Generally speaking, we think of poor people as unhappy. Isn’t it natural that poverty coincides with a lesser quality of life? How can you be happy and lead a fulfilled life if you’re not even certain you can pay your rent this month?
The truth is, 14.5% of all Americans are living below the poverty level. I’m just not convinced that all 45 million of those people are living an unhappy life.
I have personally lived below the poverty level. And I did so with two children. We were BROKE. Not like, glamorously broke – where you have all your bills paid comfortably but you don’t have vacation money. I mean broke broke. Broke as in, we lived in Section 8 housing, drew food stamps and Medicaid, and still didn’t know how we were going to make it from month to month. It didn’t last forever. And we always did manage to make it somehow, but it was certainly one of the “lowest” points of my life.
Obviously, I worried a lot, and I can certainly say my stress level was much higher than it is now. But I wouldn’t say that I was ever truly unhappy. I knew this was a temporary moment in our lives, and I knew that we were working towards a better situation. It would take some time, but while my situation was less than ideal, there was always someone who had it worse. So, instead of being angry at the world for the crap cards I was handed, I was thankful for the things I did have and did what I could to improve things.
While we couldn’t afford a vacation or even a trip to the zoo at the time, I still made sure that my kiddos had the best quality of life I could give them. We couldn’t afford the expensive childrens museum a few towns over, but I still filled their days with fun and a touch of education. We would take walks to the park in town. Instead of going out and buying ice cream, we would make our own in my grandma’s old hand cranked machine. (They had more fun that way anyway.)
We would go to the creek outside of town and they would try to identify all the different bugs and fish and lizards they saw. We would pack a cooler with bologna sandwiches and chips or hot dogs and fruit snacks and spend the day exploring nature. If it was rainy, we spent the day inside making crafts from scraps of construction paper and left over cotton balls. And it was free. It didn’t require a $200 budget to ensure that my children had a good day. We didn’t need big, fancy trips to make them happy and keep them entertained.
Of course, our situation has improved since then, but I feel like I’ve given my children a life lesson that they can carry with them for the rest of their lives. Appreciate the small things. They understand that money isn’t everything. You can still be happy and live a wonderful life without being rich. They never saw their mother teary-eyed or breaking down. Even with what little we had, I was content, so they could be too.
I live in a very small town, where the majority of the population would be considered “broke.” There are very few job options available, with most of them being minimum wage fast food jobs or back-breaking work at a factory that doesn’t pay much over $10 an hour.
People around here struggle. It’s the way it’s always been. Most folks live in their great-great granddaddies house, that he built with his own two hands, and has been passed down over four generations, or they have themselves a small mobile home on a plot of land that they’re not even sure how they acquired. But the majority of them are happy people. They are the most generous and compassionate folks you’ll ever come by. If you need it, and they’ve got it, it’s yours.
You need help getting your fence put back up or your roof patched after a big storm, you’ll end up with a yard full of neighbors with smiles on their faces ready to lend a hand. They cook you big meals when your family has experienced a tragedy, and they’re always there with a little something to give your kiddo on their birthday; even if it’s just a handmade quilt.
I think a lot of that stems from the fact that they are broke, so they know the value of things. Not just monetary value – they know and understand how important the things are that money simply can’t buy; friendship, love, compassion, and kindness. They know that your situation is no better than theirs, but given the opportunity they’ll help you however they can. They’ve grown to understand that money can buy you the world, but it can’t buy you happiness. Happiness comes from the love and kindness of those around you. Most of these people come from a long line of poverty, but you couldn’t find a happier soul around if you tried. And when it comes down to it, that’s a lesson that money could never buy for my children. Because they experienced “broke,” they’ve come to understand the value of their lives and those around them. They know that it is 100% possible to be broke and very happy.
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Andrea is a freelance writer based out of Kentucky. She is the mother to a 3 year old little girl and step-mother to a 6 year old boy. She’s been married to her husband and best friend for 5 years. She enjoys fishing, camping, hiking and the occasional glass of wine by a bonfire.