Changes in Income Force Re-evaluation

What makes me happy?  Certainly it is not the material things in life that make me happy, although there is some comfort that comes from having them.  On the whole, my life is pretty much free of a consumerist bent.  But there are certain things I want in life that come with a price tag, especially the ability to travel to visit friends and family now that I live an ocean away from them.


It was with interest that I read this recent New York Times article about consumers finding ways to spend less and still find happiness, a topic that has long fascinated me.

Amid weak job and housing markets, consumers are saving more and spending less than they have in decades, and industry professionals expect that trend to continue. … On the bright side, the practices that consumers have adopted in response to the economic crisis ultimately could — as a raft of new research suggests — make them happier. New studies of consumption and happiness show, for instance, that people are happier when they spend money on experiences instead of material objects, when they relish what they plan to buy long before they buy it, and when they stop trying to outdo the Joneses

That rings true, especially the part about experiences being more fulfilling than simple objects.  There are plenty of things I’ve bought in life that I later realize I don’t use often, I don’t appreciate very much, or that I wouldn’t miss if I didn’t have them.  But there are few trips I’ve taken, nice meals I’ve eaten, film festivals I’ve attended, and books I’ve read that haven’t left at least some impression on me, some residual amount of enjoyment that I get to relive each time I think of them.  Of course, the Times’ article goes on to note that the possible exception to this finding is that purchases of clothing are more likely to continue to thrill the purchaser each time they are pulled form the closet, a finding with which Tawn might all too eagerly agree!

These questions about happiness, spending, and the relationship between the two arise at this point in my life because in the past two months, Tawn has made a change from full-time work to part-time, seeking a new sense of direction and an opportunity to create some balance in his life, including the time for more yoga practice and spending more time with his parents.

That reduction in our household income has already been felt and likely will be felt more in the months to come as we learn what the full impact is of losing a good chunk of the income we were used to.  That reduction in salary was one of the reasons that I traveled solo back to the family reunion in Kansas City last month, in fact.

We’re speaking regularly about this transition and its effects on us, sharing our feelings and concerns and regularly reviewing our financial situation to avoid undue stress caused by unexpected bills.  This is a good thing and I’m confident that we’ll be able to survive fine with less income and will hopefully find that the free time is beneficial and brings happiness in ways that money and things cannot. 

Still, every so often I worry a bit.  Will this mean I can’t do the travel I want to?  Will that mean fewer of the experiences that I enjoy?  Is that something I’m willing to give up? 

In reflection on all these questions, I recall a chapter from the Chinese philosophical treatise, the Tao Te Ching.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 44
Translation by Stephen Mitchell

Fame or integrity: which is more important? 
Money or happiness: which is more valuable? 
Success or failure: which is more destructive? 

If you look to others for fulfillment, 
you will never truly be fulfilled. 
If your happiness depends on money, 
you will never be happy with yourself. 

Be content with what you have
rejoice in the way things are. 
When you realize there is nothing lacking, 
the whole world belongs to you.

Let’s see if I can keep focused on this message in the months to come, to remember that there is nothing lacking and the whole world already belongs to me.


0 thoughts on “Changes in Income Force Re-evaluation

  1. Understanding what it is that makes you happy is half the battle. Communication and compromise will make the journey easier. When we were first married there wasn’t a ton of money. We made due. We had fun. We did not want. Hope you two can find that place.

  2. Good final thoughts. I’ve always been used to not having much money, especially in the past when I had a gf haha. Without one, it now seems I have too much money which explains why I’ve been using it for traveling.

  3. Thanks for the reading from Tao Te Ching. I have had my hours cut in half. OF course that meant my original budget was shot to hell. I have been one who did not need material things. If I had them I usually gave them away or shared them with people who were important to me. Now I look to be my best friend and enjoy my time with nature – there is plenty there. I have been welcomed by a family of squirrels living in one of the pine trees on the property. There is my friendly black snake who lives under the home and of course dines on all living things found there. Mr. Hoot Owl moved in a couple weeks ago and this morning as I took my walk I noticed a hawk atop the highest point in one of the trees. Wonder if he will stay around.

  4. The chapter from Tao Te Ching does make one think deeply. However, when in time of necessity and one is lacking in financial source, happiness will be hard to find. 

  5. Well there are some points I’d agree with here, some I wouldn’t and some I can’t decide about. I don’t think life is just black and white, sometimes there are in betweens – considerations to take into account etc etc. That chapter by Tao Te Ching, there is a lot in that which I could debate the point on to some degree – the only line I could give an absolute answer to is the first one about ‘fame’ or ‘integrity’ and of course, the latter would be my choice! As for the line about ‘success’ or ‘failure’, well – in relation to what? How do you measure them individually or against each other? What is it in any person’s life that determines whether they are a ‘success’ or a ‘failure’? What are these labels about anyway – don’t we all have successes ‘and’ failures in our lives? Perhaps the real cause of destruction is the fact that these labels even exist in the first place!. Well, think I’ve said plenty here, unless you want me to on for another three pages or more! Lol I do hope you and Tawn find that place Val spoke of above. Best wishes to you both. šŸ™‚

  6. “Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” – How true!Best of luck!!!!!!

  7. Of all people I bet you would ^^Even though materially you seem to be short(er)think of what the good will bring from a more balancedlife Tawn’s well being will bring to the table? ^^

  8. Oh, I was going to post an entry about this very same article! I’m glad you did it instead. I would’ve just copy/pasted a few choice excerpts from the article and left it at that. :)To borrow the terms of logic, we would say that for most people (excluding ascetics like monks and hermits), money and material goods are necessary but not sufficient for happiness. That is, you need to have some in order to be happy, but having them does not by itself assure happiness.I’ve really noticed the “hedonic adaptation” thing they write about. A new possession, even a highly anticipated one, quickly loses its luster.

  9. @Senlin –  It was an interesting article, no? That idea of hedonic adaptation is something I know I’ve observed in my own life although there are a few things, like my camera purchase last year, that I really continue to appreciate just as much as when I bought them. What also struck me is that it seems the amount necessary to be happy is roughly $20,000 a year. At that point your basic needs can be met and the spending grows more discretionary.Maybe we should collaborate on some entries, choosing a common topic and writing two cross-posted columns…@ZenPaper –  There’s no doubt Evan that my happiness will greatly improve as Tawn’s life is more balanced. Much easier to live with someone who isn’t stressed out! =D@Sinful_Sundae –  @Donna7 –  Thank you. After writing the entry, of course I have that moment of self-realization that I have more than enough to make me happy in this life and I really haven’t anything to be fearful of.@Chatamanda –  One of the interesting things about the Tao Te Ching is that it can provoke many interesting discussions. Of those first three paragraphs, I’m pretty confident the answers (for me) are that integrity is more important than fame, happiness is more valuable than money, and success is ultimately more destructive than failure. I think the last one is because the more success we have in life (regardless of what type of success) the more we raise our expectations, leaving us unsatisfied with the success we have already enjoyed. We should do a series of entries about the different chapters of the Tao!@icapillas –  Very true. If we can keep in mind the truly valuable things we have even when we are poor in money, perhaps that will make the poverty easier to bear.@Fatcat723 –  You make a strong argument for a visit to the National Park System! =D@Roadlesstaken –  Relationships are definitely expensive, Alex.@amygwen –  That’s a good point. Ultimately, the happiness of the people with whom we share our life reflects back (and amplifies) on our own happiness.@murisopsis –  My parents like to remind me that when they were early in their marriage, times were tight for them, too. And in comparison I know that our times are much less tight (no children = lower expenses) so there isn’t anything for me to complain about.@choyshinglin –  I will go read that entry, thanks.

  10. I am curious if Tawn is able to find the work life balance he was striving for and if he utilizing his “free time” to fulfill his goals. I respect what the 2 of you are doing. It couldn’t have been easy to carry this out. I’m sure there must have been a lot of anxious discussions. Money is sometimes not an easy topic to talk about. We all have very different concepts and values about money, budgeting, fiscal discipline and things like that. I’m always nervous about money. I see my parents (well, just my dad now) growing old without a lot of money except for government pension. We all help out one way or another. I’m deathly afraid of being old and poor.

  11. Great excerpt from the Tao Te Ching. Reminds me a bit of this: “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it.” My mother finished her degree and got a job in her field just in the nick of time, so we’re on our way back to financial normalcy, but before that happened we had a conversation about how stressful things were. I remember saying to her that money’s just unimportant, except for the way lack of it can steal our joy. Really, it’s the worrying that does it. It takes a lot of mental and emotional fortitude not to let it do so sometimes. It isn’t always easy to keep perspective, or balance. Good luck to you and Tawn in achieving such balance; it’s great that you continue communicating about it all.

  12. @Senlin – @ElusiveWords – Not sure what that would look like but not sure I want to find out!  @ElusiveWords – That same fear really motivates a lot of my decisions about money, particularly the desire to put a lot away into investments and to forgo the purchase of “things’ that won’t be very helpful when I’m old and on a fixed income.  Hard to say if Tawn has found the balance yet, since we’ve just started the second full month.  He is certainly a lot less stressed, though, so there is some benefit.  His parents also seem happier to be seeing their only child more often.@epiginoskete – It is the worrying that is at the root of the problem, isn’t it?  I guess if we lived somewhere where we felt more secure that there was a safety net should everything fail, there wouldn’t be much to worry about.

  13. I think that the changes that we’ve had to personally make in our lives due to the downturn in the economy have really helped both Phil and I reflect a little bit more about what is really important to both of us.

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