As this column appears on Thanksgiving Day in the U.S., I thought it would be a good opportunity to look at wealth in a holistic way — and from a global perspective.
The media typically frames wealth in terms of the list of richest moguls, or features on the world’s most expensive homes — a kind of status fixation that’s guaranteed to inspire envy and skew one’s perspective.
Researchers have long suggested that the green stuff alone doesn’t buy happiness, and most Americans enjoy prosperity in ways we take for granted. Here’s a quiz for the holiday to remind yourself of the abundance you enjoy. If you answer “yes” to more than half of these questions, you’re among the global well-to-do, and you have plenty to be grateful for this Thanksgiving.
1. Are you planning a sumptuous dinner today? More than 1 billion people — nearly a sixth of the world’s population — are faced with chronic hunger.
2. Did you spend more than $2.50 on the ingredients for your Thanksgiving menu? More than three billion people — almost half the world’s population — live on less than $2.50 a day, according to the World Bank.
3. Can you turn on the faucet to fill the water glasses for dinner, and be confident that clean water comes out of the tap? According to the World Bank, 1.2 billion people lack access to a reliable water source that is reasonably protected from contamination.
4. Are the kids relishing a little time off from school? More than 70 million children of primary school age in the developing world were not enrolled in school in 2005, according to a United Nations Report.
5. Will someone in the family read a holiday poem or blessing before you dive into the feast? Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names, according to a UNICEF report.
6. Do you fully expect to be celebrating this holiday until you’re 65 years old, or are you older than that right now? Life expectancy is about 65 years on average worldwide — but just 46 years in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Bank.
7. If your kids get injured playing in the annual family football game this holiday, would they have access to basic medical care? More than 10 million children die each year in the developing world, the vast majority from causes that could be prevented by good care, nutrition, and medical treatment, according to the World Health Organization.
8. Are you able to enjoy the holiday in your home country, free from persecution? In 2009, roughly 400,000 people will apply for asylum in 44 developed countries to escape war or persecution related to race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group, according to the United Nations. There are more than 10.5 million refugees who have been displaced or sought haven in another country, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
9. If you’re feeling a little full after your Thanksgiving meal, can you safely take a casual stroll around your neighborhood? The most recent government survey found 29 percent of Americans say there is an area near their home where they would be afraid to walk at night.
10. If you own the home where you’ll honor the holiday, are you able to pay the mortgage next month? One in eight households with a mortgage was either in foreclosure or default during the second quarter of 2009, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.
11. Can you pay off your credit cards in full at the end of the month (or you don’t use them at all)? According to a Federal Reserve survey, 58 percent of Americans carry a balance from month to month, leading to financial anxiety.
12. Is your household income at least $50,000? This was the median income in the United States in 2008, according to the Census Bureau. A 2004 survey by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found Americans with incomes of more than $50,000 reported fewer days of feeling “sad, blue or depressed” than those who earned less. Nearly 40 million people — about 13.2 percent of the U.S. population — lived in poverty in 2008, which is defined as annual income of $22,025 for a family of four, $17,163 for a family of three, $14,051 for a family of two and $10,991 for individuals.
13. Do you have a bachelor’s degree? Just one in four Americans ages 25 and older has attained a bachelor’s degree, according to the Census Bureau. Average annual earnings for someone with a four-year degree were $46,805. Over an adult’s working life, people with bachelor’s degrees earn an average of $2.1 million, compared with $1.2 million for high school graduates.
14. Will you do some exercise this weekend as part of your regular routine? Just 40 percent of Americans do the regular physical activity recommended by the U.S. Surgeon General (30 minutes of brisk walking a day). One-quarter of all U.S. adults are not active at all.
15. Were you able to donate money to a charity last year? Charitable contributions fell by the largest percentage in five decades in 2008, according to The Giving USA Foundation. But look at the big picture: Pledges of more than $307 billion were made — and 75 percent came from ordinary individuals, people like you, doing their part to make the world a better place. Now that’s something to be grateful for — and a sure-fire way to boost happiness.