Do you spend your whole week waiting for the weekend? It seems as though most people spend their entire lives doing uninspired work while continually wishing for the weekend or retirement, a retirement that for many never comes. Who is happier, the man who slaves away at a job he hates to earn a substantial income or the man who lives life on his own terms, making far less, but enjoying each day?
Americans, even those we consider less fortunate, live lives of unimaginable wealth when compared to the vast majority of the world. Yet, everyone feels poor. Go ahead, try it, ask the wealthiest friend you have how they feel financially. He, or she, will tell you that they are barely making ends meet. Indeed, a recent blog post by a University of Chicago law professor caused an uproar when he asserted that despite a family income of over $250k a year, they were barely getting by.
In contrast to the University of Chicago professor, I recall my Scottish host-mother who was a bartender at a local pub. Her income was a tiny fraction of that of the professor and she lived in an apartment that was miniscule by American standards. She had few possessions and didn’t own a car. However, she was as happy, or even happier, than people with far more wealth. She was close to her children and regularly took care of her grandchildren. She was active in the community and our international education program. She even managed to make a trip to Belarus every year or two to volunteer at an orphanage helping impoverished children.
My own experience in Scotland was eye-opening. Though we lived in a palace, our furnishings were spartan. The majority of the furniture was second-hand and the bedding was used. Our personal possessions were also limited to what we could bring in two suitcases. I had school supplies, clothing for various weather conditions, a few books, a camera and a bottle of duty-free Absolut Vodka. Even with almost no possessions, I remember these days as some of the happiest of my college years. I had friends and I had new experiences. I spent time traveling to various countries and staying in hostels. Some of the hostels weren’t fit for livestock, let alone human shelter, but those experiences made the best stories.
Unhappy Americans should examine their lives. Make a list of what is important to you, what gives you the most joy and then determine the income you need to buy those items or have those experiences. Think about getting rid of all the
useless junk you have accumulated over the years and downsize your residence accordingly. Remember, the average size home in 1970 was 1400 square feet. Kids don’t need their own rooms; learning to share makes them better people. Those cuts that seem hard to make now will seem like a weight off your shoulders in the future. Look at the income you need to be happy, it is probably far less than you thought it would be. Further, if you are enjoying every day, you likely need to save less for retirement since you might enjoy working later into life. A better way of living is possible.
Next time you find yourself sitting in your cubicle or slaving on the factory floor wishing it were the weekend, imagine what your life would be like if you were able to live every day rather than just 104 days a year.