“Who is the middle-class?” This is the most common question we have been asked while doing dozens of interviews. When economists are asked about who is middle class, they answer the question by citing specific income ranges. But the ranges vary widely, anywhere from $25,000 to $250,000. So income doesn’t seem to be the key to why 60% of Americans define themselves as middle class.
Middle class is more of a state of mind than a bank balance. We define ourselves as middle class as long as we feel we’re on track to success and thereby to a happy, secure life. But just what is success?
That is the question John Izzo, Ph.D., asked 250 people from all walks of life in writing is book Five Secrets You Must Discover before You Die. You might be surprised at the answers he got.
First, he found that 84% of people he interviewed reported that “having money beyond a basic level of comfort did not increase their personal happiness.” Second, he found that 81% said the most important factor in career happiness was “being true to yourself.”
Psychologist and associate professor at Knox College, Tim Kasser goes a step further in disconnecting happiness from material success. In his books, The High Price of Materialism and Psychology and Consumer Culture: The Struggle for a Good Life in a Materialistic World, Kasser summarizes extensive research to show that after reaching a basic level of comfort, continually striving for more money and more things actually works against our sense of happiness.
In writing Middle-Class Lifeboat, we found that in choosing to pursue new lifestyles and sometimes new careers, the people we interviewed had re-defined success . It no longer meant making more money or owning more things. They were stepping out of our materialistic consumer culture and found they were HAPPIER!!
So instead of aspiring to some externally-measured, material definition of success, perhaps it’s time for us to re-evaluate what makes us happy and define that as success. What would that be for you? How would it be different from what society’s definition of “success?”
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