[My Apologies: This post was set to go up yesterday, but I have a very bad relationship with my computer]
Ultimately it’s the things we do—and the people we love—that have a
far greater impact on living an abundant life than does the stuff we
end up owning.
First, let’s talk about stuff. Advertising has always been part of
human society, going all the way back to the open market where vendors
step out into the crowd shouting for attention. Because their
livelihood depended on selling things it makes sense that they tried
to convince people that they needed what the vendor had to sell.
Whether or not any one person bought didn’t really matter very much.
But today’s advertising has become so sophisticated and persuasive
that it often distorts our very view of what it takes to lead a happy
and meaningful life. Ads constantly bombard us with images of
beautiful people having a wildly happy time while sipping a wine
cooler, driving in a sleek and expensive automobile, and dressing in
clothes that are rarely seen in real life. The message is clear—if you
want to be happy you need to spend lots of money. Fortunately, that’s
easy to do since credit card companies constantly advertise how easy
it is to get what we want right now, neglecting to mention that it all
has to be paid for later with interest.
But one has to ask, “Are the axioms ‘More is better,’ and ‘He who has
the most toys win,’ really true?” Is the secret to happiness honestly
found in a 50-inch flat screen television, or a thousand cable
channels available on demand? Before I give my answer I want to say
that there is nothing inherently wrong with any of these things—I’m
not a spoil sport who thinks that the only way to be happy is to live
a life of denial. God created a world with material abundance for our
benefit, so there’s nothing inherently wrong with acquiring things.
What is wrong is when we confuse the acquisition of stuff with the
satisfaction that should come from using it well, because that often
leads to a treadmill of pride and economic slavery that detracts from
happiness, rather than adding to it. Let me put it another way – have
you ever bought something that you were convinced would make you
happy, only to be disappointed that it didn’t live up to your
imagination? I have—too many times to count.
The simple truth is this – sometimes having less stuff adds to our
abundance. Take a house, for example. Everyone needs a place to live
and having a home that is large enough for our family is an important
purchase. But are we really happier today when every child has their
own bedroom than in the bad old days when they had to share? Having a
roommate, even a bothersome brother or sister, is one way that
children learn to accommodate one another and to see oneself as part
of a group, rather than the center of the world. Perhaps something is
lost when the house becomes so big that no one needs to share anymore.
And what leads to greater family happiness – a mortgage that is so
large that it soaks up all available financial resources, or a more
modest one that leaves room for great family vacations? Going back to
that 50 inch TV, are expensive video games more likely to lead to
family interaction and fun than a set of inexpensive board games that
force people to sit at the same table talking to each other?
It’s a paradox that much of what gives us the greatest satisfaction in
life is free: time to ponder; time with family and friends; a pick-up
game of basketball; time with friends on a golf course; or, for me,
taking time to write about something that interests me and to share it
with my readers. Sometimes money does add to joy, like when it allows
my wife and I to take a great trips to interesting places or to visit
our adult children and grandchildren. It has also added to our sense
of financial security because of a lifetime of saving and investing
that makes us less inclined to worry—in our case, living a little
below our means has added to our abundance.
So as you think about money try to figure out what will have the great
impact on happiness – sometimes spending less may be the wiser choice.
Ultimately it is the things we do and the people we love that make the
greatest difference of all.
Jerry Borrowman is a best-selling author. Thanks, Jerry!