Earlier today, I gave my 57th "Thought for the Week" on BBC Radio Manchester. I was prompted to write it by a short email exchange with someone last month.
While the exchange was short and might seem trivial, I realised that there was an important underlying message worth sharing.
Since the start of the coronavirus lockdown, BBC Radio Manchester have had their guests appear remotely. Accordingly I recorded the text of my Thought and sent it to the BBC in advance, while appearing live by telephone to discuss my newspaper review.
Accordingly, as well as reading it below, you can also hear it.
Do you feel rich, or do you feel poor? Two people can have exactly the same income, and exactly the same wealth. One feels poor, while the other feels rich. Why is that?
I know many people who are in the top 1% of income earners. In Britain, if you earn about £160,000 per year, you are in the top 1%. Many people I know in that group refuse to call themselves rich. Some genuinely feel poor. The problem is they compare themselves only with people who earn more.
Why does this matter?
Firstly, it matters for other people. Feeling poor makes you focus on yourself, and how to make your life better. Instead, feeling rich encourages you to help other people. You will give more to charity if you feel rich, than if you feel poor.
Secondly, even more importantly, it matters for you. People who feel good about themselves are happier, are healthier, and live longer, than people who feel bad about themselves. If you think of yourself as poor, will you feel good about yourself?
What about me? Who do I compare myself with?
I never forget that I grew up in a family that really was poor. I estimate that we were in the bottom 5%. I have always compared my life to where I started. That keeps me honest.
Several decades ago, one of my daughters, aged in single figures, asked me out of the blue: “Daddy, are we rich?”
You don’t want to make your children feel complacent. But I gave her the only honest answer: “Yes, compared to most people, we are rich.”
As mentioned above, my family was very poor by UK standards when I was growing up. However I did not feel bad about myself even at that time for two main reasons:
The first point above is particularly relevant to Britons today who are relatively poor compared to others in our society. They are incomparably better off than most of the world's population by being members of British society, benefiting from the services our state provides and our collective social security safety net.