“I want”, “I need”, “I wish”, “If only” — We are selfish, inconsiderate, non-content people and many of us don’t even realize it. Every day we talk about things we want, things we wish we had, and actions we wish we would have approached differently if given the chance. In my humble opinion, this is an absolutely empty way to live.
I recently interviewed with the hosts of His and Her Money about my crazy debt payoff journey. During that interview, they asked me a seemingly simple question:
“Derek, within the madness of your debt payoff, what is it that you learned? Did you make any discovery that you’d like to share with our audience?”
…I didn’t expect to say it, but in an instant I thought about how happy I was during that time. My marriage had failed just a year before, I had to pay out tens of thousands of dollars to my ex, and I was living more simply than I ever had before in my life. Based on these events, I really should have been the most unhappy guy in the world…but I wasn’t. For some reason, I was a smiling fool, and it took me a little while to figure out why.
My response to Tai and Talaat went something like this:
“You know, I never thought about it before I started living below the poverty line to pay off my debt, but I realized during that time that less was actually more. As I rode my bike around from place to place (mainly to save a few more dollars each day), I started noticing people. They were driving their cars, rushing around, acting like maniacs to get to a place of utter insignificance. They probably looked at me on my bicycle like I was the crazy one, but I was smiling – looking at the blue sky, feeling the soft warm sun on my skin, and enjoying the breeze in my hair. Living simply was actually making me happier.”
Our friends, the media, our society – they all keep shouting in our ears that more is more. Better cars, bigger houses, more money – the more we have the happier we’ll be. Little do many of us know though, that that’s a lie, a proven lie. Heck, Huffington Post even reported on it – “Materialistic People Are Less Happy Than Everyone Else“. Those that have a love of stuff are typically not any happier after they buy the bigger, better object. Everyone promises happiness, but we’re typically left with a short-term high that wears off in just a few days. Life’s just not all about stuff.
Ever since I started writing on this site (almost five years ago to the day), I have urged people to spend less, save more, and to invest their money for the future. Almost every personal finance blogger I know of encourages people to do the same. Of course, spending less, saving more, and investing are not bad things to do – I would still suggest that people do this today, but the underlying message was typically more like this:
- If you delay your gratification today, you can buy so much more in the future
By forgoing that wave runner today, one could invest that thousands dollars and turn it into tens of thousands of dollars a few decades from now, which could purchase something much greater, like a 30 foot boat. Avoiding a simple home purchase today could become a mansion in the future. A $30,000 car deferred to the future could become a Ferrari or Lamborghini. By delaying your gratification, there are much nicer things that could be purchased later in life.
This message, though well-intentioned, was leading readers away from what was truly important. Trading today’s stuff for nicer future stuff will not make anyone more happy. My simple bicycle rides proved this. The fewer things I had, the more happy I became.
Why Should You Live With Less?
So what is it that supposedly makes simpler living a better choice? What is the real reason that many actually become happier when they have less?
- Fewer cares
- Less worries
- A discovery of self
- A willingness to give and make a difference
When I started living with less, my happiness seemed to come in stages. First, since I was making the voluntary decision to live on less, my cares of what people thought of me were next to nothing. Sure, I had the resources to buy a nicer car or more stylish clothes, but I chose not to. Who cares what people think? When I started thinking for myself, I became secure in my decisions.
Second, with fewer possessions I naturally had less to worry about. I didn’t have a massive house to clean and maintain. My list of “toys” were non-existent so I didn’t have to worry about any of them breaking down, and I certainly didn’t have to worry about a monthly payment. And, my parcel of land was small, which means I didn’t need a lawn service. In fact, I bought an old fashioned “reel” mower so I didn’t even have to worry about filling it with gas and oil. Less stuff equated to fewer worries.
Third, since I had less stuff to constantly monitor and think about, I started discovering what truly mattered to me in life. I didn’t really want a new car like everyone else; mine was just fine. My top priority was my faith, so I started putting more efforts into that category. Next, I realized that I’d like to become financially independent at a very young age so that I would have the flexibility to do what I wanted without being constrained by money. Finally, I made a discovery that my passion was in mentoring young adults with their personal finances, so I made a goal to pursue this more in my current and future life.
Finally, since excess amounts of money didn’t really make me happy, I started giving some of it away. By doing this, my happiness level actually rose some more. From my direct efforts, needy people were being fed, homeless were receiving shelter, and many were becoming educated. It was amazing to make such an impact in this world!
It’s Most Certainly Not All About Stuff
Stuff is fun once in a while, but is it the driver of happiness? No. If you’ve been wanting that bigger house or that more expensive car because you think it’ll make you happy, think again. Instead, put your money into relationships, experiences, and then give a whole heck of a lot of it away. You won’t ever own a mansion and you’ll never be able to show off your stylish new sports car, but that’s all right, because it never would have made you happy anyway.
Have you made the discovery that life’s not all about stuff yet?
My name is Derek, and I have my Bachelors Degree in Finance from Grand Valley State University. After graduation, I was not able to find a job that fully utilized my degree, but I still had a passion for Finance! So, I decided to focus my passion in the stock market. I studied Cash Flows, Balance Sheets, and Income Statements, put some money into the market and saw a good return on my investment. As satisfying as this was, I still felt that something was missing. I have a passion for Finance, but I also have a passion for people. If you have a willingness to learn, I will continue to teach.