Ditching the Poverty Mentality

<July 2008>

I’m pretty convinced that most...or at least a very very large number of human beings...live their entire lives stuck deep inside a “poverty mentality.”

We think, focus on & obsess over what we don’t have – what we’ve lost, think we can’t do, don’t have, or can’t afford.

Is it not so??

I must hasten to add that this disease (for surely it is a disease, & it is epidemic) afflicts the materially well-off every bit as much as it does the financially poorly off. I once heard that Bill Gates – the richest man in the world, is he not? – when asked if he had enough money, replied “Not quite.” If that is not some kind of illness, I don’t know what is

I’ve met people with lots of money who are every bit as deeply mired in the poverty mentality as the folks I know who have very little of it indeed.

So, the poverty mentality is really a mindset (or attitude) then, & mindsets and attitudes can be changed. We are each in charge of our own attitudes & mindset (are we not? If not, then who is??) – & therefore, if we genuinely want to “ditch” the poverty mentality, this is quite clearly our own choice.

Perhaps personal examples speak the loudest, so I’ll share some of my own experiences in this regard:

I was born into what I now see in retrospect was a family of some privilege. (1)  My father was an airline pilot & made a pretty hefty salary. We lived in a big house on a nice lake (polluted, but I digress) & we belonged to both the local Yacht & Golf & Country Clubs.

However, there was a distinct, continual attitude of lack that pervaded the atmosphere in our home. We lived “on the cheap” compared to the other airline families in our social circle (my father lost an awful lot of money on bad investments), & I learned early & well the important lesson that money really does not bring happiness.

This lesson picked up in childhood has served me rather well in life, I must say. I live on less income (by a very, very long shot) than most folks I know, yet I also feel rich (many folks I know, who have lots & lots more money & "security," certainly don’t seem to…).

The poverty mentality is a stubborn little critter, though, & it does rear its ugly little head from time to time, still (as in, this morning, when I was paying bills & juggling money. I do have to have stern little chats with myself at such times, to remind myself not to get bent out of shape over ridiculous, petty nonsense. These stern little chats can be most helpful on this score – & on others I could mention).

What I wish I could get across to people in a really crystal-clear way is that wealth has nothing whatsoever to do with money, & that an abundant life is a possibility for each & every one of us.

It’s a choice.

My life is rich & abundant because I focus on gratitude, “follow my bliss,” have gobs of great people in my life, do lots of challenging & rewarding work (most of it unpaid) that I love doing & feel appreciated for, have a deep appreciation & love for our beautiful Earth, sing & walk often, & hang out with others who see the world in much the ways I do.

The people I hang out with & enjoy the most focus on possibilities – not limitations. We focus on what we have – & what we can do and be and achieve – not on what is impossible, unattainable or un-doable.

I think human life on this planet – for the past 10,000 years, anyway – has been a fear-based exercise in trying to control this, that & the other thing – when in fact, if we loosen up & open up & recognize that we are not in fact in control, but do have access to enormous power (of a positive nature) – all things become possible.

I’ve had a lot of excellent help along the way, of course, to help bring me to these realizations. Inspiring books, great friends, fantastic conversations, challenging life experiences and some very helpful workshops.(2)

Life is not meant to be about hogging & hoarding & controlling – at least I’m utterly convinced of this.

I think it’s about generosity & compassion & caring about others & the Earth – & a deep, deep inner faith & conviction that it’s a wildly abundant Universe that actually appears to be constructed in such a way that we can indeed receive what we really desire – unless we’re all tied up in knots inside that darn poverty mentality that insists we cannot have what we really want. (3)

I do know that the more generous I am as I go about my days – with my insights, energy, work, money & ideas – the more I receive. I could tell some amazing stories about the generosity shown to me by my friends, that frequently blows me right out of the water (perhaps I’ll do so elsewhere; this essay is long enough already!).

I hope more of us begin doing our very, very best to learn to ditch the poverty mentality – to focus on gratitude & possibilities. I think we’ll soon be astonished at the miracles both large & small we’ll begin to see happening around us!


p.s. The essay ‘Ditching the 2 x 4’s’ covers some ground that may also be of interest.


A Few Relevant Quotations:

“Wealth is something you acquire so you can share it, not keep it.” LaDonna Harris

“The miracle is this – the more we share, the more we have.” Leonard Nimoy

“The real measure of our wealth is how much we would be worth if we lost all our money.” – The River of Life

“Your wealth is where your friends are.” – Plato

“We are not lacking in the dynamic forces needed to create the future. We live immersed in a sea of energy beyond all comprehension. But this energy, in an ultimate sense, is ours not by domination but by invocation.” – Thomas Berry in The Great Work – Our Way into the Future

“The universe oozes with power, waiting for anyone who wishes to embrace it.” – mathematical cosmologist Brian Swimme, author of The Universe is a Green Dragon, quoted in Matthew Fox’s The Coming of the Cosmic Christ – The Healing of Mother Earth and the Birth of a Global Renaissance

“What lies behind us and what lies ahead are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves: ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? … We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” – Marianne Williamson

“Often people attempt to live their lives backwards: they try to have more things, or more money, in order to do more of what they want so that they will be happier. The way it actually works is the reverse. You must first be who you really are, then do what you need to do, in order to have what you want.” – Margaret Young, quoted in Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach

“Abundance is not something we acquire. It’s something we tune into.” – Wayne Dyer

“The miracle is this – the more we share, the more we have.” – Leonard Nimoy 

** Gratitude-related quotes & postings here 

(1)  Privilege is a relative term. Compared to many families, mine was not so terribly privileged. For sure, we did have baby blankets to come home in from the hospital, when we were born. A recent story in my small town newspaper tells of a local Rotary project to collect baby blankets for babies born to South American families who don’t have enough money to buy any, and who must take their babies home wrapped in newspaper. This story can help us begin to get a bit of a grip, I hope, on the meaning of the word privilege. I also love to quote Irish poet, philosopher & former priest John O’Donoghue, who said, “We are privileged, and the duty of privilege is absolute integrity.”

(2)  E.g., both the Landmark Forum & the Art of Living have helped me greatly. So have counsellors & other workshops & things... The blog post '3 Great Opportunities for Personal Growth' speaks to some of these experiences.

(3)  I also suspect quite strongly that our desires need to be strongly held & well articulated, & I at least have a strong wish that they must also be of a positive & not wholly selfish nature…