Over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed that Americans in general seem angrier. My observation has been seconded by friends and colleagues who mention the increased frequency of emotional outbursts: incidents of road rage, domestic disputes between spouses, and workplace flare-ups.
People have always been impatient in traffic. They’ve always become frustrated with their loved ones. And they’ve always had issues with their coworkers. But now, for some reason, we seem to have a shorter fuse. Why? The sources of each person’s anger or frustration are as numerous and unique as the people themselves, to be sure.
However, I think it’s fair to point out one possible cause that may be affecting our society as a whole. That is, namely, that we are continuously marketing products and a illusory lifestyle. On television and the internet, in magazines and newspapers, we’re tempted with luxury items, services, and experiences for sale (or rent) that promise the good life. And, for many previous generations of Americans, those things were possible. Economic times were generally good. It was easy to believe that if you couldn’t afford something today, you could work, earn, and, if necessary, save in order to buy whatever it is you want and live the good life.
The problem now is that, after the financial crisis of 2007, the economy has not really bounced back for many Americans. Instead, what many single young people and families face is a “new normal”: things aren’t as good as they were, and it doesn’t look like they’re going to get better.
Specifically, jobs aren’t plentiful, and jobs with living-wage salaries and benefits (and opportunity for growth…?) could even be categorized as rare in many parts of the country. A college education, that age-old key to upward mobility, is so costly, many young Americans are graduating with a financial piano on their back. Many families saw the equity in their homes, a time-tested and often major nest-egg for much of the middle class, evaporate. And still, advertisers come at us relentlessly as if we had all the disposable income in the world.
We have been conditioned to want nice things. We feel, in some instances, like we are entitled to them. We “need” them. But, in many cases, we can’t afford them. And this makes us angry.
Of course, I’m generalizing, as I said. But this societal reaction is not exclusive to the United States. It’s happening in India, as young men migrate from rural areas to cities for work. They hunger for the promise of a better life, and when the jobs in the city aren’t there, and their lives are not improved as they’d hoped, they become angry…and violent. It’s not a stretch to conclude that we’re seeing the same thing in America now.
There are two things we should do in order to get a handle on this collective anger. The first is to be aware of it. Sometimes it’s very difficult to articulate the source of our discontent. If we have insecurities, anxieties, or fears about our financial situation, we have to admit it, come to grips with it, and figure out a realistic plan of action to address it.
Second, we need to retreat from what I’ve referred to as the “consumer merry-go-round” which keeps us eager to purchase the next new thing in order to fill an emotional void. That void should be filled with purpose, family, friends, leisure activities, and perhaps spirituality or religion, not clothes, jewelry, and cars.
Yes, we need money to live. But prioritizing it for health, education, and financial independence is much more likely to bring longterm satisfaction and quality of life. These seemingly elusive goals really what we seek when we look to purchase those shiny new objects in the store window.
And no, I’m nut in any way suggesting that anyone give up on or compromise their dreams and goals. Swing for the fence. Reach for the stars. We as Americans believe that we can do anything. And we can. We just need to constantly evaluate and refine what we are trying to do, and why.
In a moment of reflection, we can get our bearings, reframe our priorities, and possibly uproot the source of our anger before it gets the better of us.
37 thoughts on “Why So Angry?”
I am so glad you wrote this post. I have noticed this phenomenon in our society and its potential causes. First, parents who fail to educate (I mean pay for) their children and leave them with a mortgage without a house after graduation are a huge cause. I see parents driving luxury cars and taking exotic vacations while their children suffer. Parents need to pay for the best education that they can afford. No more, no less. Second, two income families failed their families to a large extent and leisure activities involve iPhones and not family bonding or travel. Travel is reserved for Instagram. Last, financial independence for many is a joke as corporations stole pensions from under the worker and unions were stamped out. Now people’s high fee 401(k) that only contribut 5k a year into is the source of the financial independence and they will probably outlive those funds. Americans are angry and for good reason. Maybe if they changed their priorities their fuse wouldn’t be so short.
Excellent comment, Dario. You make some critical points. Thank you. – BGT
Excellent advice. I’ve noticed the same thing. I have to admit, you’d have to be dead not to feel irritation at the greedy shysters, idiots, and grasping foreigners that currently occupy this country. Modern occupied America is a rigged game. No wonder people are pissed. And it’s only going to increase. We’ll probably look back on these times and marvel at how calm and peaceful everyone was.
Thanks, LBF. Let’s hope everybody can keep a lid on it for awhile… – BGT
I don’t have much to add except fasten your seatbelts, we are heading into the most “commercialized” season of the year – and it ain’t gonna be pretty…
Right you are, Keith. Good advice. Thanks, as always. – BGT
Important topic. The generation that either suffered or witnessed suffering during the Great Depression, and then sacrificed mutually for WWII, seemed okay with paying higher tax rates. My mother’s family had money and did everything they could to hide it. My grandfather did very well but also paid very high tax rates. This mentality is gone. Now it’s the Market Man, as Aldrich explains it, who dominates. And millions of Americans are aspiring to a life out of reach materially.
Thanks, David. Well said. = BGT
Thank you, Byron, for this thoughtful post. The question is one that’s been weighing heavily on my mind lately, and you answered it better than I had been able to. I was blaming social media and the cycle of confirmation bias/negativity. That’s a powerful force that really can’t be disregarded — but now I’m thinking that it’s not so much a cause as a catalyst. After all, it’s a symptom as well. I’m a very calm person and have been called stoic (I think that’s too generous a compliment: I’m hurt by my own hardships but simply take them in stride and move forward). However, the anger of others has begun to genuinely terrify me. Thank you for giving me more to think about and a better understanding of myself and those around me, especially as we head into this holiday season.
The very best wishes to you and yours. 🙂
Thank you, Jessica. Glad you enjoyed the post and found it helpful. Very best to you and yours this holiday season. – BGT
I have been thinking this same thing for a long time. I’ve never been one to have to have ‘the best of everything’. I despise ‘shiny and new’. I’ve had only one new car in my life and even then I drove it to 300,000 miles. I only got rid of it because we were having another baby and needed a bigger one. When we left Virginia for Texas I invested in a home (with cash) that needed fixing up. Not only has it been fun to fix it up, but it’s a lot cheaper.
Thanks, Kathie. Love the fact you got 300,000 miles out of the car. Hope your holidays are joyful. – BGT
Sorry – got cut off before I was finished. Fixing the house up as we go, is not only fun, but it’s so peaceful living a debt-free life. I watch people competing with another to see who can look the best, dress the best, look the richest, et. al. and there is such a peace in my life by not participating in any of that.
Not everyone is “so angry”. Those of us who escaped overcrowded and expensive places to live in a more bucolic environment and live a quiet life within our means are rather content.
I escaped California and the world of finance about 22 years ago to move to quiet Idaho. We had a family here where I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing so in California. We don’t have the resources of a major metro area but find interesting things in our daily lives and the outdoors. The internet can bring the world to your doorstep (and shopping too).
We live on a little less than 60% of our income and still pay the difference from scholarships for our kids’ college expenses in full each semester and own two, modest homes. We pretty much live the life that Byron talks about in his excellent book. We aren’t “old money” but we live as though we are.
So we have little need to be angry about much in life. If more people lived like Byron (and a few other writers) teach, there would be far less anger in this country IMO.
Lastly, I’m not sure I agree that the so-called American Dream is dead but it has changed. A four year degree may not be the best avenue for many people in college today. A two year degree in a technical field might be a better choice for some kids. Then again, I don’t know what the issues are for people in expensive states like California, NY, etc. But here in Idaho and middle America, opportunities for a more peaceful life abound for those with their eyes open.
Sorry for the ramble; it’s late!
Thank you, Chris, for sharing your personal experience and perspective. It’s great to get a take on things from people living outside metropolitan areas. Hopefully, it shows that a quality life can be had anywhere. It’s just a matter of choices. Also, I greatly appreciate your kind words about The Old Money Book.
Have a great holiday and a prosperous new year! – BGT
Hello Byron. I must say that I agree with Chris. Yes, there are many people angry today, and perhaps some for good reasons, but many are angry because they are living way beyond their means, and perhaps their anger is, therefore, self-inflicted. As in Chris’ Idaho, here in very quiet, not-much-happening Vermont, many people are quite content to live peacefully and simply. I also escaped a large city and have found a contentment I still have trouble describing sometimes. We still work hard, very hard, but we find our life to be free from the stress that can come from any number of sources, traffic, crime, debt, anger, etc. Like Chris said, directing one’s life towards the values you espouse in your book can bring benefits some have never thought possible, myself included. I’m not old money, but I truly have found value in your words. I can’t thank you enough for your work.
Thank you, Bev. Your support and contributions throughout the year are appreciated. Have a great holiday and a happy new year! – BGT
Oh my, this is a sad topic, indeed. My husband and I were talking about this very subject with his family on Thanksgiving day. Aside from everything already posted (which I 100% agree with), I could add what I see, but it would simply take too much time. Priorities, Corporate America, our Government – all to blame. We are in trouble as a society and it worries me. I’m not joking when I say this, but all of this anger could be avoided if everyone would learn and adhere to the “Old Money” way of living from an early age. My husband and I focus on a debt-free way of life, except for our mortgage which will be done in 7 years. No credit cards, loans, etc. Live smartly and save all the cash you can, because you never know when you are going to need it prior to retirement.
Thanks, Holly. It is sad, but with awareness, maybe we can turn it around. Have a great holiday! – BGT
Byron, thank you for this heart-felt, nuanced post. There are many layers to it which interest me as a trained economist with international businesses.
The post 2007 recovery has been dangerously slow because of the convergence of six simultaneous factors:
* the rise of China which draws power from us like an economic flickering light;
* the US is running at a 100% GDP to Debt ratio;
* the US tax base is diminishing and the rates are uncompetitively high;
* the slow clearance of foreclosed real estate inventory;
* the Keynesian pump-prime sucked dry; and
* the interest rate valve fully opened to no effect.
Financially, we all suffer. There are social rumblings and there is palpable anger. Those in their 60s can’t retire. People in their 50s are having their careers cut short or stymied. Breadwinners in their 30s and 40s are playing it safe in roles which don’t offer pay increases to keep up with inflation. Fresh-faced 20-something youth are lumbered with student debt in jobs not requiring the education that debt funded.
Whether “Indian” or “grasping foreigners”, we understand this is a global issue.
Since the 1950s, the West has been running a growth strategy reliant on personal consumption. So, the population generally are net consumers and debt-ridden. Of course, this is the antithesis of OMB thinking but OMB thinking is as counter-intuitive as Old Money people are statistically rare.
Consequently, all of us here seek well-worn strategies for safety:
* Eschew conspicuous consumption, avoid habitual consumerism;
* Buy quality, which means it lasts longer and saves us in the long run;
* Prioritize our spending towards a long-term bias.
So, Dario educates his children rather than takes a vacation. He avoids the two income trap which forces parents to substitute a stay-at-home mother with an iPhone. Absentee parents, struck with guilt, buy things. But Kathie buys an older home for cash and makes its renovation a rewarding family journey together.Holly lives debt-free and Bev avoids the trap of self-inflicted debt.
Bryon sees the flaws of uncontrolled consumerism, Keith braces himself for the “most commercialized season” and David LT senses Aldrich’s Money Men at the corporate levers driving it all relentlessly. Just how many flat-screen smart TVs does one dwelling really need? Black Friday … Cyber Tuesday … and so it goes on. The old Christmas sales seem far too narrow a target market definition. And it’s all relentlessly accelerated by rapid-respond push marketing social media, reveals Jessica in an epiphany.
No wonder then that Chris and Bev yearn for halcyon days in the Idaho and Vermont wilds. Who wouldn’t pine for happier and greener pastures?
The recovery will continue to be slow. We may yet see this period as relatively “calm and peaceful” as LBF suggests, but I think this period will retrospectively be renamed the Second Depression.
So, the keys to surviving the social dislocation and palpable anger are to:
* Adapt with the times and remain relevant. Reinvest in yourself. Think of the old landed gentry adopting new uses for their long-held estates which, along with frugality, maximize returns;
* Follow OMB thinking, conserve what you have, avoid conspicuous consumption;
* Avoid areas with a higher incidence of social unrest and palpable anger: inner cities, large scale gatherings, colleges
* Actively seek out quieter, safer places to live like an Idaho farm or a Vermont cabin
Thank you for the thoughtful comment, Anglo. You’ve really pinpointed a lot of economic factors that contribute to the overall mood, I think. Much appreciated. – BGT
Well, we don’t live on a farm or in the wilds; we simply live in a state where the local and state government has more respect for its citizens and people are rooted, for the most part, in common sense. Our country place is on three acres but the closest neighbors are all a half mile away. We have running water and everything. ;o) Our house in town is a modern single level with a 4 Seasons sun room and close to shopping, schools, etc.
We chose to escape California lunacy, not civilization. Our dollars go further here and people are still polite (for the most part) and friendly.
Chris, I think you’ve articulated many of the reasons people choose to live in rural areas. Thanks! – BGT
Well, they have to understand: “This is not all about you!”
Oh, hang on a sec, weren’t the baby boomers the same? Hippies woodstock 1960s?!
Brainwashed by Cultural Marxism?!
Enjoy, and mind the angry.
Things do seem to come full circle every once in a while. Thank you, sir! Happy holidays! – BGT
A good friend made the exact same observation. After suffering through a grad class dominated by that mentality, I was ready to spike the kids’ bottled water with sleeping pills!
Definitely off topic, but I couldn’t help but notice just how impeccably dressed the gentleman is! It’s not even necessarily about the style so much as how well-fitted the suit is. What a beautiful and uplifting sight.
Thank you, Mary. Have a great holiday and a great new year! – BGT
I happen to like city living. I enjoy the cultural opportunities, the convenience, the energy, variety and myriad fine dining options. I don’t think Byron is advocating a stick your head in the sand, drop out of society, retreat to the country in search of a modern day Garden of Eden approach. I think his point is that material possessions won’t make you happy, so stop trying to keep up with the Jones’ and live below your means.
Once your basic requirements of food, clothing and shelter have been met, more stuff isn’t going to make you happy, but debt, especially credit card debt, will make you unhappy. Spending a lot of money on the latest fashions and consumer electronics is almost always a mistake. You can’t go to Best Buy or Walmart and buy a good life.
Family and friends, reading and travel, good food and regular exercise, being productive and making a positive contribution, all built on the foundation of a good education, good character and good manners is the Old Money recipe for happiness.
Anger comes from frustration. If you follow the crowd and allow advertisers to convince you that buying their products will give you a meaningful, fulfilling life then you’re going to wind up angry, disappointed and broke. Get off the consumer merry go round, cultivate and life of the mind and nurture your relationships. This is what Old Money knows.
Having said that, there’s nothing wrong with living in the country.
Thank you, Amy. Great comment and absolutely accurate. Wishing you a great holiday and happy new year if we don’t touch base through the blog between now and then. I’ve really enjoyed and appreciated your comments and involvement here. You’ve enriched the understanding of the Old Money culture for everyone. Thank you for the contributions. All the best to you and yours. – BGT
Hey, if it weren’t for all the damn people, city living would be great! I lived in NY, LA, and SF and the only problem was too many people with the same idea of going to a museum or restaurant when I was. ;o)
You are absolutely correct! Why does everybody get hungry at noon everyday? – BGT
I agree that in today’s society a lot of the time there is an illusory lifestyle being promoted. The nature of today’s consumerism only seems to be getting even more competitive, and that may have something to do with it.
Thank you, Myriadam. And welcome to the blog. – BGT
People are angry because of politics, and I think we all know this. Its not advertisers.
I know this is an older post, but I haven’t seen this mentioned elsewhere. I believe the behavior that’s modeled in “reality television” (which I personally despise) has something to do with it. How many times does it take for “housewives” throwing drinks in each other’s face or “survivors” scheming against each other for this to become acceptable behavior? The 24-hour news cycle is also to blame (in my opinion) by simplifying every issue into some form of “us against them” and promoting anger against “them” for depriving “us” of what is “rightfully” ours. It doesn’t matter if the evil “them” is immigrants, Wall Street bankers, insurance companies, etc., the end result is an angry public willing to act out.
I think you’re right, Sheryl. Thanks for commenting. – BGT