My recent post on the poor financial outlook for millennials reprised my occasional role as Debbie Downer (is there a male version of that name?), but I like to think that it finished with some good recommended solutions and a message that hopefully resonates with all of you wonderful readers,
“We can take gratitude in the abundance of everything that we do have. Yes, the numbers paint a bleaker picture for the millennial generation than the two that came before it and we should actively work to change that, but we are still left with significantly more at our disposal than the tens of thousands of generations that came before the last two. The birth lottery of time and place has been extremely kind to us. Things are only as bad as we choose to see them.”
Mmm mmm… that’s some delicious self-quoting right there.
Please note that it was intentionally not a message of false and fleeting hope or optimism – it was a message of gratitude. An encouragement to appreciate all of the wonderful things that you do have in this abundant modern age, even when things appear to be down.
For a moment, let’s pause to think about some of the ridiculous luxuries at our disposal that would have been thought impossible until recent times (go ahead and share yours in the comments too):
- we can watch any video, read any book, or listen to any song ever released, on demand, with just a few clicks
- we can get a Harvard-level education online, for free, from anywhere in the world
- we can learn to DIY anything versus relying on others with steep fees, with a few clicks on YouTube
- we can stay in touch with loved ones thousands of miles away, via audio/video, for free
- we can transport ourselves in a metal tube tens of thousands of feet in the air to the other side of the planet, within the same day
- we can get from one location to another at 70 miles per hour in our own personal pile of steel, rubber, and plastic
- we can keep our dwellings at a constant 70 degrees in 100 degree weather or 10 degree weather, with zero effort
- we can harness energy from the wind or sun and have it power all of our devices and appliances
- we have access to bent glass, plastic, and lasers to restore our lost vision
- we can go to the supermarket and assemble a feast of luxury food from all over the planet – at any time of year – and not have to chase it down
- we can keep that food fresh for long periods of time through refrigeration and other advanced storage methods
- with a few steps and a flick of the faucet, we can get virtually free potable, life-providing hot or cold water at any moment
- we can take a shot or pill to prevent or fight off most diseases
- we can order any article of clothing, made from any material we desire, and have it shipped to our doorstep the next day
- we can type a question into a box and instantly get an answer to all of our burning questions
- we can virtually visit/tour any location in the world without leaving our couch
- we can be guided, turn-by-turn from any location to another and get there on a flat drivable surface
- with a swipe of a card or typing of digits, we can buy whatever we want, whenever we want
…to name just a few. Yeah, despite economic challenges, we still have it really damn good. Royalty of yesteryear would be jealous.
Yet we don’t appreciate it. We take it for granted. The abundance has led to us being fearful, resentful, greedy, spoiled, unappreciative, entitled, and ultimately unhappy. There’s only one solution to this bizarre and unique 21st-century, 1st-world dilemma: gratitude.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this gratitude thing lately. It led to me reading an excellent book called Gratitude Works! from UC Davis professor of psychology, Robert Emmons. His research unearthed the following:
“Gratitude has one of the strongest links to mental health and satisfaction with life of any personality trait—more so than even optimism, hope, or compassion. Grateful people experience higher levels of positive emotions such as joy, enthusiasm, love, happiness, and optimism, and gratitude as a discipline protects us from the destructive impulses of envy, resentment, greed, and bitterness.”
That’s pretty powerful stuff.
But what does this have to do with personal finance?
The actions that we can take start with forging a different path than the more, More, MORE consumption path that is highly reliant on stuff and the bigger, better, nicer, faster and other fleeting grasps at happiness we hope that stuff provides. We spend more money because we are unhappy with what we have.
“It is better to want what you have than to have what you want.“
I don’t know the originator of this quote (which you’ve probably seen), but they are a very wise person.
What happens when you attempt to have everything that you want? As soon as the next sexy, shiny, new object comes along you begin to want that instead. Cars, electronic devices, smartphones, foods, drinks, clothes, hairstyles, vacations, houses, televisions, screen resolutions, internet speeds, models. But it doesn’t stop there – jobs, significant others… you get the point.
When you want what you already have, there is no need for more. And that’s key, because even if today is slightly less prosperous than a decade ago or two decades ago, we are surrounded by an abundance of of “good enough”. And good enough can saving your hundreds of thousands of dollars over your lifetime.
So how can you practice gratitude? Journal it. Research found that:
“People are 25 percent happier if they keep gratitude journals, sleep one-half hour more per evening, and exercise 33% more each week compared to persons who are not keeping these journals.”
It’s not just appreciation for the things you do have – it is appreciation of the bad things you don’t have (i.e. debt, an unlivable wage, poor mental or physical health, a bad job, an absence of friends or loved ones, death, etc.).
And you can even tap into alternative realities that might have left you less fortunate:
“what if I had never met my significant other?”
“what if I hadn’t learned or grown from that really bad experience? Would I appreciate my life as much as I do now?”
“what if I didn’t have this potable water or delicious food conveniently provided to me at all times?”
“what if I didn’t take the risk of the new job?”
“what if I couldn’t communicate with anyone, anywhere, at any time, for free?”
“what if I had bought that $50,000 SUV or $750,000 home?”
“what if I didn’t go to the pet shelter and come home with my pet that day?”
If you start thinking that your financial world is crashing down or that you can’t catch a break, pause for a moment and think about the good stuff you have, the bad stuff you don’t, and then think about how there is no better time in history than right now for self-driven financial success.