Friday, January 28, 2011

How We Got Happy and Not Rich

Ironically, after I posted a little bit about not having a lot of money yet being super happy, Oprah had a show all about happiness yesterday.  I know what you're thinking, Andrea, but it was a decent show and Brian actually watched it with me which provided for good discussion.  And anyway, I wasn't so much interested in what Oprah had to say but rather was her guest/expert (author of this book) had to say on the matter.

So without giving away too many specific personal financial details about our life, let me explain a little bit about where we used to be just a couple years ago.  We made good money.  Aside from our mortgage and low-interest student loans, we had no debt.  We had a large sum in our savings account.  But we hated the house we lived in.  A tiny two-bedroom townhouse.  And we hated the suburb in which it resided.  A suburb that celebrates no originality, no individuality.  A value we didn't fully realized we possessed until we lived there.  We hated Brian's commute.  We hated commuting to anywhere else in the metro, really.  Everything was just a big fat blah.

So, with the housing market in the absolute pits, we made a leap of faith and sold our house for a loss.  A loss that came directly out of that massive savings account we were so proud of.  But in return, we bought a house we are absolutely in love with in a neighborhood that is to die for.  (Seriously, I have the property tax statement to prove it!)

Just a few months later we examined other factors in our life.  Like I said, Brian made good money.  With gooooooood benefits.  But he worked in a job that never fulfilled him.  It was another big fat blah point in our life.  So we made another leap of faith and he went from that whale of a company to a tiny shrimp of a company.  A company that has horrible benefits.  A company that still has great pay, but is pay that is dependent on a healthy economy.  It's a company that doesn't keep him chained to his desk or the phone.  A company that enables him to grow.  And let's his voice be heard.

When we filed our 2010 taxes last week we were shocked.  We knew the number would be lower than previous years but we had no idea it was that low.  We reflected on the past year and tried to put two and two together.  We both agreed it was one of the happiest, most stress-free years we have had since we were married and yet, we were the poorest we had ever been.

I first must admit that we are not poor.  I know there are families out there that are truly struggling and for me to say that we are poor is disrespectful to their situation.  All our bills are paid for on time.  We still have no debt.  We eat good food and we eat as much of it as our bellies desire.  And we all receive proper health care when we need it.

But we have little in our savings account.  And when something out of our regular budget pops up (car or house repair, a bachelor party, a girls weekend etc.) we have to rearrange the numbers in a way we never had to before in order to make it work.

There were a few stressful situations this year, for sure, but at the end of the day none of it ever took a toll on our happiness.  Every night we go to bed in a house we adore.  Every morning Brian wakes up to go to a job that challenges him.  Every day we live in a neighborhood that makes us scream out in delight.

It's true that we almost never indulge in extras.  Extras that are probably not even considered extras for most families. I don't have a smart phone.  Or an iPod.  Or a shiny new iPad.  Our family car is five years old.  Brian's car is a 14-year-old rust bucket.  We won't be going on a beach vacation this year.  Our sofa is a piece of crap.  And so is our dining room table.  Books come from the library and movies from a cheap Netflix plan.

As quickly as the temptation for those impulse buys comes, it goes.  I stop.  I think.  Will the inability to have those things make me unhappy?  Probably not.  But would the inability to live in this house with this family make me less happy?  Probably.

Dan Buettner, the author I linked above, closed the Oprah show by saying that his studies showed that true happiness was a direct result from (1) where you live, (2) where you work, (3) who you married and (4) memorable experiences in lue of material possessions.

I've always hated that cliche saying.  You know that one.  But I think it needs a makeover.  Because the truth is that money did help us buy some of our happiness.  We paid off our old house.  We bought our new house.  Brian's pay check, however low we might think it is, still allows me to stay at home.  Instead I think it should read:  More money can't buy you happiness.

Try not to let those excuses creep in.  I challenge you to really think about it.  Don't tell yourself: If I can just buy X, then it will make me happy.  Those statements could go on for infinity. Instead, ask yourself:  If I can't buy X, will it make me unhappy about my future?

There was so much more I really wanted to say in this post but I already found it too wordy and long.  Please, enlighten me with your experiences of money and happiness.

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