Poverty, a Mental Disability
from Peace, Power and Plenty
Orison Swett Marden

The worst thing about poverty is the poverty-thought. It is the conviction that we are poor and must remain so that is fatal to the gaining or competence. Holding the poverty thought keeps us in poverty-stricken and poverty-producing conditions.

POVERTY is an abnormal condition. It does not fit any human being's constitution. It contradicts the promise and the prophecy of the divine in man. The Creator never intended that man should be a pauper, a drudge, or a slave. There is not a single indication in man's wonderful mechanism that he was created for a life of poverty. There is something larger and grander for him in the divine plan than perpetual slavery to the bread winning problem.

No individual can do their best work—bring out the best thing in them—while they feel want tugging at their heels; while they are hampered, restricted, forever at the mercy of pinching circumstances.

The very poor, those struggling to keep the wolf at bay, cannot be independent. They cannot order their lives. Often they cannot afford to express their opinions or to have individual views. They cannot always afford to live in decent locations or in healthful houses.

Praise it who will, poverty in its extreme form is narrowing, belittling, contracting, ambition-killing — an unmitigated curse. There is little hope in it, little prospect in it, little joy in it. It often develops the worst in man and kills love between those who would otherwise live happily together.

It is difficult for the average human being to be a real man or a real woman in extreme poverty. When worried, embraced, entangled with debts, forced to make a dime perform the proper work of a dollar, it is almost impossible to preserve that dignity and self-respect which enable a man to hold up his head and look the world squarely in the face. Some rare and beautiful souls have done this and in dire poverty have given us examples of noble living that the world will never forget; but on the other hand, how many has its lash driven to the lowest depths!

Everywhere we see the marks of pinching, grinding, blighting poverty. The hideous evidences of want stare us in the face everyday. We see it in prematurely old, depressed faces, and in children who have had no childhood and who have borne the mark of the poverty-curse ever since their birth. We see it shadowing bright young faces, and often blighting the highest ambition and dwarfing the most brilliant ability.

Poverty is more often a curse than a blessing, and those who praise its virtues would be the last to accept its hard conditions.

I wish I could fill every youth with an utter dread and horror of it; make them feel its shame, when preventable, its constraint, its bitterness, its strangling effect.

There is no disgrace in unpreventable poverty. We respect and honor people who are poor because of ill-health or misfortune which they cannot prevent. The disgrace is in not doing our level best to better our condition.

What we denounce is preventable poverty, that which is due to vicious living, to slovenly, slipshod, systemless work, to idling and dawdling, or to laziness; that poverty which is due to the lack of effort, to wrong thinking, or to any preventable cause.

Every man and woman should be ashamed of poverty which they can prevent, not only because it is a reflection upon their ability, and will make others think less of them, but also because it will make them think less of themselves.

The trouble with many of poverty's victims today is that they have no confidence that they can get away from poverty. They hear so much about the poor man's lack of opportunities; that the great money combination will compel nearly everybody in the future to work for somebody else; they hear so much talk of the grasping and the greed of the rich, that they gradually lose confidence in their ability to cope with the conditions and become disheartened.

I do not overlook the heartless, grinding, grasping practices of many of the rich, or the unfair and cruel conditions brought about by unscrupulous political and financial schemers; but I wish to show the poor man that, not withstanding all these things, multitudes of poor people do rise above their iron environment, and that there is hope for him. The mere fact that so many continue to rise, year after year, out of just such conditions as you may think are fatal to your advancement, ought to convince you that you also can conquer your environment.

When an individual loses confidence, every other success quality gradually leaves them, and life becomes a grind. They lose ambition and energy, are not so careful about their personal appearance,  are not so painstaking, do not use the same system and order in their work, grow slack and slovenly and slipshod in every way, and become less and less capable of conquering poverty.

Because they cannot keep up appearances and live in the same style as their wealthy neighbors, poor people often become discouraged, and do not try to make the best of what they have. They do not "put their best foot forward" and endeavor with all their might to throw off the evidences of poverty. If there is anything that paralyzes power it is the effort to reconcile ourselves to an unfortunate environment, instead of regarding it as abnormal and trying to get away from it.

Poverty itself is not so bad as the poverty-thought. It is the conviction that we are poor and must remain so, that is fatal. It is the attitude of mind that is destructive, the facing toward poverty and feeling so reconciled to it that one does not turn about face and struggle to get away from it with a determination which knows no retreat.

It is facing the wrong way, toward the black, depressing, hopeless outlook that kills effort and demoralizes ambition. So long as you carry around a poverty-atmosphere and radiate the poverty-thought, you will be limited.

You will never be anything but a beggar while you think beggarly thoughts, a poor man or woman while you think poverty thoughts, a failure while you think failure thoughts.
If you are afraid of poverty, if you dread it, if you have a horror of coming to want in old age, it is more likely to come to you, because this constant fear saps your courage, shakes your self-confidence, and makes you less able to cope with hard conditions.

The magnet must be true to itself, it must attract things like itself. The only instrument by which man has ever attracted anything in this world is his mind, and his mind is like his thought; if it is saturated with the fear-thought, the poverty-thought, no matter how hard he works, he will attract poverty.

You walk in the direction in which you face; if you persist in facing toward poverty, you cannot expect to reach abundance. When every step you take is on the road to failure, you cannot expect to reach the success goal.

If you can conquer inward poverty, we can soon conquer poverty of outward things, for when we change the mental attitude, the physical changes do correspond.

Holding the poverty-thought keeps us in touch with poverty-stricken, poverty-producing conditions; and the constant thinking of poverty, talking poverty, living poverty, make us mentally poor. This is the worst kind of poverty.

We cannot travel toward prosperity until the mental attitude faces prosperity. As long as we look toward despair, we shall never arrive at the harbor of delight.

The individual who persists in holding their mental attitude toward poverty, or who is always thinking of their hard luck and failure to get on, can by no possibility go in the opposite direction, where the goal of prosperity lies.

I know a young man who was graduated from Yale only a few years ago—a broad-shouldered, vigorous young fellow—who says that he hasn't the price of a hat, and that if his father did not send him five dollars a week he would go hungry.

This young man is the victim of discouragement, of the poverty-thought. He says that he does not believe there is any success for him. He has tried many things, and has failed in them all. He says he has no confidence in his ability, that his education has been a failure, and that he has never believed he could succeed. So he has drifted from one thing to another, and is poor and a nobody, just because of his mental attitude, because he does not face the right way.

If you would attract good fortune you must get rid of doubt. As long as that stands between you and your ambition, it will be a bar that will cut you off. You must have faith. No man or woman can make a fortune while they are convinced that they can't. The "I can't" philosophy has wrecked more careers than almost anything else. Confidence is the magic key that unlocks the door of supply.

I never knew a person to be successful who was always talking about business being bad. The habit of looking down, talking down, is fatal to advancement.

The creator has bidden every human being to look up, not down, has made them to climb, not to grovel. There is no providence which keeps a person in poverty, or in painful or distressing circumstances.

A young man of remarkable ability who has an established position in the business world, recently told me that for a long time he had been very poor, and remained so until he made up his mind that he was not intended to be poor, that poverty was really a mental disease of which he intended to rid himself. He formed a habit of daily affirming abundance and plenty, of asserting his faith in himself and in his ability to become a man of means and importance in the world. He persistently drove the poverty-thought out of his mind. He would have nothing to do with it.

He would not allow himself to think of possible failure. He turned his face toward the success goal, turned his back forever on poverty and failure, and he tells me that the result of this positive attitude and persistent affirmation has been marvelous.

He says that he used to pinch himself in every possible way in order to save in little ways. He would eat the cheapest kind of food, and as sparingly as possible. He would rarely go on a street-car, even if he had to walk for miles. Under the new impulse he completely changed his habits, resolved that he would go to good restaurants, that he would get a comfortable room in a good location, and that he would try in every way to meet cultured people, and to form acquaintances with those above him who could help him.

The more liberal he has been, the better he has been to himself in everything which could help him along, which would tend to a higher culture and a better education, the more things have comes his way. He found that it was his pinched, stingy thoughts that shut off his supply.

Although he is now living well, he says that the amount he spends is a mere bagatelle compared with the larger things that come to him from his enlarged thought, his changed attitude of mind.

Stingy, narrow minds do not attract money. If they get money they usually get it by parsimonious saving, rather than by obeying the law of opulence. It takes a broad, liberal mind to attract money. The narrow, stingy mind shuts out the flow of abundance.

It is the hopeful, buoyant, cheerful attitude of mind that wins. Optimism is a success-builder; pessimism, an achievement-killer.

Optimism is the great producer. It is hope, life. It contains everything which enters into the mental attitude which produces and enjoys.

Pessimism is the great destroyer. It is despair, death. No matter if you have lost your property, your health, your reputation even, there is always hope for the man who keeps a firm faith in himself and looks up.

As long as you radiate doubt and discouragement, you will be a failure. If you want to get away from poverty, you must keep your mind in a productive, creative condition. In order to do this you must think confident, cheerful, creative thoughts. The model must precede the statue. You must see a new world before you can live in it.

If the people who are down in the world, who are side-tracked, who believe that there opportunity has gone by forever, that they can never get on their feet again, only knew the power of reversal of their thought, they could easily get a new start.

I know a family whose members completely reversed their condition by reversing their mental attitude. They had been living a discouraging atmosphere, so long that they were convinced that success was for others, but not for them. They believed so thoroughly that they were fated to be poor that their home and entire environment were pictures of dilapidation and failure. Everything was in a run-down condition. There was almost no paint on the house, no carpets on the floors, and scarcely a picture on the wall — nothing to make the home comfortable and cheerful.

All the members of the family looked like failures. The home was gloomy, cold and cheerless. Everything about it was depressing.

One day the mother read something that suggested that poverty was largely a mental disease, and she began at once to reverse her thinking habit, and gradually to replace all discouraging, despondency, failure thoughts with their opposites. She assumed a sunny, cheerful attitude, and looked and acted as if life were worth living.

Soon the husband and children caught the contagion of her cheerfulness, and in a short time the whole family was facing the light. Optimism took the place of pessimism. The husband completely changed his habits. Instead of going to his work unshaven and unkempt, with slovenly dress and slipshod manner, he became neat and tidy. He braced up, brushed up, cleaned up and looked up. The children followed his example. The house was repaired, renovated within and without, and the family forever turned their backs on the dark picture of poverty and failure.

The result of all this was that it brought what many people would call "good luck." The change in the mental attitude, the outlook towards success and happiness instead of failure, re-acted upon the father's mind, gave him new hope and new courage, and so increased his efficiency that he was soon promoted, as were also his sons. After two or three years of the creative, inspiring atmosphere of hope and courage, the entire family and the homes were transformed.

Every man and woman must play the part of their ambition. If you are trying to be a successful person you must play the part. If you are crying to demonstrate opulence, you must play it, not weakly, but vigorously, grandly. You must feel opulent, you must think opulence, you must appear opulent. Your bearing must be filled with confidence. You must give the impression of your own assurance, that you are large enough to play your part and to play it superbly.

Suppose the greatest actor living were to have a play written for them in which the leading part was to represent a man in the process of making a fortune — a great, vigorous, progressive character, who conquered by his very presence. Suppose this actor, in playing the part, were to dress like an unprosperous man, walk on the stage in a stooping, slouchy, slipshod manner, as though he had no ambition, no energy or life, as though he had no real faith that he could ever make money or be a success in business; suppose he went around the stage with an apologetic, shrinking, sulking manner, as much as to say "Now, I do not believe that I can ever do this thing that I have attempted; it is too big for me. Other people have done it, but I never thought that I should ever be rich or prosperous.

Somehow good things do not seem to be meant for me. I am just as ordinary man, I haven't had much experience and I haven't much confidence in myself, and it seems presumptuous for me to think I am ever going to be rich or have much influence in the world." What kind of an impression would he make upon the audience? Would he give confidence, would he radiate power or forcefulness, would he make people think that kind of a weakling could create a fortune, could manipulate conditions which would produce money? Would not everybody say that the man was a failure? Would they not laugh at the idea of his conquering anything?

Suppose a young man should start out with a determination to get rich, and should all the time parade his poverty, confess his inability to make money, and tell everybody that he is "down on his luck"; that he "always expects to be poor." Do you think he would become rich? Talking poverty, thinking poverty, living poverty, assuming the air of a pauper, dressing like a failure, and with a slipshod, slovenly family and home, how long will it take a man to arrive at the goal of success?

Our mental attitude toward the thing we are struggling for has everything to do with our gaining it. If an individual wants to become prosperous, they must believe that they were made for success and happiness; that there is a divinity in them which will, if they follow it, bring them into the light of prosperity.

Erase all the shadows, all the doubts and fears, and the suggestions of poverty and failure from your mind. When you have become master of your thought, when you have once learned to dominate your mind, you will find that things will begin to come your way. Discouragement, fear, doubt, lack of self-confidence, are the germs which have killed the prosperity and happiness of tens of thousands of people.

If it were possible for all the poor to turn their backs on their dark and discouraging environment and face the light and cheer, and if they should resolve that they are done with poverty and a slipshod existence, this very resolution would, in a short time, revolutionize civilization.

Every child should be taught to expect prosperity, to believe that the good things of the world were intended for them. This conviction would be a powerful factor in the adult life if the child were so trained.

Wealth is created mentally first; it is thought out before it becomes a reality.

When a young man or woman decides to become a physician, they put themselves in a medical atmosphere just as much as possible. They talk medicine, read medicine, study medicine, think medicine until they become saturated with it. They do not decide to become a physician and then put themselves in a legal atmosphere, read law, talk law, think law. So if you want success, abundance, you must think success, you must think abundance.

Stoutly deny the power of adversity or poverty to keep you down. Constantly assert your superiority to your environment. Believe that you are to dominate your surroundings, that you are the master and not the slave of circumstances.

Resolve with all the vigor you can muster that, since there are plenty of good things in the world for everybody, you are going to have your share, without injuring anybody else or keeping others back. It was intended that you should have a competence, an abundance. It is your birthright. You are success organized, and constructed for happiness, and you should resolve to reach your divine destiny.

When you make up your mind that you are done with poverty forever; that you will have nothing more to do with it; that you are going to erase every trace of it from your dress, your personal appearance, your manner, your talk, your actions, your home; that you are going to show the world your real mettle; that you are no longer going to pass for a failure; that you have set your face persistently toward better things—a competence, an independence — and that nothing on earth can turn you from your resolution, you will be amazed to find what a reinforcing power will come to you, what an increase of confidence, reassurance, and self-respect.

The very act of turning your back upon the black picture and resolving that you will have nothing more to do with failure, with poverty; that you will make the best possible out of what you do have; that you will put up the best possible appearance; that you will clean up, brush up, talk up, look up, instead of down — hold your head up and look the world in the faces instead of cringing, whining, complaining — will create a new spirit within you which will lead you to the light. Hope will take the place of despair, and you will feel the thrill of a new power, of a new force coursing through your veins.

Thousands of people in this country have thought themselves away from a life of poverty by getting a glimpse of that great principle, that we tend to realize in the life what we persistently hold in the thought and vigorously struggle toward.

If you realized how powerful your thoughts are, you would never think a defeatist
or negative thought.  Since we create through thought, we need to concentrate
very strongly on positive thoughts.  If you think you can't do something,
you can't.  But if you think you can, you may be surprised to discover that
you can.  It is important that our thoughts be constantly for the best that could
happen in a situation -- for the good things we would like to see happen.

Peace Pilgrim


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