Have you heard about the recent research that found that a person’s quality of life is improved up to a $75,000 income and after that it goes flat or begins to descend? I’ve heard this three times on different NPR shows, (National Public Radio in the US), but that’s all they say about it. This only creates questions for me, such as: Where do they live? What GNP period did they use? Are their earners credit users? Do they own or rent their home? Is their income secure? How many people are they supporting in their household? What is included in their definition of a quality lifestyle? A statement like this just needs so much more clarification before it can be taken at face value and yet those who are forwarding the message seem to want just that: that we take this number at face value. Assuming that I do accept the premise of their conjecture that quality of life, when it comes to money, is limited and you don’t need to be a billionaire to be happy: I get that. It’s something that I have always felt an intuitive vibe with, and why money and income has never been important to me unless the lack of it stopped me from doing what I wanted to do in life, and what I want to do rarely requires me to make huge amounts of money, so most of the time my quality of life is pretty good. I spend my days doing what I love most and I rarely have to put up with unpleasant people. I eat well and get lots of exercise. I live in a nice place and most of my basic needs are taken care of. What I don’t have and don’t miss are lots of unnecessary: electronics, TV, latest blockbuster movies, fancy new cars and computers every ten years, nor have I gone on that trip around the world yet. Okay that last one is still on my wanna do list. What I do have in my life is far better than what I don’t and that’s what counts when it comes to quality of life for me.
What has led me to my better quality of life has more to do with taking the time to carefully think about what is really important to me and following through on what I find. Thinking carefully and behaving right doesn’t require money: a person just has to do it. If you think about it: 20% of that $75,000 a year in America is spend on finding the time to just get away from all the mind noise and employment work that takes you away from thinking about and enjoying your better life. How? Like this: The generic US citizen grows up; takes a job that is similar to their parents or is what their parents want them to do; then accepts the job offer that is prevalent for their generation and which is offered when they go job hunting; then works hard without asking too many question, doing what their bosses tell them to do; spends their life building the type of lifestyle that is not too much different from their friends and neighbors, (more on this later); then, if they are lucky, will retire with enough income to not have to work into their old age, allowing them to sit around doing nothing. At no point in there is anyone required to stop and really think about what they want from their one and only life because they believe its easier to follow the path set for them and be done with it. Besides if you want to be different, you can just watch others take risks and be different on TV and the more different and outlandish the better. Watching different people’s lives fall apart just proves that being different and not following your socially acceptable preformed path will only lead towards devastation and unhappiness.
When I think about what matters more, I think about how comfortable people lived before the industrial revolution. Sure they had to make and wash their own clothes by hand which made them sleep like logs at the end of the day; grow and prepare their food from scratch so they didn’t have room for lots of junk food; walk long distances through lush landscaping, putting them in the middle of nature and changing seasons all the time; and their idea of holiday travel meant visiting their neighbors in town or going to a church gathering; and the rest of the time they had to keep their hands moving and their minds occupied with thinking because their consciousness wasn’t filled up with a constant media blitz in a totally commercialized world wanting them to buy, buy, buy stuff. Let’s face it, in the world of today, every economist, politician and business person has one role and that is to keep the growing population of human beings avoiding starvation, financial collapse and civilization’s stagnation by keeping people always: working, shopping, fantasizing and never stopping long enough to think about how their quality of life could really be improved by doing less and not more: Through quality over quantity.
What if that generic Westerner decided to stop spending their money on anything that didn’t contribute to their true quality of life? How much money would they then need to live on? How much time would they need to spend working at a job for that amount of money? How much time would they have doing what they truly wanted to be doing, if they didn’t work all the time trying to keep up with the Jones or watching the Jones on TV, so they knew how to keep up with them? And finally how would this impact the quality of life for the rest of the world?
Let’s look at a typical modern day suburban American family who has two working parents and 2.5 kids. Dad is full time and mom part-time: Dad works for corporate Honcho making $55,000 a year; gets medical and dental and two weeks off a year after 10 years of employment; mom is part-time so she doesn’t have any benefits but she has the time to drive the kids around and do the shopping, so they don’t have to pay someone else to do these things but they probably spend that much on gas anyways. They rent their home, drive two fancy looking cars with not very good track records on value that were bought from an over priced used car lot that gave them 19% financing that they are still paying the interest on after four years, but they look good driving around in them when they are not in the auto shop. Dad has about a dozen credit cards, and can get more any time he wants so when mom really wants something, which is all the time, she buys it without thought, without consideration and their home is filled with so much stuff bought spontaneously that it looks like an episode of Hoarders. When dad isn’t working he’s buying manly stuff like big screen TVs for every room, wall size fish tanks, DVD players for the cars, expensive games and toys that he gets tired of after a couple days just like a child. They have no life insurance, are not saving for retirement, are way too far into debt to ever buy a home; but mom, dad and the kids can buy whatever they want spontaneously when they are in a store and feel like they are keeping up with the Jones. In reality they owe three times their income and they have nothing to show for it but a beat up rental and two cars full of garbage. After work hours laboring at jobs they hate they drink booze and give big lavish adult filled birthday parties for their small children. Oh and where are the children when not at school or sick at the doctors from all the crud they eat? Running around the house unsupervised, unabashedly breaking stuff until after dinner when it’s then about bad adult TV. When they get old enough, they can run around someone else house or around town where mom and dad don’t have to think about them. This may not look like your family picture but it’s probably close to many of the American families today.
Now, what if the same family stopped and didn’t spend money except for things that are 1) completely necessary; 2) that contributed to making their life truly run more efficiently so that they had more time to do things that really mattered to them; and 3) saving for a proverbial rainy day that could include a job change, a long term illness or death of an income earner, or educations that improved the quality of life for other family members? The necessary stuff is pretty much the same for everyone: food, hygiene, clothing, shelter, medical, communications and transportation. The second set of investments that contribute to a more efficient life are a little more individual and may include things such as: the home computer, internet and other work implements not covered by the employer, house keepers if it frees up time to do other things, a garden to grow some fresh food while getting free exercise and fresh air, or owning your home so you can put in a granny unit out back and have free live in childcare. These life easing conveniences in the second group are different for each of us and our families but if more of us get focused on what matters most for a quality life, I bet there will be more things that we all appreciate than we don’t; for example: more time with family and friends, time to travel, eat healthy quality fresh foods, play and be active; have time to stop and think and enjoy the good lives that we are free to create for ourselves. The material things that are meant to impress others are not on the list for those who are thinking straight because why spend your life trying to impress others, if it means your quality of life suffers? Some people with really low self esteem may still prefer to live to impress rather than live for oneself but these people don’t have to be you if you’re conscious about who you are and what you really want in life that makes you happier.
Its not that hard finding true happiness in life, all you have to do is avoid the trap of going after the material stuff that “might” impress someone else; take the time to stop and think about what truly brings you happiness and then plan your life around these meaningful things and time well spent. Once you discover what makes you happy and you spend your time doing it for yourself, all the other wasted miserable time falls away and you no longer have the reasons to keep that meaningless job for meaningless money to pay for meaningless junk. Find meaning in your life and I guarantee you will find happiness.