At long last I’m finally sitting down to write my eleventh gratitude post after a busy couple of weeks. I’ve therefore more to give thanks for today; a twofold increase in my happiness quota, which is a welcome bonus of publishing this post later than originally planned.
As I head out of this Bank Holiday weekend straight into the run-up to pay day, I’ve been thinking about the links between money and happiness. I’ve been asking myself whether there’s a monetary price on happiness, and if it is something we can buy, can it ever be morally acceptable to do so? This sounds like I’ve spent my weekend engaging in esoteric philosophical debate. Yet in all honesty, what I’m specifically musing on is whether or not to buy a MacBook laptop. #firstworldproblems #shameonme
It’s often said that money can’t buy happiness. Many leading thinkers have been quoted as saying that the things which truly matter in life cannot be bought. This generally refers to our relationships with others, that we have with ourselves, and the degree to which we feel personal fulfillment in our lives. It’s ultimately how we feel about each of those things which determines our experiences of them, and whether or not they are happy ones. Being uniquely subjective, happiness in itself isn’t easily valued, at least not in monetary terms. Both relative and intangible, happiness as a concept is difficult to define. As an amateur psychologist, my clumsy attempt at a definition is that happiness can be most closely understood as an overall positive emotional state of being, and is thus unavailable for direct purchase.
Following this line of thinking, it makes sense to me that pursuing financial wealth will not necessarily result in a happier self. Instead there’s truth in the old adage that it’s often the small things which bring the most happiness, or that which claims that some of best things in life come for free! Having spent most of my Bank Holiday Monday catching up on Gary V’s podcasts whilst scraping moss from our patio (my poor excuse for gardening), I feel tired but genuinely happy. Doing no-cost activities like these not only help to alleviate anxiety and stress, but also give me emotional satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment.
“Money is not the only answer, but it makes a difference.”
Yet it’s undeniable that the value of money goes way beyond its literal financial worth. Obama refers here to the power and influence that money can afford; the “fiscal lubrication” which accelerates the pace of change. The idea of money “greasing the wheels” of action is probably most notable in the political sphere, but also applies to our personal lives, increasing the speed with which we can take positive action towards our goals.
“Wealth is not about having a lot of money; it’s about having a lot of options.”
Having access to finance opens up opportunities. Comedian and actor Chris Rock makes this clear here, in that money gives us access to creative solutions to problems that otherwise may not be possible, but it also gives us a means to buy into experiences which add value to our lives, as is most obvious in education. Personally, I’m re-thinking my relationship to money to be a tool by which I can potentially create more happiness. Probably the best example to illustrate how I’ve recently spent money to make myself happy is in purchasing this incredible antique collection of exotic insects (note: there’s no filter on this image; I wanted to show you their natural vibrancy):
Instantly captivated by this Victorian-era artifact, I was enchanted by its ability to evoke contradictory feelings of amazement and disquiet simultaneously. I fell in love with this unique piece of history, speculating on the tales of the brave Victorian adventurers who brought home these specimens; forever frozen in all their glory to travel across time and space to reside above my mantle piece. I’m hit by waves of humility and awe whenever I look at it. Proving I can wield my personal power by using money to buy something worth more to me than its monetary value, it’s got me thinking about the potential “happiness factor” of any future purchases..
Say, for example, if I were to consider my current dilemma of whether to buy a shiny new MacBook. Despite this deeper understanding of what money can do in terms of helping me create greater emotional wealth, I’m still uneasy with the idea of “buying happiness.” I maintain the belief that using money to buy something that makes me happy suggests I’m lacking in the emotional capacity to be happy with less. It seems shallow and selfish to chase after material possessions when so many people in the world have nothing to speak of, and yet experience an enormous amount of happiness.
“Wealth is not his that has it, but his that enjoys it.”
It’s an up-hill battle, but I’m working on eliminating shame around spending. Instead, I’m consciously enjoying and appreciating those purchases that make me happy. I’m not “buying happiness”; I’m simply using the tools at my disposal to increase my overall happiness. Unless I’m prepared to give away all worldly goods (I’m not that altruistic, I’m afraid), then not spending money and keeping it in the bank doesn’t impact positively on anyone else. Ergo investing my money in something with the potential to bring significant happiness gains isn’t an inherently “bad” thing.I’m working on getting that straight in my head.
As of yet, I’m still undecided as to when exactly I’ll invest in a MacBook, but I’m pretty certain it’s the best writing tool for me. I’m working out whether to buy now or later, depending on our current levels of disposable income, which is something C and I can figure out together. Seeking advice from those in the know (namely, other writers, colleagues, C and his techie work buddies), I’m confident that the MacBook would prove it’s worth, improving my experience of writing, making the most efficient use of my time, and generally making the writing process more fun!
I’m actually proud of myself for even contemplating such an expensive purchase. It’s a sign that I’m opening my mind, heart – and wallet! – to making investments in my emotional well-being, which is far more valuable than cash. In this spirit of being more openly grateful for all I have, today’s lists are an amalgamation of thanks from the past fortnight.
Last week I’m Grateful For:
- I’ve talked about this a lot already, but for the geekiest among you, you may be interested to know that my “bug box” is part of a collection from French entomologist Charles Oberthur, who died in the twenties in possession of the second biggest collection of insects in the world. In time, my tiny piece of his mammoth collection found its way to the Natural History Museum in London, and from there has relocated to live with me. It’s just amazing!
- Creating renovation plans for our home. I’d already planned on painting the living room a dramatic shade of Farrow & Ball blue, but my bonkers bug buy fits perfectly with the eclectic explorers theme I envision. Filling the space with bonkers artefacts, vivid colours, and unique touches, we’ll eventually relocate the TV to this room and create a kind of “luxe cinema” vibe. I’m excited to curate a room that inspires fun, energy, and smiles (or gasps!) that will ultimately become our cosy Winter den. In contrast, we plan to redecorate what was originally the dining room (but has become a second living room) as a calm, neutral, nature-themed space in which to read and relax. Overlooking the garden, it’s perfect for sitting and appreciating how fantastically lucky I am to have my dream home.
- Buying new Summer clothes. As is always the case, it gets to this time of the year – too warm for Winter workwear – before I realise I’ve nothing appropriate to wear. Somehow every single year I end up feeling frustrated at my lack of inter-seasonal planning – but not this year! Thankfully this past weekend I not only bought a box of bugs, but I also made another happy buy courtesy of FatFace: a capsule wardrobe that’ll see me through the coming months comprised of a couple of summer dresses, trousers and shirt. Job done.
- Locally-made, delicious Thai food C and I rediscovered recently. We’ve eaten at this restaurant a couple of times already, but had forgotten just how lovely it is to eat home-cooked food at a family-run restaurant. As a couple we spend a disproportionately large amount of our income on food, and I feel a little less guilty if it goes into local businesses.
- Having the opportunity to practise reframing. A commonly-cited CBT technique whereby I consciously seek out the positive in any situation, I’ve been exercising this mental muscle in the past few weeks as booking my favourite gym class has become increasingly frustrating. Focusing my attention on enjoying the freedom that comes from being able to organise my fitness regime around my life, rather than the other way around, has helped me to feel cool, calm and in control.
- Reclaiming the weekends! No longer doing DIY in every spare moment means that C and I can finally go on fun days out! This feels like a real treat, and I enjoyed spending my free time walking round sunny Bakewell this past weekend. I’m looking forward to a Summer of day trips, exploring the countryside that’s on our doorstep, and pottering in our beautiful garden with the cats.
- Finding bargain books. Perhaps one of my greatest joys in life, sourcing second-hand books in charity shops brings an inordinate amount of pleasure. In donating money to a worthy cause, I’m also adding to my self-help collection. It’s win-win.
- The swell of pride and love that comes from seeing my gorgeous nephew G learning to walk on video. He’s only just coming up to a year old, and seeing just how much he’s grown and changed in this short window of his life is incredible to witness. I’m a seriously proud Aunt.
- A positive prescription review with my doctor. This is something I’ve debated about discussing on my blog, but I feel strongly that it’s important I’m open and honest if I want to influence positive change in the public discourse around mental health. Whilst I’ve had periods of mental ill-health since my teenage years, it’s only been around a year since I started taking medication for my depression and anxiety. A complex of reasons held me from seeking this particular form of help, not least of which was the stigma associated with taking “mental meds”. Attending my annual medication review, my doctor was so pleased with my progress that he said I could consider stopping taking my pills if I felt ready. He thinks they’ve probably done their job by now; chemically “resetting my brain”, so to speak, and he assured me I’d be fine without them. Still, with my doctor’s full support I’ve chosen to stay on medication for now at least. Memories of how I used to feel remain that bit too raw to feel entirely confident in living without additional chemical support. I did, however, feel safe in the knowledge that I’ve got the right human support system in place for me to ensure I’m taking exquisite care of my mind.
- Embracing a new hobby: gardening! After my introduction to planting last weekend (and with just the one casualty in our herb garden), I’ve seemingly caught the gardening bug. A couple of times this past few weeks have seen me take up my trowel and gloves, and turn to the turf as my newest means of stress-relief. In my (sort of futile) quest for weed-free crazy paving, I’m making a whole new job for C (who gets the pleasure of re-pointing). Yet being in touch with the soil, taking in the scent of the earth, I feel happy and reconnected with the world.
This Week I’m Grateful For
- Positive health news from family members who are now thankfully cancer-free. This is a gratitude way bigger than I can express here, but it’s safe to say that this has brought a massive sense of relief and happiness from their loved ones.
- Completing my Role Model challenge! Four weeks earlier I set myself a month-long challenge to seek life advice and inspiration from the world’s most successful people. Reaching the final chapter (literally!) of this experiment was a real achievement and I’m excited to share the results in the coming weeks. For now, you can catch up via my introduction, week one, two, and three posts. I’m currently writing up what happened in week four, so watch this space!
- Making plans for family to move nearby. C’s sister and her brood sold their house this week, meaning my nieces are definitely coming to live round the corner from us over the Summer. Never really having family live nearby as an adult, it’s really exciting to see this come to fruition. Having the space in our new place to be able to host a last-minute visit from C’s sister, S, this past weekend was fantastic. I’m thankful that we’re able to support her in making their move a reality.
- A long Bank Holiday weekend, including an extra afternoon off work.
- The opportunity to wear a new dress to work. The weather stayed sufficiently sunny to be able to rock my new denim dress. Feeling like Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz”, it was amazing the difference I felt in wearing something totally different than my usual skinny-jeans-and-jumper uniform. Demonstrating my new dress by means of giving people a twirl, it was fun to feel girlish and cute – and unbelievably comfortable!
- Yet another opportunity to wear my other new dress of a sunny Sunday. Being able to slip on a cotton sundress and enjoy feeling the heat on my skin was almost as delicious as the Bakewell tart-flavoured ice cream I ate this weekend. I felt super glamourous and pretty, channelling fifties summer vibes in my straw hat.
- Indulging in my biggest weakness – home-made cake! A slice of spicy carrot cake covered in lashings of sugary buttercream made my day.
- Making a mini-speech at a work social took a few braves this week. Although I knew I’d be fine when I did it, I was a bit nervous beforehand. Bringing myself to this event, I even went as far as to use the word “love” in a work environment which for me, is a personal achievement of sorts.
- Reflecting on my life experiences to help others came up this week as something I feel glad to be able to do. With the gift of time, it’s possible to use what I learnt from my own past failures to help someone else make progress in their own lives. Supporting one of our students to prepare for his job interview, I felt really positive about passing my life lessons onto someone for whom it may make a difference.
- Genuinely feeling happy at work. If you’d asked me some years back when I was experiencing crippling anxiety, I’d have struggled to name a single positive thing about my job. These days, however, I can have a string of awesome days! Being able to relax and bring my whole self to my work has made a huge difference in terms of what I get out of it. Choosing to take a “can-do” attitude and determining to act from a place of love (rather than fear) has made such a positive impact on my working life, which rubs off on those around me.
Phew! A mega-post, as promised, so I’m truly grateful if you made it to the end with me!