on Yahoo’s finance page when the site featured a U.S. News & World Report column from Nov. 23 by Susan Johnston on “How Americans are Rethinking Prosperity.” Most of the responses were scathing. Apparently, many readers felt that fighting for jobs, struggling to buy food and pay bills, and watching their lifestyles erode does not denote any kind of “new prosperity.” And they don’t seem ready to reflect on any blessings these difficulties may have conveyed.
The article and the comments stayed with me through the Thanksgiving weekend. Can I find anything to be thankful for in our new situation?
The answer is yes. I appreciate that my viewpoint has changed. There are components to poverty that I didn’t understand when I was well off. For example, in the past I used to criticize the way poor people seem to lurch from crisis to crisis. I always wondered why they didn’t they plan ahead. Now I know. You can only put off normal maintenance and repairs and routine health care so long before disaster follows. For instance, I realize my 30-year-old stove needs replacing. The flames shooting out of it one night convinced me. But I patched it up and continue to gamble each night that it will sputter through another meal, because I can’t afford to do otherwise. So I, too, now lurch from crisis to crisis and a better understanding of poverty.
I also appreciate the lessons my children are learning. It’s hard to teach the value of money when it’s plentiful. We’ve always made our kids do chores and work for what they want, but I’m not sure they understood before why we never bought a new TV or an Xbox or upgraded cell phones, even when we could afford them. Now they do. Money is no longer an abstract concept. And they know first-hand the feelings of the kids at school who can’t afford the latest and greatest.
One of my proudest moment this year was when my 15-year-old daughter decided to earn her own money for a trip with her school orchestra later this year. While all her friends were vacationing at the beach and hanging out at the mall, she was working for the state picking up garbage alongside the highway–finding everything from rats to “trucker bottles” (you don’t want to know) to shopping carts full of booze. She now understands the true worth of college.
And I’ve been touched by all the people who are willing to help–from my neighbor who always seems to have cooked too much of something for herself, to the cashiers at the store who still have a friendly smile when they see EBT on the sales slip, to my sister who shares the occasional luxury and an optimistic outlook. People are kinder than I thought.
And of course I’m thankful we’re relatively well off. Our home is secure. We have health insurance and transportation. Work to do, even if it isn’t paying much. We’re all healthy. I know so many people coping with worse. I won’t lie and say I enjoy the new simplicity, because I don’t. But adversity makes you take stock of what you have and what you want. It forces you to learn new skills. For example, my husband is sitting next to me sewing up his ripped coat, and he’s become a gourmet cook. I can now build a killer fire and have attempted blogdom. So it’s not all bad. I understand what the article’s author was trying to say. But I’m with the 3,000 other commenters: I hope this “new prosperity” isn’t permanent.