Michael Kimmel

“Privilege is invisible to those who have it.”

Unless you find yourself at the extreme lower or higher end of the income scale, there’s a good chance that you’d classify yourself as a “middle class” individual. You’re far more likely to compare yourself to your immediate neighbors and peers, and as a result, you likely feel that you fit somewhere in the middle of the pack. It’s far too easy to lose sight of exactly how fortunate and how lucky we are.

If you are reading this blog post, you are already incredibly privileged. It means that you either own or have access to an electronic device–smartphone, tablet, PC, etc.–that can go online. This also means that you likely have ready access to electricity and you’re probably in a building with some level of temperature control. As time goes one, we develop a sense of entitlement, because we come to expect that our water will be clean, our clothes will be fashionable and our Internet will be fast.

The fact of the matter is that you don’t know what you have until you lose it. You look at some higher-paid executives in their luxury German sedans, sipping on their daily $5 lattes and checking their email on the latest smartphone. Aside from the expensive car, many of us would look at having a smartphone or drinking relatively expensive coffee as normal, but it is still a privilege not enjoyed by many.

And that’s precisely the sentiment expressed by sociologist, author and lecturer Dr. Michael Kimmel. Many of his talks focus on the nature of gender, particularly when it comes to men and masculinity, but he also offers a broader view like in the quote above. It’s easy to forget how lucky we are. As your career progresses and your lifestyle inflates, you lose sight of your place of privilege.

Parents who send their children to prestigious private schools, order maid services to clean their homes and hire live-in nannies can forget that most us don’t have that luxury. They just look upon their immediate peers and see much of what they see in their own lives. Similarly, most of us in the western world take universal education for granted, when that is a privilege denied to so many kids around the world.

Despite all of these luxuries, despite all of these privileges, many of us still feel like our lives are missing something. We tell ourselves that we’ll be happy once we earn X more dollars each year or once we own a house or buy a fancy car. The problem is that the proverbial dangling carrot is always just out of reach. Instead, it may be more fruitful to scale back and appreciate what we already have.

“The key to eternal happiness,” as American cartoonist Lynda Barry once put it, “is low overhead and no debt.”