The New Normal

Money Money Money

New York City has always been story of “Haves” and “Have Nots.”  However, the gap between rich and poor continues to widen.  According to the Fiscal Policy Institute, “income gaps in New York are greater than those of any other big American city.”  Based on the statistics, the top 1% of New York City residents earned nearly 45% of the city’s income in 2007.  Compare this to national data where the top 1% of earners earn about 23.5% of all income.

It is no surprise that the “Have Nots” and even middle class would like a taste of the so-called good life.  Further, we may find it hard to believe that the “Haves” are not perpetually happy.

Many of us have heard about a celebrity suffering from depression and thought “what does he/she have to complain about?”  Media and popular culture would have us believe that money solves all problems.  It was recently romanticized in this popular song:

In August of 2007, we learned that Owen Wilson had attempted suicide in his Santa Monica home.  Time magazine did an article (written by Rebecca Winters Keegan) called The Darker Side of Owen Wilson as quoted below:

“…the hospitalization this week of Owen Wilson, 38, after police responded to a report of a suicide attempt at his Santa Monica home, astonished anyone who knows him simply as the affable, blonde man-child from Wedding Crashers and You, Me and Dupree.  To us outsiders, Wilson’s partying seemed to be of the happy-go-lucky, nobody-gets-hurt variety. While other stars got DUIs, Wilson always appeared to have a ride home with one of his cool actor-brothers, Luke, 35, and Andrew, 43, or someone as blonde, pretty, rich and famous as he, like Kate Hudson.”


We all know that celebrities have problems just like us normal people.  But for a long time, I couldn’t quite reconcile how a homeless man eating out of the trash can find the strength to push on for another day while Celebrities (who have mansions, nice cars, and can rub elbows and other body parts with models) might decide to commit suicide.  I believe the this can be explained by a concept called The New Normal.

I believe that humans, as a species, are quite resistant to change.  Further, I believe that most of us lead our lives in a bubble, and that bubble has expected parameters of what makes a good day, and what makes a bad day.  It is when our bad day falls below the expected parameters that humans have a problem coping with reality.  As such, for a homeless man, a good day may be when he eats one meal, a great day 2 meals, and a bad day no meals.  All of those probably happen on a regular basis and he is able to keep within his expected parameters.

With the high and mightly (like celebrities), there is seemingly endless room to fall on the downside.  But also, they already live a life of luxury, so the upside becomes less exciting.  For example, if you already have a BMW and a Porsche, will you be that excited if someone gives you a Mercedes?  A Mercedes might be a dream come true to a woman living paycheck to paycheck, but it is within the realm of normality for a celebrity.

What Does This Mean

As people reach a new plateau, they eventually recalibrate their own personal new normal.  Along with that, parameters are adjusted as well.  For example, a homeless person can accept not eating a meal for one day because that is part of his/her parameters.  But if a professional (like an accountant) couldn’t afford a meal for one day, it might shock her to the core.  The realization that she could not afford basic needs would impact her basic sense of security and likely cause a severe reaction like panic or depression.

In a New York Minute

New York City is regarded by many as the financial capital of the world.  As many of you know, Wall Street firms were amongst the hardest hit during the early stages of the great recession with firms dropping like flies on a daily basis (Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, and AIG to name a few).

Many firms found a way to stay alive via acquisition or bailout from the government, but the landscape was dramatically changed seemingly overnight.  With that, the New Normal for many thousands of New Yorkers also changed.

* Job security.  What’s that?

* A decade of profits in my 401k.  Where did all my money go?

* Christmas presents for the kids.  When did money get so tight?

The New Normal had changed so dramatically for so many people at once that it could be described as a paradigm shift.  We all learned either through out own situation, or our friends and family, what it is like to fall below our parameter floor.

Conclusion

In understanding the concept of the New Normal, we can better understand the human condition.  From Luke Wilson to the bum on the street, we can recognize the patterns of their reactions.  I believe that the state of our society is best summed up in a quote by Tyler Durden, the character in Fight Club.

“I see all this potential, and I see squandering.  God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars.  Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man.  No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives.  We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars.  But we won’t.  And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”

I believe that by embracing the concept of the New Normal, it can help us (as a society) recognize that there is no perfect life.  Millionaires, movie gods, and rock stars have problems too.  They have further to fall and their pain is real.  Happiness is truly not a function of a number in your bank account.  It is about a complete picture of being accepted and knowing that the people in your life actually care about you.

Lets be honest, Tiger Woods tapped it ten ways till Tuesday but pretty much none of those women cared about him.  And if they did, he’ll never be sure.

To my readers, as you climb the ladder of society, I wish you nothing but happiness.  Just remember not to look down because you may have a long way to fall.

Bright Lights, Big City.

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