Monday, February 25, 2008

On Happiness and the Economy

One of the blogs that I keep tabs on is the Car Free Family. Largely I subscribe because the author writes occasionally about cycling and the lifestyle of living without a personal automobile. Since I live without an automobile, I find that some of what is written feels appropriate.

Enter a recent post titled Happiness and the Economy, Paul examines his own personal happiness despite not having an abundance of discretionary funds to spend. He points out that he doesn't have the funds to do some of the things that he would like to do and instead relies on conserving and reducing. In his estimation, his family is solidly in the economic middle class and enjoy the single-income lifestyle such that to him it feels that it would be a hardship to have both of the adults in the household working. While this is interesting, I'm more interested in the questions he asks in his final paragraph:

So I really don’t know why such a large percentage of employed
Americans don’t feel they can live the life they want. What is it that
they want that costs so much? How do people get into such big credit
troubles? And how does a nation thrive with so much discontent?

If one lives a mindful life and only consumes and purchases what one needs, what is the purpose of a high 5 or six figure income. What if there are 2 adults earning this level of income? What does that extra income get (aside from shock at the amount taken in taxes)?

In my estimation, the money that I personally earn above and beyond what I 'need' to live is being put aside to enable me to take life on my terms at some later point. To build an emergency fund and to hopefully get off out of the endless cycle of earning more to buy the latest gadget. Life isn't about money, its about enjoying what you have. Sometimes having money helps to do once in a lifetime things, like quitting a job and backpacking around the world for 8 months, but it is most certainly not about acquiring stuff.

I admire Paul and his family for the lifestyle that they have chosen and are committed to, in part because I aspire to be as mindful of the available choices and costs. I'm curious what he would do differently if he were rich? What does he fantasize about changing or using that money for?