Just try this little experiment tomorrow.
From the very start of the day, keep a little notepad with you and jot down everything that makes you feel genuinely happy inside. Don’t worry about whether it’s something big or something small – if you feel a twinge of happiness, jot it down.
Then, a day or two later, do it again. Make four or five little lists of the things that made you feel happiness during a given day – the things that made you feel good.
By now, you’ll have a few nice little lists. Go through them and eliminate any good feelings that make you feel bad when you look back on them, like silly frivolous purchases that were a rush when you made them but now feel like a waste to you.
The items remaining are a collection of the good things in your life. These are the things that bring you joy on a regular basis and provide the fuel for you to keep going.
Here’s my list, for a recent day:
+ The shouts of my son and daughter through the baby monitor in the morning as I lay next to my wife listening to them
+ Three minutes of wonderful stretching
+ The taste of a really fresh bagel with cream cheese on it
+ The success of finishing a very long article
+ A warm and unexpected hug from my wife
+ An hour of uninterrupted reading of a book I love very much
+ Dancing around in my office (with the door shut) to “Let There Be Rock”
+ The pleasure of making a loaf of bread
+ Cheering up an old friend
+ Playing tee ball in the yard with my son
+ A lengthy babble conversation with my daughter
+ Watching a movie while sitting nest to my wife as she rests her head on my shoulders
What’s to note here? The only ones that directly involve purchases are the bagel, the book, the bread ingredients, the tee ball equipment, the movie, and the music – everything else was either completely free or only involved purchases on an indirect level. Even those purchases are a little bit fuzzy – the tee ball equipment was a gift for my son from his grandparents, the movie came to us from SwapADVD, and the book came from the library.
To put it simply, the things that day that brought me lasting happiness didn’t cost much money at all. These are the spices of my life – the things that make my day to day life enjoyable – and they don’t have much to do with spending money at all.
The next step is to learn to focus on these things. Obviously, from this list, one can tell I’m passionate about my family and close friends, reading, writing, and food – they bring joy into my life on a daily basis. What things can I do that give me the most opportunity to really enjoy those things?
Organize your time to maximize those experiences. If you really get enjoyment from reading a great book but feel indifference from television, turn off the television and read a book. If you truly enjoy time with your family, spend times when they’re not available busting your tail to get your other chores and tasks done so you can spend more time with them when they are available. If you enjoy food, spend time learning how to make great food at home – it’s really not as hard as it seems and it’s pretty cost-effective, too.
What if one of the things I deeply love is quite expensive? It’s likely counterbalanced by simple things that aren’t nearly as expensive. Just keep it in balance – don’t focus on the expensive passion. Mix up your life a little – mix golf with walking around in nature. Mix clothes shopping with exercise. Also, find ways to channel that love into something less expensive. If you’re passionate about golf, don’t buy new clubs and go golfing at the local community course – you can still get the rush of the tee shot to the green with your old clubs at the community course. If you’re passionate about clothes, be more careful and well-researched about your clothing picks and shop for the big bargains at lower end stores – you can get a huge rush out of finding an amazing item in an unexpected place.
For me, it’s all about finding time to read and maximizing my time with my kids instead of doing more expensive things that I’m less passionate about. That’s done more than anything to keep my spending in check.