Measuring Affluence

In my last post about Defining Affluence I asked if we should reconsider our meaning when we think of Affluence.  The typical definition of Affluence is the state of material abundance or wealth.  But material abundance and wealth is a subjective measure.  It changes with each generation so what we think of as average today might have been seen as a symbol of extraordinary affluence just a few generations ago.  For example, we take indoor plumbing for granted when not all that many years ago, only the “affluent” would have had been able to afford such luxury.

I suggested there might be another side of the equation and that Affluence could be thought of as the absence of want.  In other words, someone might not have as much by way of material possessions but if they were generally satisfied with what they did have – that could also be considered Affluence.  In other words, Affluence could be reached by either gaining more or wanting less.

I believe we can take this line of reasoning a step farther and say that when we think of someone or a group of people who are Affluent we might ask in what way they are Affluent.  Modern Western culture is Affluent in material possession (we have more than we really need and more than any other society in history by far) but we are generally impoverished in time and relationships.  

What we saw in the last post is that because Hunter-Gatherer societies (who we would view as near destitute) don’t care too much for material possessions beyond what they need to survive. Because their needs are met in a few hours of labor each day they have built cultures where time and relational connection is abundant.  They might not be as materially affluent, but they have affluence of time and relationships.

My intent in raising this point is not to knock material belongings or the progress of commerce, but to suggest that our cultures limited view of Affluence keeps us from valuing other forms of Affluence as much as perhaps we should. 

We envy the most materially Affluent, but we often forget to ask at what cost did that Affluence come.   It would be interesting to see how our views would change if Affluence of time and Affluence of relationship were also celebrated the way Affluence of material wealth is in our culture.  

What if Affluence was viewed as a cumulative measure of Wealth, Time and Relationships and the most successful groups of people were not evaluated one dimensionally in terms of Wealth?  Instead, what if we looked at success as the delicate act of balancing these three dimensions together, and then pursued Affluence of time and relationship as persistently as we chase Affluence of material wealth? 

What do you think?  Have you ever considered how Affluent you are in 1) Material well being 2) Time well being and 3) Relational well being?  Would you dare to measure your success in a multi-dimensional with a culture that relentlessly pushes #1 above all else.   

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