If you’ve been reading my blog for longer than two minutes you probably can guess (or have read) that I have ADHD. I don’t entirely believe in ADD or ADHD (I think its caused by anxiety, which I happen to believe is the cause of most mental disorders) but for whatever it’s worth, I have all the symptoms. I’m distracted, disorganized, have never followed a routine for longer than maybe two days at a time, and am pretty sure my intellectual potential far surpasses any of my output.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about Capitalism and its relationship to the definition of happiness in modern society. Last night I watched this video…
… which describes why our materials economy is not sustainable and how it is awful for everyone involved (except the big corporations making lots of money.) Nothing really shocking in the video if you know how the consumption economy works, but it’s just sad how capitalism is pretty much based upon making you feel like shit so you have to buy stuff you don’t need and then making the stuff you don’t need seem like shit compared to the latest cool thing so you want to buy that and so on, with all your once cool stuff becoming waste polluting the planet (not to mention the whole awful part about cheap labor and destroying third world countries.) That leads me to wonder, if stuff is ruining the planet, and likely our ability to be happy, then is it possible to be happy with money in our lives?
I jokingly asked my boyfriend today if he thinks I’d be happy if I just gave away all my money. That’s a stupid idea, as I’d eventually starve and wouldn’t have a place to live. I don’t actually give any money to charity yet and I’m not sure at what point I’ll feel comfortable doing so. If I save $20k next year, I should be able to afford to donate some funds to charity. But I just feel like all that money should be put in my grad school account, or in my making babies in vitro account, or in my house down payment fund, or car replacement fund. Having money is a necessity, unless you’re that blogger who lives in canyon and eats out of trash cans and seems to be thrilled with his life, and I’m not sure how to let go of any of it.
Still, I don’t see myself ever being happy in a stuff economy. I don’t always buy the newest and most expensive gadgets and clothes, but I tend to shop for trends when the prices come down a bit, and I’ll snap up the hottest gadget when I feel the cost is what it’s worth (ie, my recent iPhone purchase), but I just don’t know when I’ll feel like I make enough to have enough to feel “good” in this society.
When I went to undergrad, I was so idealistic. I wanted to learn everything. I wasn’t the best at learning because I couldn’t decide what to learn and could never focus on one thing. When I figured out I need to find something to do to make money I became depressed. Now that I’m looking towards grad school, I have to find something that can sustain me for the rest of my life and also take in a decent income. I constantly think about having to support a family one day, knowing I could do it on a small income, but dreaming of a “large” six-figure income to support my mildly frugal stuff-based lifestyle.
The problem is, capitalism is inherently teaching us that our happiness should come from having more than the next person. Whether that’s having a shiny new car, a cool pair of Ugg boots, or even just the ability to go out to dinner once a week when they can’t (even if we’re going into debt because of it) that is how we value ourselves in our society. Yet does it really make us happy? If there were some utopian society where everyone was equal, would we be able to obtain happiness without comparing ourselves to others from a financial standpoint? Or is that impossible… after all, we are genetically designed to compete so our offspring obtain the best life. Is that what our happiness is about?
My boyfriend is a simple guy. He’s be happy living in a small hut with some good books and nothing but forest around him, and a visitor maybe once or twice a month. Me… I’m a different animal. I almost feel like I need stuff. I need the rush of shopping, it makes me feel safe. Without god in my life there’s only shopping to fill that void. I don’t go to temple or church, I go to the mall. I say thanks by purchasing the best fitting outfits I try on. I fill my religious void with lots of stuff. And then I fill my room with it and my clutter makes me miserable. It’s a vicious cycle. And it has to end now.
Still, what replaces my stuff religion when it’s gone? The only replacement are experiences… and those can be free or expensive and worth the same. It is our experiences that we remember, not our material goods. Even then, though, experiences can be pricey (they don’t have to be) and do they even really make us happy? A blog I was reading the other day discussed how travel is a waste of money and that experiences are pretty much just as invaluable as stuff and they come and go. But if nothing has value (other than maybe our love ones, who we have no control over in terms of life or death as accidents happen) it becomes almost necessary for us to have stuff in our lives. Stuff keeps us sane. It puts meaning on something that really isn’t worth anything, even if it cost a lot. Take away stuff and what do our lives mean?
I wish I could spend my life studying how the relationship of a people with material goods and experiences effect the happiness of a society and culture. Is American culture just so awful and warped that it’s hard to see past life’s true value and how to obtain happiness, or is this a worldwide epidemic? A human epidemic?
Plenty more thoughts on this topic to come… feel free to post a comment answering some or all of my questions… I’m curious what you all think…
Every once in a while, I read a blog post that really makes me think. It doesn’t necessarily bring about any new ideas, but it challenges me to reprocess my thoughts from a new perspective. That’s what Get Rich Slowly’s guest post by Justin Martin did for them this morning.
Martin asks “Whats Your Why? The Importance of Find Meaning in Your Life.” He poses that “We need to have a vision of the future so compelling that we can see it even more clearly than the new toys in front of us.”
For the author, his why is to have enough passive income to travel for a year and return in a better financial situation than when he left. (That would be pretty sweet.) But I can’t say that’s my “why.”
He recommends a strategy to figure out your why in the form of 6 questions. I’m going to answer them below. Feel free to do the same on your blog.
- Where have you been happiest?
- What were you doing?
- When you close your eyes and picture yourself incredibly happy, what do you see?
- What makes you forget yourself for hours on end?
- When do you feel best about yourself and your surroundings?
- What do you talk about excitedly?
Where have you been happiest? / What were you doing?
I’ve been happiest when I’m entertaining people. The two times in my life that I’ve been happiest, albeit very different, have included a form of performance that others have responded positively to. One was when I was performing in The Vagina Monologues in college. All of the monologues in that show are great, but there’s one show stopper that requires the actor to perform a variety of orgasmic noises on stage. The monologue is about a lesbian dominatrix, to give you a better idea if you’re unfamiliar with the play. When I performed that monologue I had an audience howling in laughter. Not at me, but with me. And I felt sexy, smart, and funny, and was the happiest I had been in my life thus far.
The other time I was happiest was when I was in Israel (on my Birthright Israel trip) and at a hostel in Masada. I felt drawn to the staircase area, which had a window view of the beautiful dessert, and stood there and sang. Yea, I know, that’s weird. But my voice opened up like never before. And I knew some people would hear me, but I didn’t care. It was the middle of the day. There were few people around. Meanwhile, the acoustics in that staircase were brilliant. I sang for what must have been an hour, though I kind of got lost in time. For the first time in my life, I knew I sounded good. I didn’t sing any particular song, just scales and various patterns of notes, words. At some point a bunch of people came in and applauded for me, which broke me out of my spell. I thought if anything people would be annoyed by my singing, so it was quite incredible to be doing something I truly loved and be appreciated for that.
I also experience moments of happiness when other people respond to something I do in a positive way. It’s like feedback is my drug. (Makes sense that I work in customer service.)
When you close your eyes and picture yourself happy, what do you see?
I see my boyfriend by my side, smiling. I see myself being successful, respected, with enough money where I can spend a little frivolously while still knowing the value of money, and coming home to the man I love.
What makes you forget yourself for hours on end?
Singing. I just wish I had a better voice, I have no confidence in myself. I don’t know if singing in musicals makes me forget myself for hours. I used to think that’s what I want, but I think more spiritual singing is what I enjoy most. Not religious, but just making music without trying to sound like Bernadette Peters or Kristen Chenoweth, just letting my voice come out. That makes me happiest.
When do you feel best about yourself and your surroundings?
When I’m making people laugh, or getting some kind of positive feedback, laughter, applause, captive stares, whichever. I like when people appreciate my being silly. I’ve always been jealous of SNL performers (esp male ones) because they can get away with being such goofballs and do that for a living. I feel good when I’m in charge.
What do you talk about excitedly?
Anything that happens to be my passion in the moment. I admit, my passions are fleeting which can come off as flighty. There are a few things that I’ll always enjoy talking about… the meaning of life, personal finance, myself (hello, I’m a narcissist), sex, and anything that can make someone laugh.
Martin says the next step is to “create a vision that moves you to do things you’ve never done before, and you’ll find yourself in new, wonderful places. Once you have a Why, no matter how unlikely, the How becomes a lot easier and more enjoyable.”
I think also in these why questions, it’s important to ask yourself the opposite for clarity. What have you been least happiest doing? It’s sometimes hard for our “Why” to make sense financially. But what does make sense financially is to figure out what isn’t our “Why.” What is it that makes us miserable, and to avoid that. For instance, I used to think my “why” was to prove to other people that I was intelligent by semi traditional means. I worked for a while as a business reporter interviewing CEOs and VCs, and felt really important. However, the whole thing made me so nervous that I couldn’t spend any time enjoying it. I was miserable with the pressure of constantly introducing myself to people I don’t know, and asking the right questions, all while taking notes I could understand once I got home. Point being, it’s good to know your “why” to help guide you, but it’s equally as important to know what isn’t your why. That’s probably more important in the logistics of life.
Once upon a time, I blogged for a living. I was lucky enough to land a coveted job at a respected blog and worked alongside some of the best bloggers in the business. Their passion and dedication to their career went beyond what I expected in my vague understanding of the blogging lifestyle from afar.
“It turns out that your brain is much more aroused by $1 today than by $1 tomorrow. And $1 six months from now barely registers,” according to “new discoveries in neuroscience labs.” Oh, come on, I could have told you that, and I’m no scientist.
Basically, for your brain to accept waiting for interest to accrue, it has to accrue at some impossible rates.
“For your brain to be willing to wait a mere three weeks for a higher payout, that $20 would have to grow at an annualized rate of roughly 4,800%.”
I’m glad that I’m accepting saving, and potential interest on my savings, is a long-term investment. I don’t even let myself accept that I’ve made the money I will be investing. If I for a moment acknowledge that I could be spending that money now, it would be much harder to lock it up in savings until I’m old and gray.
One interesting tidbit I found in the article is that “the average holding period for a stock, among individual and professional investors alike, is just over 11 months.”
Whoa. I’m doing pretty good, then. I don’t mind holding, even when I’m losing money. It’s easy to do this because, again, I haven’t accepted that I’ve earned that money. I’d like to save for a house or grad school, or some other large-ticket item, but at the moment all of those purchases seem so impossible to me, it doesn’t matter much if I lose money. As long as I can keep making money, I know I’ll be fine. I just need my rent payment for my studio and food money and I can deal. All the extras is just that – extra.
I can see why later in life, investing might get more complicated. Instead of extra income from investments being a luxury, when (/if) I have kids, it might become a necessity. But then I’d think my investing would become even more risk-averse.
Anyway, the brilliant scientists “found out” that we’re bad at waiting for reward. We all have a little Veruca Salt “Daddy I want it now” in us. Is that so bad?
“…the temptation to buy dotcom stocks in 1999, energy stocks in 2005, real estate in 2006, emerging markets in 2007 or gold right now – what’s hot when it’s hot – is overpowering for many people, no matter how often they’ve been burned before.“
I wonder if Gold will be like dotcom/energy/real estate. Hopefully not, as I’m investing somewhat heavily in the GLD ETF (although not that heavily just because I haven’t really invested much money in my sharebuilder account yet versus my Vanguard Roth.
Growing up, I had a really unhealthy perception of the meaning of gifts. First off, I felt like I ‘deserved’ some amazing gift just because my parents got me everything I wanted that wasn’t completely amazing, and they’d never get me what I really wanted – a keyboard, an expensive designer barbie doll, voice lessons, etc. Rarely did I get these things as gifts (from family, friends), but every other gift seemed like a bore.
When it came to gift giving, I needed to give the biggest (or at the least the best.) Let me back-phrase this by noting I was a huge loner up until high school… more because I was a bit hyperactive and curious and no one my age knew what to do with me (except for my somewhat abusive “friend,” but that’s another story). In Middle School, for some reason I decided that I had to buy gifts for dozens upon dozens of people who were more or less acquaintances. I had a lot of acquaintances due to being involved with chorus and the school play. So I went to Claires (the accessories shop) and spent about $7 a gift (of my parent’s money). $7 a gift for 60 people… adds up fast.
Back then, a part of me felt like I might be able to buy the chance at a friendship. Not only did I just buy these people gifts, but I thought long and hard about what they’d like and picked out the perfect size and shape of jewelery for them. That was one of the most fulfilling moments of all my childhood – buying gifts, with my parents money, for people who either didn’t care about me or found me to be annoying.
Years later, my whole perception on gift giving has changed. I’ve realized that gifts are definitely more about the ‘thought,’ and that people understand you can’t buy every single person you’ve ever met a holiday gift.
It’s hard to figure out how much to spend on gifts, though. I have a few good friends… and they deserve zillion dollar gifts, with airfare, but alas, I’m no richie. I also am a bit of a miser, as I hate spending money. My money. Part of that is reasonable (I have $25k in savings thanks to a broken arm lawsuit from 6th grade, which is a lot, and yet not that much… because I’m freelancing and health care is expensive and I really want to go back to grad school to study design which will cost me something like $100k and I want to save up for that BEFORE I go if at all possible)… and part of that is me not really understanding money.
My boyfriend and I often exchange expensive gifts. I didn’t expect for that to be the case, but in our relationship my birthday came up first and he got me an iPod… and dinner. He likes spending money on other people… and one day when he has a substantial amount I’m sure his gifts would be even more impressive. He’s a total 180 from my last boyfriend, who… with a salary of 135k a year (he’s an attorney… and he finished law school with $0 in loans, thanks to a little bit of savings and mostly his parents), wouldn’t think to buy me a gift any more expensive than what I might be able to afford for him.
I wonder how much religion and culture plays into all of this. Jews are stereotyped as “stingy,” and I think that might be true. I’m Jewish, culturally, and my ex was also Jewish. My current boyfriend is pretty much agnostic, although he was raised somewhat Christian.
In any case, gift giving is so different these days. I can handle exchanging gifts with my boyfriend but even that causes such anxiety. After he bought me the ipod, I knew I had to top it. (See, why did I HAVE to “TOP” it?) So I bought him a Nintendo Wii (which I had every intention of playing.) This year, he’s revamped the expensive gift tradition, buying me a Wacom tablet. Now, I wouldn’t have bought this graphic design tool for myself, although it’s really wonderful to have for my job and hobby. His birthday is coming up in march, wtf do I get him?
Meanwhile, today I have to buy gifts for my two cousins that live locally. My mom is supposedly reimbursing me for these gifts, since they’re from her. But I’d like to get the kidlets gifts as well. They have just about everything, according to their mother, so I don’t know what to get them. Right now they’re young enough that they just enjoy opening gifts and quickly forget what it is they’ve received. But being me… I want to get them a brilliant gift, something that will encourage creativity and/or help grow their young minds.
Therefore, today will be spent freaking out about finding the perfect gift for my cousins. I also have to buy a $50 gift for one of my cousins in New Jersey, as I’m part of this giant Hannukah gift exchange that will take place at a party on Dec 15 that I won’t be able to attend. I have no clue what to get him.
I really think that when it comes to gifts, it is the thought that counts. I sometimes wish my boyfriend was a bit more creative in his gift-ing (although I do love my iPod and tablet) because I end up telling him I really want these things for weeks before my birthday and then he gets them for me. It’s kind of weird. I’m not used to that. I guess a lot of guys do that for their girlfriends? I’m too much of an unlabeled feminist to let that be one way, though.
Well, it’s time to go gift shopping.