Thoughts on: Less and Happiness

When I tell people that I have found more happiness in less things, I usually get a blank stare, followed by grilling questions, and finished with a sort of resistance. I’ve successively proceeded through multiple stages of redefining what brings happiness in my life within a relatively short time span. The following are real life examples of people’s responses to some of the lifestyle changes that I have started to implement within the last year that required living with less.

Me: “I’ve started to de-clutter everything I own that I don’t love or that serve me no purpose.”

Response: “You are going to miss those things in a few months.”

Me: “I started to practice minimalism.”

Response: “You mean, getting rid of all your stuff and living with nothing?”

Me: “I am recently trying to give up drinking alcohol.”

Response: “How are you going to have any fun?”

Me: “We are being selective with which social occasions we go to with our friends, because we don’t want to waste money on things like dining out, disguised as hanging out.”

Response: “So you don’t hang out with your friends anymore?”

Me: “I am going to give up shopping for one year. I don’t want to buy more clothes, for the sake of keeping up with the fashion trends.”

Response: “I could never do that.”

Me: “I am going to attempt to do all my grocery shopping without purchasing plastic.”

Response: “That’s too much of an inconvenience. Good luck with that.”

The consensus? People generally do not like the idea of less.

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Thoughts on happiness. 

The 2017 World Happiness Report measured happiness using six variables: social support, income, healthy life expectancy, trust in government and business, perceived freedom to make life decisions, and generosity. Only one of these categories involves money, which most people unfortunately and truly believe will buy them happiness. The problem is that as people try to increase their income, other variables that are used to measure happiness decrease. Most people have a social support system that consists of their family and friends. Sometimes, if they are lucky, they will also find a social support system at work. For example, I work with dental assistants and treatment counselors, and we have each other’s back when it comes to delivering good dentistry. When it gets crazy busy, everyone helps the other out, and I don’t care if I’m a doctor, I’ll clean rooms, scrub instruments, and set up trays like everybody else. But for other people, they go into work and sit at a desk, and work on a task individually, then come together in group meetings and present their work. So usually for this type of work, the more people work trying to increase their income, the less social support they have.

I watch people overwork themselves to earn “enough” money to “barely get by”, but I also see these same people going out to Happy Hour for “reduced” prices, hitting up sales to get “great deals”, buying Disneyland passes and lining up for the new Iphone. As people try to increase income, they apply a lot of stress in their lives, wear themselves down, get sick often, and usually get less exercise. These factors decrease another variable, which is a healthy life expectancy. Okinawa, a Japanese island, has the highest life expectancy in the world, 86 for women and 78 for men. It is also considered one of the happiest and most laid-back communities in the world, built around community, dancing, and music.

I always hear people complain about going into work or hating their job, and I think to myself, why don’t you just quit? When I ask them this, many express that they can’t leave because they need to pay their bills. What they don’t realize is that their bills are so high because they there is a certain lifestyle that they try to attain. I see parents who work five days a week in order to buy their kids that video game system they want for Christmas, instead of staying home and spending actual time with their kids. And then they complain that the kids grow up so fast, and they don’t have the time or energy to watch them grow. Most people who are unhappy with their jobs have a decreased perceived freedom to make their own life decisions. The more money becomes the reason you work, the less you are likely to leave, voice your opinion, challenge your superiors, and work creatively. The more tied you are to your job, the less likely you are to reduce your hours, move to a different city, state, or country, say no to co-workers, and so on and so on.

Lastly, generosity. It is difficult to be generous when one’s time is occupied by work or when money is valued so highly. It is difficult to give back when it feels as if every dollar needs to be spent on “necessary” things, when it feels like you’re broke. But we aren’t broke. Broke is when you have not had something to eat for days. Broke is when you don’t have a roof over your head anymore to shield you from the cold. Broke is when your children can’t go to school because they have to work or help out at home. We are not broke. I believe that it is this last and final variable that will bring the most happiness. We are a compassionate species.

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Thoughts on less.

What I have found in my path to living with less, is the happiness that came with it. Uninvited, unexpected, but one hundred percent welcomed.

  • When I got rid of a majority of my clothes, I found that I wore something I love every day, and getting dressed in the morning was no longer stressful, because the decisions became easy. Remember when we were kids and we just started dressing up for school on our own and we had a favorite shirt? It feels like wearing your favorite shirt every day.
  • When I started to focus on experiences rather than things, I found that I accomplished more in the last year than I have in the last five years. I traveled extensively to New Zealand, Salt Lake City, New Orleans, Palm Springs, Mexico, Hawaii, and Germany in the last year, all for leisure. I learned how to do yoga on my own (no longer am I paying for classes at a ridiculous rate of $20/class or $165/month) and take joy out of deciding what poses come next or what part of the body I will focus on that day. I learned how to do ceramics with my own hands, how to play guitar (at least I can dabble), how a latte is supposed to be poured (I can make a leaf, on a good day), how to use a calligraphy pen, how to speak German (well, enough to understand signs in Germany), how to make tortillas out of scratch, and more. Because I wasn’t out spending my money on time-sucking tasks like shopping, dining out, going to Disneyland, I have found ways to add to my skill set and rack up some pretty cool and diverse abilities under my belt. I find happiness every time I learn something new, meet a new person, and achieve an accomplishment or a goal.
  • I started to refuse out-sourcing things. I love the challenge of fixing something without buying an additional gadget or paying for a service. I once paid $180 this year to clean our loft by professional cleaners. It was seriously the worst $180 I spent, retrospectively looking at it. It was nice because it saved me time, but arguably, the time it saved me was probably used doing less efficient activities anyway. I told myself I don’t want to continue doing that anymore. Now whenever a home improvement task comes along, I learn how to fix it on my own, and I just feel so proud knowing that I am capable, resourceful, and all sorts of frugal.
  • I realized that alcohol was starting to make my stomach queasy the next day, or that skin rashes resulted from being too dehydrated (also the reason why I gave up caffeine and started drinking decaf). I tried to eliminate alcohol consumption completely as of June of this year (the only exception was a beer or two in the weeks I travelled to Hawaii and Germany), and found that I enjoyed the social gatherings as much as when I used to drink. Heck, I was even more engaged and developed deep conversations and connections with people. Plus I feel totally fine the next day.
  • We started being more selective with which social gatherings we go out to, which then started to shape who we hung out with. We realized that we were hanging out with groups of people who really enjoyed spending their money on bowling nights, fancy dinners, happy hours, and other activities. We also realized that we no longer wanted to spend our money on those things, and to spend them instead on other prioritized experiences, such as travelling and new hobbies. We started to say no, and we were okay with that. Our friends who were really close to us found ways to hang out with us without spending money. We established a new group of friends (who I happen to work with) with whom we meet up every Wednesday night with at someone’s house to play board games or video games. How many people nowadays have time set aside to meet with their group of friends, once a week, every week? Very few people I know do that anymore. We found that the friendships that were truly meaningful became more connected and stronger, and those that were less meaningful fell out of our lives. Some people question us for this decision the most, but it was probably the best decision in my opinion. You are as good as the people you surround yourself with, and we just couldn’t surround ourselves with people who would prevent us from living our best lives. We didn’t dislike those people. We just had different goals. It wasn’t a compromise we were willing to make.
  • I created a personal challenge for myself, which was to not buy an article of clothing this year, which later turned into not buying anything for myself. Once I de-cluttered everything, I did not want to spend that much time doing it again. The most important thing about minimizing is not how much you let go, but how much you add in. When I started doing this challenge, it felt like I was a recovering addict. Seriously. Which is probably why most people’s excuse is, “I can’t do it.” It was a very difficult thing to do. I didn’t realize how easy it was to get sucked in by advertisements and notifications which I have set for myself via email or Instagram telling me that I need to buy more stuff. I checked my favorite companies and websites continuously, and added things to my cart and I physically ached for things. It took me a few months to stop feeling this way. And even some days, after I was better about it, I would turn to Mike and say, “I miss going to the mall.” But I no longer allow myself to go. Because it is truly an addiction. This particular scenario may not apply to other people, but maybe the weakness is Amazon, or video games, or car parts, or happy hour. Whatever it is, once I felt better and got over the burning desire to purchase stuff, I knew that I cannot go back. Admittedly, I did fail once so far. I bought myself a used, vintage dress from a local small coffee shop. It was spontaneous and highly unnecessary, but it was a mistake I thing I had to make. I loved the dress and wore it once a week for the rest of summer, but I also knew deep down that it was money that did not need to be spent, and it grounded me and furthered my resolve to say no. This is usually when people assume my life is awful because I am depriving myself from things I want. But I’m not. Consider all the things I have accomplished this year and the places we have been. I am just re-writing my life for things that I want more.
  • And lastly, giving up plastic. I’ve had people laugh in my face, scoff, roll their eyes, ask me “Seriously?”, sarcastically tell me “Good luck!”, quietly judge me, or whisper about me in the middle of the check-out line as if I can’t hear every word they were saying. I’ve also had people support me, get on board, genuinely tell me “Good luck!”, and thank me for “Saving the world” (my favorite lady at the register). I’ve gotten people to watch documentaries about plastic and started many conversations about how to do it and why. And it just feels good. It feels good to be intentional and mindful and to just feel like you’re making a difference, even if others don’t see it that way. It feels good to be optimistic about everything.

I consider myself happier than a lot of people I know. I consider my husband happier than me. I consistently hear the same loud complaints or murmurs of dissatisfaction about the same few things. Work, money, health, relationships. I can’t convince a person to change their life, neither do I want to. I do want the people around me to be happy about their lives. I want everyone to be happy. We are all responsible for our own happiness. Discovering a world with less emphasis on STUFF earned me a higher level of happiness. The one thing I can do is to verify that this is doable and true.

Interested in other thoughts on happiness? Right this way. To see what traditions you can give up this holiday season, come hither.

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