This post started as a comment in response to Colin Wright's post on Your Money or Your Life. The comment grew long enough that I decided to turn my response into this post.
There are two things that cannot be bought with money: Time and Happiness.
Sure, you might be able to "buy" someone's time, but you cannot buy back time that has already been spent! Therefore time is an invaluable resource. Likewise, happiness cannot be bought. You can buy things that you think will make you happy, but the happiness itself will always come from somewhere inside. You really don't need anything external to obtain it!
I find it amazing how many people go through their entire lives thinking that more money equals more happiness. They get stressed and unhappy due to the absence of money and naturally they assume having more of it will reverse the effect. In reality, what's making them unhappy are the choices they've made; the little luxuries they've decided are absolutely necessary to live their life (cable TV, cars, expensive foods, tobacco, alcohol, big house, movies, etc.).
All of those things provide a very temporary and unsustainable happiness. As a result, their life becomes a snowballing roller coaster of wanting more and more. The more they want, the more money they convince themselves they need. The more money they need, the more stressed out and unhappy they become. Where does it end? Sadly, for most people it ends with death.
I come from a middle class family. While my perspective is not the same as someone from a lower class family, I can see that the same patterns emerge from one class to the next. The things everyone truly cares about are pretty much the same. One persons' poor, is another persons' rich. The family we're born into often defines the living standard by which we judge and perceive the world around us. But how different is the rich person from the poor person? Do they experience a different kind of happiness? A different kind of sadness? A different kind of love? How about hunger? Do rich and poor people get different feelings from laughter?
I speak as a single guy, with very few true responsibilities. I have no kids to take care of or family that needs to be looked after. I understand that my perspective and ideas may not apply to other situations. Nevertheless, there are many very happy families living with far less than the average family in the United States. Do they experience a lower quality happiness? When their kids laugh and play together, do they experience a lower quality joy? True happiness isn't something that can be bought with money.
We're all human. If we really want to be happy we need to look deep inside ourselves for happiness. It's there. Everyone has it. No one person has less happiness-making-capacity than the next. It's really tough to forget that all the material stuff around us, regardless of how much importance we place on it, really has nothing to do with our true happiness. That's a tough pill to swallow when some of us work day and night to afford the stuff.
So what better way to find the true source of happiness than to strip yourself of all things material? I grew up in a relatively rural area, a small town in New Hampshire with a forest and a lake for a backyard. I was home schooled and spent most of my childhood outside exploring nature. When friends would visit for the first time, their impression would always be one of amazement. I never understood that. At least not until I moved away and lived in the city for two years. When I visited my parents on the weekends, I started to feel something I never felt before. Visiting my parents house, the very place I grew up, started to feel like going on vacation! I felt so much appreciation for the place.
That experience made me realize how the little things we take for granted can spoil our entire life. Have you ever come back from a camping trip and felt a little more grateful for having a shower? How about when the power comes back on after being out for more than a day? We should feel that way every minute of every day for the life we have. For working legs, eyes, hands, ears, and mouth. We should be grateful for every second that passes; for each beat of our heart, and each breath we take.
Take a deep breath of air right now. Close your eyes and fill your chest with life-giving air. Appreciate it a little more than you did the previous breath. Do it right now. I'll wait.
Didn't that feel good? You take an average of 20,000 of those every single day. That's a lot to be grateful for!
I've decided to get rid of nearly all my material possessions because I know it will make me feel more grateful. I know it will enable me to see more clearly. We humans (yes, even modern ones) don't need very much to survive. Food and shelter. That's it. Most of us are fortunate enough to have working feet to help us travel, yet so few of us use them for real commuting. What about money? When we remove all modern-day comforts and really drill down to the bare necessities, we don't need very much of that either. Of course how much money will differ depending on where we're living, but most of us live way above necessity.
Find something you own that you haven't used in over a month. Now find someone that you can give it to. Don't worry about how much it cost you or why you originally bought it. You haven't used it in over a month and you most likely won't use it for the foreseeable future. Just find something and give it away. By giving it away you'll not only build good karma, you'll also feel a little more appreciative of all the stuff you currently have.
The more we have, the less we appreciate. The less we have, the more we appreciate. Do you want to appreciate more or less of life?