Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Happy Frugal New Year!

The Virtue of Happiness
By Dr. Joel Wade

Why frugal?

My sister has a way of putting important things simply and clearly. She defines frugality as “spending your money on what you want, and not spending it on what you don’t want”. I think this applies not just to money, but to time and energy, as well.

How much money have you blown this year on things that you have hardly used, or that were in some other way a waste?

How much time and energy have you blown?

As you think of the year to come, consider how you would like to spend your money, your time, and your energy over the course of the coming year.

There are things we do because we are simply in the habit of doing them, even though they bring us no happiness, and may detract from our joy in life - I think of the average of four hours a day of TV that kids in the U.S. watch, when studies have shown that the usual emotional state experienced while watching a sit-com is mild depression.

There are things we do that give us pleasure. Things we eat, things we buy that feel good but don’t build toward anything beyond the moment. Some of these things serve to build a sense of joy, and bring fun and richness to our life. As such this sort of pleasure is part of a life well lived.

Sometimes these things can actually be self-destructive, as with drug abuse or other thoughtless behavior.

There are things we do that absorb us, during which we experience what author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow”. This may or may not be fun in the moment, but it leads to the experience of life as pleasurable and gratifying.

There are things we do that have great meaning for us. Things that make the world a better place, things that move us and touch the people in our lives, living with integrity, following through with our commitments, earning an honorable reputation with ourselves. This, too, may be fun or not in the moment. But it leads to tremendous gratification and deep happiness.

Think about this as you decide what you will spend your money, time, and energy on this year. Will this contribute to your pleasure, flow, or meaning? If not, why are you doing it? If it is to fulfill an obligation, chances are it will probably contribute to flow and meaning, even if it is not something you particularly enjoy. If it is purely for short-term pleasure, think about the amount of money, time, and energy you are spending, and consider whether you are investing enough toward a longer-term happiness.

If it is hurtful, ask yourself how you think you can afford to continue doing it.

I think of this when we buy gifts for our kids. Are they fun? Good. Are they fun in a way that helps them learn, focus, explore, and absorb themselves more deeply? That’s much better.

Shall we go on a trip? Is the destination and itinerary fun? Great. Is it fun and an adventure we can enjoy and learn from, savor and treasure? That’s much better.

Shall I watch TV or read a book? Shall I surf the net or go for a hike in the woods? Shall I spend money on a fun, expensive toy with lots of bells and whistles that will lose its novelty in a week or two, or save that money toward an adventure to somewhere I’d love to visit?

Shall I devote myself to my wife, my kids, my dear friends? Or shall I let some or all of them down in pursuit of an affair, or some other momentarily pleasant but otherwise destructive impulse?

Shall I read a story to my kids, or tell them to go to bed while I flip through the TV channels? Shall I talk with my husband or wife about our dreams and goals as friends and mates, or shall I think about what I’m dissatisfied with, and argue about some irritation or shortcoming?

Shall I gripe about what’s wrong with something or other, or look for what I have to be grateful for and focus on that?

Shall I ruminate about what has been bad about my life, my childhood? Or shall I focus on what I can do to make a good life now, all things considered?

Shall I stay at a secure job that I hate, or move toward a more risky but potentially more gratifying and meaningful career?

Shall I make a habit of eating a bunch of candy and ice cream as the core of my diet, or shall I eat good meals with lots of fruit and veggies?

These are all the same fundamental question. Do I spend my money, time, and energy on those things that bring long-term joy, gratification, and meaning? Do I spend it on things that give mostly short-term pleasure? Do I spend it on things that I actually do not want?

In the coming year, shall I spend my resources on what makes my life a happy one? Or shall I spend it on things that don’t?

Find what matters for you this year, and invest in that.

And have a frugal, Happy New Year!


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