What is a poverty mindset and how can it be overcome?
By Amreen Pathan
How many of the following apply to you?
- Do you have a fear of spending money on anything besides the necessities?
- Do you obsessively search for the cheapest alternative even at the risk of discomfort?
- Do you feel like you never have enough reserves or resources?
- Do you attribute success to good fortune?
- Do you attribute failure to incompetence?
- Do you live under a constant shadow of ‘I could lose it all?’
- Do you believe that everything is just difficult to achieve?
- Do you lack ambition?
Two or more apply? You may very well be a victim of a poverty mindset.
What is a poverty mindset?
As we can see here, a poverty mindset is an attitude that perpetuates poverty because an individual solely focuses on what they do not have rather than what they do have. Everybody talks about the pseudoscience of manifestations and a poverty mindset is a little like that. Or the opposite. To manifest is to ‘positively affirm’ one’s aspirations to life whilst a poverty mindset means to resist change and enable self-fulfilling prophecies of poverty.
I will always be poor; I will never have enough; I will never be able to afford this; I will never be able to achieve that; why should I even try…
Let’s set the record straight.
First of all, being poor is not a bad thing.
In a Hadith narrated by Abu Hurairah (ra), the Noble Prophet (pbuh) states:
“The poor Muslims will enter Paradise before the rich by half of a day, the length of which is five hundred years.” (Tirmidhi)
In another Hadith, the Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said:
“Truly, for every nation there is a trial, and the trial for my nation is wealth.” (Tirmidhi)
Wealth is very clearly a Fitnah (trial) by which Allah (SWT) will measure (amongst other things) an individual’s expression of gratefulness. In the same vein however, poverty is also a trial by which Allah (SWT) will measure an individual’s capacity for patience.
“As for man, when his Lord tries him and [thus] is generous to him and favours him, he says: ‘My Lord has honoured me.’ But when He tests them, by limiting their provision, they protest: ‘My Lord has humiliated me!’ (89:15-16)
Poverty and wealth: neither are inherently bad. Both are mere states by which Allah (SWT) tests mankind. Both are meaningless except for the meaning we attach to both. And it is this meaning that becomes the problem and what we must overcome. Fearing poverty is un-Islamic just like desiring and pursuing wealth is.
In the time before Islam, the non-Muslims would murder their children citing fear of impoverishment. Upon Islam’s arrival, Allah (SWT) revealed in the Qur’an:
“…do not kill your children out of want [poverty]; We will provide for you and them.” (6:151)
Reasons for poverty mindset
People do live in abject poverty. People do endure the grievances of poverty. People do struggle in the name of poverty.
This is pertinent to the UK too. Just last year for example, the Social Metrics Commission found that nearly half of BAME UK households are living in poverty. All of these people are not poor by choice. It would be woefully remiss to pretend otherwise. Further, a person cannot just manifest themselves out of poverty. There must be a system in place that lends support and sustainability.
All of this though is different to having a poverty mindset. Objectively speaking, if you are reading this, you are most probably not poor by the Grace of Allah. It is however a pattern of thought and behaviour that may align with poverty and this is what we are addressing here: poverty mindset.
Raise your hands if you are either first or second generation.
This may be one reason for poverty mindset in our communities. If parents are immigrants then it is possible they have experienced hardship in their countries of birth. This coupled with a lack of education and opportunities (and systematic racism and classism) can create a never-ending cycle of poverty mindset, which can be tough to break. This isn’t the only reason feeding a poverty mindset of course but for children of immigrants, this story might make the most sense.
Ten steps to overcoming a poverty mindset
If we equate a poverty mindset with education to some extent, then we can confidently say that living with a poverty mindset goes against the grain of Islam. Not only is it an ode to miserliness and being ungrateful, it discourages the usage of wealth in benefitting the Muslim ecosystem when in fact, our predecessors were not typically poor.
So how can one overcome a poverty mindset?
- Practice gratefulness: this will create contentment for what you already have.
- Be generous: Allah (SWT) will bless you with more.
- Set goals: be ambitious and make realistic plans to achieve your goals.
- Celebrate other people’s wins: this will spiritually exercise any jealousy you feel towards others.
- Take risks: if it is financial growth you desire, then take risks. Nobody made a fortune doing what they have always done.
- Treat yourself: you work hard and deserve this. There is no need to be miserly!
- Read and learn: this is the only way you will become financially savvy. They certainly don’t teach any of this at school.
- Take responsibility over your financial situation: pay off debts, manage your bills and make a saving plan.
- Do not spend excessively: people in poverty can also fall at risk of spending too much. They do not see their circumstance changing and therefore take no action whatsoever. This is also an extreme that should be avoided.
- Remember that life is but fleeting: wealthy or poor, all our destinations are the same and no one’s wealth or lack of will attest to anything except the good that they did with and/or without it.
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