Thursday, May 30, 2013

Physician Heal Thyself

Since my last two posts were on the power of investments and the importance of avoiding debt like it was the Bubonic Plague, I thought I might as well go for the trifecta and cover finding happiness with less, the true basis of frugality. Those three ideas are the basic pillars of financial freedom. However, as I began to work on this post I had to ask myself, “Who are you to be teaching anyone about finding happiness with what you have rather than in what you don’t have when are upsizing not downsizing in retirement?”

For over ten years we have been planning retirement to a city that is warmer, where taxes are lower, and the overall cost of living is less. Within a couple of months we will execute that plan. Even though our new house will cost considerably less than the expected sale price of our old house, it is bigger. As we prepared for the move we discovered that over the last 25 years living in the same house we had accumulated so much stuff that we were choking on it. In addition we are simultaneously attempting to sell off the last of many of the items from my mother-in-law’s estate. I have learned that our stuff is worth a whole lot less than we hoped when actually auctioned off at an estate sale or when we put it up on Craig’s List. I am beginning to believe that we will end up paying someone to haul off some of the oldest and cheapest furniture that will not be making the trip South.

Think about it. How can you expect to find permanent happiness in impermanent things?

For fourteen years my 1996 Honda Prelude was hands down the best car I have ever owned. I hope that title will eventually go to its replacement, a 2010 Acura, but it is too early to tell. After over 180,000 miles even my amazingly reliable fun to drive Prelude finally became a burden. Things just started to go wrong at ever more frequent intervals. It no longer made any sense to keep repairing that car. I was told old cars like my Honda that still look pretty good are often bought by mechanics. They put a few hundred dollars and some labor into the car before selling it to a high school student. I hope whoever gets it they enjoy owning that car as much as I did if only for a few years. Then it is bound for that big scrap crusher in the sky.

Some experiences hold the potential for delivering more real happiness than material objects. The achievement of mastery in a craft or profession brings a quite confidence and pride that lasts a long time. Athletes remember their achievements on the field in great detail years after the game is a forgotten footnote in some record book. This is even true on the high school level. A friend’s son played basketball on his high school varsity team. Each member of the team was given a large photograph of one of their own highlight performances from that year. The boy’s mother didn’t even know what game they were playing when the photograph of her son was taken, but he knew. He remembered that exact moment.

Still there comes a time when neither the force of your personality not the size of your brokerage account will not be able to buy you another hour of life, there comes a time when you will know that you will never drive your Mercedes SLS AMG again; in that hour what will matter; what will bring you real joy?

Faith. The love of your family. Generosity. Forgiveness. These are the foundations to a beautiful life, not a multitude of possessions or even a lifetime of fabulous experiences.

Money is a necessary tool in this material world. Even monks need to take up collections from the faithful for food, shelter, and clothing. Money is a powerful tool. It is the measure of your life’s energy. But it is just a tool. Real happiness is possible. It will occur when your goals and divine purpose become perfectly aligned with your talents and your effort. If you are living in that kind of congruency, you will by definition have enough.

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