Tag Archive | Money

Leaning into the Discomfort

I had something very uncomfortable happen to me on Monday.

I had been stressing, just a little, about our cel phone bill. I hadn’t really looked at it recently, wasn’t exactly sure if last month was past-due or not, and knew that it was going feel like it was more than usual because of recent service changes that we’d made. Last month I’d paid by the skin of my teeth, and usually I am taking liberal advantage of the “schedule payment” option, putting off the bill as long as possible.

But I am trying to reprogram my thoughts and worries about money, and my avoidance of the phone bill was one of the ways that I knew I was creating stress in my own mind, so I steeled my courage and opened up the website to look at my bill.

By the way, that’s not the discomfort I’m talking about leaning into.

The Strange Feeling of Success

When something goes right,
Well, it’s likely to lose me.
It’s apt to confuse me,
‘Cuz it’s such an unusual sight…
– Paul Simon, Something So Right

Not an expression I'm familiar with...

Not an expression I’m familiar with…

Like many monsters and boogiemen, in the light of day it wasn’t nearly so scary. Turns out I wasn’t behind on my bill at all. Not only that, it was actually less than I’d expected. I hit the pay now button and that’s when it hit me: I’d just paid my phone bill, in full, a day earlier than it was due.

I don’t believe I’ve ever done that. Literally ever. It gave me this strange feeling in my stomach; there’s that old question they ask in self-help situations, what will it be like when this problem isn’t there? I’ve never liked that question, because with many problems I’ve never known. This was one of them.

Now I know. And the answer is: it feels weird. I am used to having a portion of my brain always on alert, aware of the threat of having phone disconnected or of having to make some trade-off to get the phone bill paid. I am expert at making friends with representatives on the phone, and they’ve gone the extra mile for me more than once.

I’m not going to say that this is “problem solved”, or hold this up as proof that the Jar System works. No, I’m just noticing that success in goals is often uncomfortable, at least in the beginning – because I’m not used to it. And I’m recognizing that the phenomenon is one of the key reasons people slide back into their old habits – because we don’t like being uncomfortable. We need to lean into it, at first, and get used to the idea: I can do this.

How about you? Ever surprise yourself by feeling uncomfortable when things work out?

Practicing Slack

There's another key concept from the Scarcity book I'm listening to that is the second “game changer” in terms of how I look at the overall concept of meeting needs. It's the idea of slack.

The first thing to realize is that this is nothing to do with the term “slacker”; instead, think about having a lot of rope, both the stuff you're using and “slack” – i.e., the extra rope that you have on hand in case you need it.

According to the authors, one of the biggest reasons scarcity causes stress is because there is a lack of slack. Not that you don't actually have enough to meet your needs – rather, you don't have enough in the event that your needs change.

Sure, you could think about this as rich and poor – certainly a flat tire can be a minor annoyance to the wealthy but a possible eviction for the impoverished. But remember that scarcity applies to any resource you have feelings about – so time can have a lack of slack, or energy. The whole concept of “not having enough spoons” comes from the idea that some people have more slack available in terms of interacting with others.

Getting a Bigger Suitcase

The authors do a good job of describing the idea of slack in terms of suitcases. If I'm going on a trip with Natasha, we may be going the same place and doing the same things. She packs her small carry-on, and she's very careful with the choice of shoes, the way the clothes are folded around the toiletries, and whether or not to bring that extra sweater to fight the Baltimore chill.


Meanwhile, I'm packing my bigger suitcase, and while I may have the same items, I don't have to be as careful – I don't have to pay attention to how things are packed, and rather than being forced to choose between shoes I can just say Heck with it, I'll bring both. That's slack.


And it's what I'm working on right now as I fight the scarcity mindset. Where in my life do I feel scarcity? How can I build more slack into that area? Also, where in my everyday practice don't I feel the pressure, and how can I remember those places and be more grateful?


I'd be interested in knowing what kind of slack you have in your life – especially if you only just now realized it, like I did.


“Remember you can't have everything. Where would you put it?” – Stephen Wright

Fighting a Scarcity Mindset

Wow. When I decided, a few weeks ago, that I needed to know more about the general concept of scarcity, I didn’t know where to start. But Scarcity: Why Having So Little Can Mean So Much seemed like a pretty good place. Written by Ivy-League researchers, it promised a broad scope:

Drawing on cutting-edge research from behavioral science and economics, Mullainathan and Shafir show that scarcity creates a similar psychology for everyone struggling to manage with less than they need. Busy people fail to manage their time efficiently for the same reasons the poor and those maxed out on credit cards fail to manage their money. The dynamics of scarcity reveal why dieters find it hard to resist temptation, why students and busy executives mismanage their time, and why sugarcane farmers are smarter after harvest than before. Once we start thinking in terms of scarcity and the strategies it imposes, the problems of modern life come into sharper focus.

Almost right away the book gave me a new insight into the idea of scarcity, and it’s one that I suspect might surprise you, as well. We’re used to thinking of scarcity in purely economic terms, i.e., not having enough resources for your needs. We already know, though, that homo economicus is a myth; even economists don’t behave in a logically economical way. Thus the science of behavioral economics was created, to examine the way humans actually act as they acquire, allocate, and exchange resources. When the authors talk about scarcity, therefore, it’s not about the resources people actually have; instead, scarcity is defined as “the feeling that your resources are not enough for your needs.” The entire book is about what effect that feeling has on everyone.

Does It Help?

I’ve been listening to Scarcity via audiobook, and it’s something like listening to a horror story where you gradually realize that you, the reader, are the protagonist. That initial definition was the first game-changer for me; there’s a huge difference between “There’s never enough!” and “I feel like there’s never enough!” I have a limited capacity to fix the former, but I theoretically have complete control over the latter – assuming I can develop the skills to notice it.

My Sketchnotes for a section on the "Bandwidth Tax"

My Sketchnotes for a section on the “Bandwidth Tax”

For me, the book is both exquisite and frustrating. Exquisite because it’s helping me give a context to behaviors and habits that I’ve had for decades but never really understood. Unfortunately it’s also put one of the skills I pride myself on – the ability to accomplish a lot with very little – into the framework of yet another symptom of a disease I really was only vaguely aware of. And it’s frustrating because there’s no indication that by the end of the book there will be any strategies for overcoming the challenges presented by a scarcity mindset.

I’ve become a bit of an evangelist on scarcity as I listen to the book – complete with sketchnotes and the like – and while talking with my Middle Daughter about my growing understanding what scarcity does to the mind, she suddenly asked me: “Does it help?”

“What do you mean?”

“Does it help you to know about it?”

It was a good question. My answer at first was no; I’d had a bout with financial scarcity the weekend before, and even understanding concepts like “tunneling” (hyperfocus on the scarce resource) and “diminished executive control” (lack of self-discipline) I still reached a point where I wasn’t good for much more than sitting on the couch watching bad movies and eating ice cream.

However, in the midst of another “Scarcity Squall” right now, I have to revise my answer. It does help, a little. I still feel the hyperfocus, I still get the urge to binge, I still frenetically come up with “ways out of this” – but it’s more distant, like I’m observing myself doing these things. It still sucks, mind you – but yes, I have to say that knowing helps. I’m not falling into the G.I. Joe Fallacy – knowing is nowhere near half the battle – but at least I realize finally where the battle is, and what the enemy looks like.

It’s a start. I recommend the book regardless of whether you have a problem with scarcity or not; it deals with much more than money, and can give you perspective on a lot of the behaviors of your fellow humans.


Jar System Update

So, Gray, how’s your attempt to kickstart money management?

I’m glad you asked.

The first time around I tried using the Jar System virtually – even used a particular budgeting app called Lumen Trails to track the spending. Total failure. Not only was there not enough room for fluctuating expenses in my “necessities” budget, the rest just seemed to get mish-mashed together.

That’s why I contacted the folks over at Land of Oos and acquired seven actual jars, labeled cleverly to make use of some old press-on letters I had laying around for correspondence. Here’s what it looks like:



I decided to take a baby step, and divide up $20 according to the jar system using actual cash. Here’s what it looked like:

  1. NEC: Necessities, 55%=$11
  2. pi: Passive Income, 10%=$2
  3. Edu: Education, 10%=$2
  4. LtSs: Long-Term Savings for Spending, 10%=$2
  5. JIC: Just In Case, 5%=$1
  6. g: Giving, 5%=$1
  7. P: Play, 5%=$1

I’ve had the money up there for about a week now. As you can see, there’s a problem.

The $2 Passive Income

As you can see, the NEC jar is empty. We had laundry to do today, and so that was no problem to put the $11 towards.

The rest of them, though, I’m having a hard time working out. Just In Case: that can stay there. Likewise the Long-Term Savings for Spending; Natasha and I have decided it’s long past time to get a new couch, and that’s a big goal.

“Give” is easy, too: The next time I’m going for a walk, I can put the $1 into my pocket for anyone on the street who asks for it. I can probably pretty easily find a $2 book on Amazon that will give me some insight or worthwhile ideas (or audiobook; this one on Morning Routines is in my queue to review). And Play? Well, to be honest, that one also is troublesome, just because I’m not sure what counts as “play”. But maybe it means a comic book or something similar. A 99¢ movie rental.

That PI, though. Passive Income. What can you do with $2 that contributes to “Passive Income”? According to 6Jars.com:

The money that you put into this jar is used for investments and building your passive income streams. You never spend this money. The only time you would spend this money is once you become financially free. Even then you would only spend the returns on your investment. Never spend the principal.

There’s a whole lot of things that don’t make sense to me there. It seems like it means to put it into savings (or a CD or something with a higher return rate). Other sites have mentioned Real Estate. At first I thought it meant invest in my own business, but that You never spend this money part rules that out.

What do you think? Is it possible to spend only $2 on something that is clearly passive income? What I’ve ended up doing is putting it into a mutual funds account I have (via the lovely Acorns app). It has a variable rate of return, but it’s been better than just plain savings, and it’s actually kind of fun to see the graphs that I don’t really understand.

Incidentally, I’m aware that physical money sitting in jars is wasting potential. That’s why I’m only using $20 this first time round – this is not a daily living, this is an exercise to re-route some neural pathways that have long been going pretty weirdly. Stay tuned for another “thinking about money” experiment that Natasha and I are putting into practice tomorrow!

A Raw Attempt at Money Management

Money Jar

This has kind of been my jar system so far…

What comes to mind when you think of that term, “money management”? In a recent coaching session Johnny Ball, the group coach, suggested that I needed to explore better methods of money management. I responded by explaining that I’d tried many budgets and cutting of expenses and such without it affecting my anxiety around money at all.

“I’m not talking about budgets,” Johnny said. “I’m talking about money management.” He gave T. Harv Ecker‘s “7-Jar” method as an example, but only as one of many. The kick in the head came to me as I realized that the difference between what I was doing and what he was talking about was the difference between tactics and strategy: one is used to put out fires, and the other is used to grow forests that don’t burn down in the first place.

Personally, I’ve become really good at putting out fires, but it’s really tiring. It’s well past time to start learning about forest as well.

All Seven, I Will Watch them Fall…

Here’s the basics of the jar system:

1. Necessities (55%). Food, clothing, shelter. The basics. It includes (in my case) phone and my utilities. The problem is that 55% of my income doesn’t leave room for eating out, etc. One of my objectives is to get that 55% lower while still covering the basics.
2. Financial Freedom Account (10%). Designed with entrepreneurs in mind, this is for stuff that develops passive income. Again, I’m trying to work out how to use this best; does buying equipment that helps present more count? Or advertising?
3. Education (10%). Ah, this one I could get behind! Among other things, this includes my fee for the coaching session. Wait a minute…I see what they did there…
4. Long Term Savings for Spending (10%). Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? Yet this was the thing that actually felt the most right in this whole idea. It’s saving up for “big-ticket” items – the car, the vacation, the computer. The thing is, it helped my brain still the “gotta buy it now!” impulse. Still not sure why, but it really did.
5. Contingency fund (5%). As described in the article, “Accidents, car trouble, armageddon.” To be honest, I was feeling this should be more than 5%. But then again, I’m the one who is admittedly the novice here, so I’ll go with the 5%.
6. Give (5%). I also really enjoy this one – it lets me donate to IndieGoGos and Patreons with a clear and happy head.
7. Play (5%). And here my brain recoils. It’s kind of like the cultural problem we have about sex: Sure everybody does it, but we don’t talk about it! What qualifies as “play”? Eating out? Wait, I have to deliberately spend money this way? How am I going to feel guilty about it afterwards?!?
I realize that some of you reading this are much more experienced at money management than I am, and probably have some opinions about the “jar” system or perhaps better systems. One of the benefits of the seven jars, though, is that it lets me start practicing money management no matter how little money I have. I could take $1 and apply the system to it.
What has happened instead, though, is that I have divided my income so far this month according to the system and find myself feeling strange because things aren’t scarce. In fact, it’s the opposite; I have to find time to do something fun with the play money, and the money for the necessities is socked away and safe.
It’s interesting, also, to see how much criticism this system has on the web – many people saying that it is too simplistic, or unrealistic, or a rip off of some other system (six- and eight-jar systems seem to be pretty common as well). It reminds me of the many people complaining about the Affordable Care Act, and how it would change their healthcare. They seemed to forget that for those without any system at all, any system is better than none. It’s not about how much money you put in each jar; it’s not even really about what the jars are labeled. It’s about getting in the habit of managing the money.
What do you think? What are your money management systems, and how did you learn them?


The Logical Fallacy of the Futility of Passion

I am not a tremendously logical man. I wish I was; it's probably part of why statistics thrill me so much. It's taken me a while, but there was always something about the whole If you follow your passion, you're very unlikely to be happy or successful because you'll be financially insecure argument. With the help of some Venn diagrams, I think I've figured out why it doesn't quite make sense to me.


If you look at this diagram, you can see the people who are “successful” (based on the idea of “happy and financially secure” as the measure of success) in the middle. To the left are all the people who listen to conventional wisdom and relegate their passion to a hobby, picking out someone else's dream to pay their bills. Most Americans are unhappy at their work, but a good portion are, so they fill a lot of the “successful” circle.

Then to the right is the much smaller circle of those who followed their passion, and the even smaller slice that are successful in that. Based on the discussions I've had with people on both sides of the “follow your passion” argument, I'm pretty sure this is accurate.

Here's my question: both the “follow” and “don't follow” sides have a lot of people who are not happy or not financially secure or both. What do those people do? They try to find a new job that will make them happy and financially secure (I'm not sure why I keep separating those two things; the argument of the “don't follow” folks is based on the idea that they are inseparable). If the new job doesn't fill the needs – either of enough money or of being a way they can handle spending their time – then they find a new job.

That cycle – of finding a new job until you find one that fulfills your definition of “success” financially – is the same regardless of whether you follow your passion or not. The fallacy with “If you follow your passion you will likely be poor and unhappy” is the implication that not following your passion will make you rich and happy. It just ain't so! Whether you follow your passion or not, if you live in the capitalist system you are going to keep trying to find work that satisfies your needs. That's how the system works.

Let's look at another measure of success, though:


I feel that a reasonable measure of “success” in life is the amount of regret you have at the end. Less regret equals a more successful life – let's stipulate that.

Again, research has shown that four out of the top five regrets of those living in hospice have to do with following your passion, things like I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings and I wish I hadn't worked so hard. Perhaps the most relevant is also the top regret:

I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

Obviously Twain's observation of “Lies, damn lies, and statistics” applies here. I can draw Venn diagrams all day and not convince people one way or another. I will even agree that by choosing to not follow your dreams you do increase your odds of being successful – at least in terms of there being a wider range of occupations to choose from.

However, I think it's pretty obvious that you would also be significantly increasing your odds of falling into that larger blue circle in the second diagram as well. It's a choice; just be aware you're making it.

Me, I think “No Regrets!” is a great battle cry…


StashBelt’s Surprising Super Power

blackbeltWEBSITE2I finally feel ready to give a qualified review of my StashBelt.

For those who don’t remember, I first heard about it via Nora Dunn, the Professional Hobo. Thanks to her site and a discount code I ordered my own belt. It was a great experience in customer service, and pretty soon I had a very nice piece of leather in my hands. Along with a “secret” zipper pouch “large enough to hold more than $1000 in folded bills” it also has a small pocket near the buckle big enough to hold a USB thumb drive. They proved it by providing a 4GB drive with the belt (my request that they prove their other assertion was, unfortunately, ignored).

The Bad

There’s not much bad to say about the stashbelt, so I’ll get it out of the way quickly:

  • You need to make sure the USB drive is securely in the little pouch, or it is likely to fall out when you take off the belt. It’s also easy to either pull off the cap or lose it in the pouch when pulling the drive out.
  • The belt is thinner and lighter than a lot of belts I’ve owned. While I do like the craftsmanship, I worry that the hole where the buckle fastens will wear out (the solution is not to pull it too tight, I know, but it’s a concern).
  • One of the selling features is that you can swap out your own buckle for the one provided. I have a beautiful glass buckle I like to wear for special occasions – but it adds 3″ to the length of the belt, which means I run out of holes to buckle it.
  • Speaking of running out of holes, while they did get me the right size, I’ve been losing weight…and I’m already at the furthest hole I can buckle at. I’m certain I can have a leather worker put in another, but a little more leeway would have been nice.

I realize that these are all minor – especially the last one, which is just as likely to go in the other direction. But they are all things I wished I’d known before I bought it, just to be prepared. So now that you know, you should go buy one, because of –

The Super-Amazing Fantastically Wonderful Super Power

Like any review, this lends itself to a bullet list:

  • Did I mention I admired the craftsmanship? They talk a lot on their site about their leatherworking quality. It’s all true. Believe it.
  • It holds money. You have to fold it pretty carefully, but the pocket zipper is quality stuff and it easily held three or more bills with no additional bulk.
  • It holds other stuff. I could put an “emergency stash” of meds in the belt and know that even if I lost my bags I would be ok. I could even put in something like a lockpick if I wanted to…
  • Feel like Jason Bourne. One of the initial reasons to look at this was Nora Dunn’s “USB Stick Trick“. I took it a little further using GizModo’s guide which led to the sexy experience of carrying around ID in three languages. If I’m ever lost in China, they’ll know who I am! Oh, and also a portable operating system.

But none of this is why you should buy a stashbelt and carry around extra cash. Here’s the real reason.

My Abundant Experience

During a recent trip I carried a few $20 bills in my belt, not expecting to use them at all (it’s hard to get stranded in Raleigh, N.C.).  My friend and I shared a shuttle to the airport and I realized too late that I’d forgotten to bring any small bills with which to tip the driver. In case you’re wondering (because I did, and looked it up) it is considered best practices to tip your driver, usually about $1 per bag. Since my bag was extra-heavy, I definitely felt he deserved it.

“Have you got any ones?” I asked my friend, and she frowned as she realized why I was asking. She shook her head and quickly darted back into the hotel to try and get some change for a $10, the smallest bill she had in her wallet. No luck at the front desk, and she sadly shook her head as we got in the shuttle.

I felt terrible, on a lot of levels. I’ve worked in the service industry before; I know how thankless it can be. I like to tip 20% at restaurants and make sure that people know in a material way that I appreciate the care they take in their work. Even if the service was bad, I try to remember the idea of compassion and assume that the person is having a really bad day – and me not tipping them is not going to improve it. I was sure that the driver was used to not being tipped by the majority of his passengers, and wouldn’t hold it against me – but would hold it against me.

On a deeper level, though, I was having a bit of a “scarcity attack.” I have friends who are well off, and they always have a wad of bills – sometimes several thousand dollars – in their pockets. They never run into the “don’t have enough to tip” problem. I, on the other hand, struggle to get out of the paycheck-to-paycheck experience, and when I realize I have no cash on me, I feel like a loser. That voice in my head says “You’re a white male in the most privileged society in the world and you don’t even have a few bucks for your driver? How pathetic is that?”

As I struggled with these internal voices, I suddenly realized there was an obvious solution. “Let’s give him the ten,” I told my friend. “I’ll pay you back when we get to the airport.”

I can’t tell you how good it felt to slip that ten into his hand. Generosity feels great, and that oxytocin was a-flowin’. Then, when we got through TSA, before I put on my belt I unzipped the secret pocket, pulled out a $20, and handed it to my friend. “Use the change to buy me lunch,” I told her.

I’m sure that I’ll have occasion to use the USB drive, and I’m sure that the stashbelt stash will at some point be used as actual “emergency” money. But in this case it was the key to flipping me from the scarcity to abundance mindset, and that makes it worth far more than the money I paid for it.

Two thumbs up and a big generous grin for Stashbelt.

How to Sleep Better, or, The Economics of Blogging

I mentioned in a past post that I really need to work on my practice of sleeping.

Later I got a very friendly email from a bloke named Wally, telling me that he had read the article, liked it, and thought that you (my erstwhile readers) might benefit from a smorgasbord of sleep tips he’d created on his site. I read his post – “50 Ways to Beat Insomnia” – and he’s right. There’s a lot of really useful tips, which I’ve read in many different places, all compiled in one easy place. What makes it even more appealing was that he backs up his tips with the scientific sources where possible – something that appeals to my inner skeptic.

I Almost Didn’t Post It

Why? Because the URL, if you look at it, is “whatisthebest-mattress.com.” Which on a certain level offends my purist blogger sensitivities, because it’s a URL designed to grab search engine traffic. It’s the grandfather of clickbait, back when people were trying to game Google and other search engines (yes, at one time there were actually other search engines) into sending traffic their way.

Google is a lot of things, and dumb is not one of them. A lot of the techniques people used back then at the turn of the millenium to try and “trick” the algorithms were quickly discovered and blocked, often with severe penalties (I once had to talk a client out of trying a technique he’d read about online because if he’d done it, Google would have blacklisted his site.

Now it’s gotten to the point where a person can actually make money helping companies find good, easy, and memorable site names (such as, ahem, LoveLifePractice.com). Not because they are hoping that Google will find them; no, you want a name that is easy to remember and type into a browser so that people can easily talk about you. Think about the problem that Wally has: how does he easily tell people his site? “whatisthebest (all one word) hyphen mattress dot com” doesn’t roll trippingly from the tongue.

It’s Not About Links. It’s About People.

Instead, though, Wally found my blog – probably from a Google search engine auto-notifier that saw the word “tired” – and reached out to me directly. Yes, it may have been a form letter – but he’s right, you know, there are some good things in there. In fact, here’s five practices (yes, this is actually a blog about practice) that I’m going to be working on to improve my sleep:


  1. Chamomile Tea – One of the many benefits of living with Natasha is that she knows her teas. More to the point, she probably knows how to make a tea that will help me sleep and taste ok.
  2. Meditation – While I already do meditation in the morning, for a while Natasha and I were also doing a meditation before bed. Renewing that practice may help both of us sleep better.
  3. Avoid TV – We are notorious for the “Well, we have to get up in 7 hours, but we can handle one more episode” kind of binge-watching that shows like Longmire and Justified tend to inspire. Cutting off TV emphatically 8 hours before we have to get up is a start.
  4. Avoid Late Night Snacking – It’s kind of a catch-22 – often, in order to stay awake through the aforementioned “one more episode“, we will snack. It’s not terrible snacks – often carrots and hummus – but still, maybe we could listen to our bodies when they say “sleepy” and not hear “hungry“.
  5. Nighttime Ritual – This one will be both the easiest and the hardest, I think. I already have a good set of morning protocols, so I’m not unfamiliar with the process. And we already have some bedtime customs that will fit into the “ritual” idea pretty easily. But we don’t have a terribly regular schedule, and it will be hard to keep events from interrupting. Wally recommends “Repeat the routine for at least a week to get into the habit before you allow changes in schedule to interfere with it.” A week? That I can do.

That’s why I’m suggesting that you do actually visit WhatIsTheBest-Mattress.com. Because even though it is designed to make money, it’s designed to make money by giving people what they need. I had already decided that I needed better sleep (based a bit on James Altucher’s work) and he gave me a head start on how to work on that.

A while back a friend complained about podcasts that talk about other podcasts. He couldn’t understand why they had to do that. I don’t think I really was able to explain it well enough to convince him, but it’s another part of this: the big failure of the internet is that old marketing doesn’t work. The new marketing is about people talking to people they trust and helping them find the things they need.

That’s why, on Wednesday, you’re going to read my review of the Stash Belt, and it won’t be about security or emergency cash or even anything that they expect their customers to write about. It’s going to be about how my StashBelt helped me feel very happy about myself, make another person’s day, and in general contributed to an Abundance Mindset.

If that’s the economic model of the digital age – at least this particular corner of it – I’m ok with that.


The Money Path to a Happy Life

Practical tools to make hard times happier. That's the goal of this blog, and this is one of those rare moments where I feel I can offer some hard evidence for ways to improve the happiness of your life.

(That is, as far as the social/psychological studies can be considered to be “hard” evidence of anything, as my Middle Daughter has pointed out.)

Buy Experience, Get Happiness

Dr. Thomas Gilovich of Cornell University has spent a couple of decades trying to figure out exactly what it is that makes people happy. Statistically speaking it turns out it is not what you have, but what you do.

At first this might not make much sense; wouldn't this $300 iPad, which I'm going to enjoy for years, give me more happiness than the 20 minutes or so that I would have if I spent the same amount of money skydiving?

Not if you take into account both our ability to adapt and our personal narrative, says the research. While there is a lot of joy when you first open up some product (especially those Apple designs) once you have the object for a while you get used to it. In the case of an iPad that might manifest as filling up the memory capacity, tapping your fingers as you wait for web pages to load. It also makes you vulnerable to comparison; you maybe see the person over there with the higher-resolution screen or maybe even a watch.

In fact, the object that brought you joy is almost certain to become a source of pain as time goes on and it becomes more obsolete, wears out, or simply fades into the background of your life. The initial rush, like a hit of any addictive drug, wears off, only replenished by the purchase of a new thing.

Hence, capitalism! (just kidding. I LOVE capitalism!).

On the other hand, even if you hate skydiving, once you do it it becomes part of your story: I am someone who jumped out of a perfectly good airplane and (hopefully) lived! Like any memory, we tend to focus on the good parts (or at least the parts that make a good story) and forget about the rest. As time goes on the actual memory becomes less vivid and so we compensate by embellishing details (such as Bryan Williams recently demonstrated).

Dr. Gilovich explains that “…experiences become an ingrained part of our identity” which is something that most objects don't do. In fact, often it is the experience of acquiring of the object that becomes the value, rather than the actual possession of it. My father owns a Navy Colt revolver, the kind that Clint Eastwood uses in The Outlaw Josey Wales. I haven't ever fired it, I haven't even seen it in years – but I vividly remember being with him in the gun shop when he saw it, and sharing his excitement as he decided to purchase it. I'm sure if I asked he'd let me hold it or even fire it – but I'm also sure it wouldn't come close to making me as happy as being there with him did.

Life is Cheap

…and that's a good thing. The other reason, not backed up scientifically but rather simply by my own reasoning, is that while you often need money in order to acquire objects of value, you don't necessarily need money to have good experiences.

Certainly for some – skydiving, for example – cost is a barrier to entry. But every moment of every day is an experience of some kind, and your experience of it is at least partially in your control. I can choose to stop and savor the coffee I'm drinking now instead of simply gulping it down between typing words; I can make my walk home an observation of the wondrous phenomenon that is Spring in Wisconsin rather than simply getting from point A to point B. Neither experience will cost me anything – but it can increase my happiness immediately.

If your initial objection to this idea is “there is not enough time I completely concur. Though it's not so much that there's not enough – since we all have exactly the same amount – it's rather the allocation of time. A large portion of most people's time is spent trying to earn the money to get the things that the marketers say will make us happy.

Up to a certain fiscal level (about $75K) that actually works. You can buy happiness. But at any fiscal level (presuming basic human needs are met) experience is probably going to make you happier than objects. Perhaps an even better strategy would combine the two – associate the object with an experience, so that it becomes a talisman. Increasing the subjective value of an object can certainly prolong the duration of your joy in possessing it.

Dr. Gilovich ends the Fast Company article by asking: “As a society, shouldn't we be making experiences easier for people to have?”. It's a question worth asking not only as a society (even Constitutionally relevant, right after life and liberty) but also as individuals, parents, partners, and citizens of the world.


p style=”margin-bottom: 1.5em;”>What experience are you going to make possible today?


don’t just survive; flourish!

With Flourish & Panache…

Flourishing means getting on with the things that are important for you to do, exercising your capacities, actively trying to ‘realize’ what you care about and bring it into life…
– John Armstrong, How to Worry Less About Money

There’s a big reason my new book – the first Love Life Practice book – is all about figuring out what you want out of life. It’s based on a class that was born out of necessity.

Nearly a decade ago, as I began to travel around North America and Europe teaching, over and over I found that people wanted less of the technical skills of movement and performance and more of the psychological skills. They were interested more in conversations about motivation, presence, character development, collaborative creation. Over and over the questions kept boiling down to the same question that people asked themselves and others: Why am I doing this?

The unfortunate response they were discovering, over and over, was “…because I thought I was supposed to.” That’s not a terribly satisfying motivation. The process of the Defining Moment, while coming out of a performance framework, moved beyond scenes and plays and into people’s lives, trying to change “…supposed to…” into “…had to because it was right for me!
Nourish and Flourish courtesy ScribbleTaylor via Flickr CC
Now that’s a motivation! That’s something you don’t have to get behind, because it’s already behind you, pushing you towards your destiny.

Yes, that’s right. I used the D word, because it is what proceeds inexorably from the other things we talk about here:

Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habit.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”
– Lao Tse

Every once in a while it’s worth it to take a look at your life and ask: Am I flourishing? Or am I merely surviving? There are certainly times when just doing the latter is quite an achievement – but it’s also an opportunity. If all you’re managing is survival, then you have the chance to really look at what you might add to your life that would take it a step closer to flourishing.

It could be something big, like a different living arrangement, a new job. It might be the cultivation of a habit, like journaling or eating more fresh fruit. It might be as simple as trying to find things to be thankful for each and every day.

Really, it could be anything. But it almost certainly is something. If you don’t start figuring it out today, that’s one more day of flourishing that you’ve denied yourself.

Quick: ask yourself “What flourish can I add to my day?

See? That’s not so hard!

“Flourishing captures what we actually aspire to: the best use of our capacities and abilities; involvement in things we take to be worthwhile; the formation and expression of one’s best self.” – John Armstrong

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