Things Will Not Make You Happy
My friend recently told me she was unhappy with her life, her job and her marriage. I gave her the best advice I could, which was to do some self evaluation and really figure out exactly what she was really unhappy about. Then determine what changes or improvements she would need to make in each area of her life to get to a better place.
A few weeks later, I called to check in on her and see how she was doing. “I’m fantastic! I just bought a new car, and I love it!” She exclaimed. Well, that was of course exciting. But what about the job, marriage, and everything else? It was fine, she said, because she had a new car and that seemed to spice things up for her.
It made me wonder, is there a correlation between our physical possessions and our level of contentment, joy, or happiness? For me, the opposite is true.
I mean, I have always liked stuff and possessions. I’m pretty sure everybody does.
There are so many things we can have and they all serve a different purpose.
There’s cool tech things and stylish wardrobe things. Things that decorate your home and things that make life easier. Fancy kitchen things that (might) make you a better cook. Things that are the latest rage, or things keep us entertained. There is no shortage of things.
But I don’t want any more of them.
I remember moving from my apartment into my house a decade ago. It was so exciting! But there was so much to do. Not only to the house itself, but just to get it set up and livable. I couldn’t believe how many boxes there were. I came from an apartment with no storage space.
WHAT ARE IN ALL OF THESE BOXES!?!?
There was so much stuff. I focused on the important boxes first- kitchen, bathroom, clothes and home decor. I got through most of them, but got lazy when I started to open boxes and see things that weren’t critical to my daily life. I shelved them in the garage cabinets.
Every year after Christmas, I would find myself with more stuff. Gifts that were given to me by generous, caring loved ones. Some things were thoughtful and meaningful, and some were just things. I will never forget one random day in May when a bag in my closet caught my eye- it seemed out of place. What was inside that bag? Things.
From Christmas- FIVE months earlier.
These were things that people had taken time to buy and wrap and give to me, that were now sitting in a bag in the closet. I felt bad. I did my best to take everything out and use it or display it or at least appreciate it in some way. But in time, most of those things got re-gifted, donated or found their way to a coveted spot in the junk drawer.
Don’t get me wrong- I appreciate all the gifts I have been given over the years. And I understand the desire to give, because I have that gene and I LOVE giving.
But what if we could make memories and give time instead of material things? What if we could take up space in the hearts and memory banks of others, instead of the shelves in their closet or garage?
The year I found that bag in my closet I came up with the idea of what became known as Christmas in the City. I told my three closest friends that we shouldn’t buy gifts for each other that year. Instead, we should do something memorable like spend the night in a hotel and have a night out. This was a well received suggestion, and we started a tradition that lasted for many years.
It turned out that those memories were more valuable than any gift I could have ever received.
One year I left my friend’s brand new camera in the back of a cab, after telling her I would be careful with it. (Whoops!) Another time I caught one of my friends about to pee on the luggage rack in the hotel closet at 2:00 in the morning. (Crisis averted- I caught her and told her to “go towards the light” of the bathroom, and she did).
These were the things I wanted: memories, laughter, and unforgettable life experiences. Time and connection with the people in my life. Not physical things.
As life went on, of course I still had things, and I still bought things.
But I gradually started spending my money on experiences throughout the rest of the year. Instead of buying stuff, I would go on a road trip to visit an old friend or have a weekend getaway. Sometimes I would buy a plane ticket to wherever was the cheapest. There were a few times I could find or convince someone to come with me, and sometimes I went by myself.
Looking back, those are the things I remember most about that era of my life.
The trips, the new cultures and food, and the memories I made had an overwhelming impact on my life. My world expanded dramatically beyond what it had been only a short time before.
In addition to growing personally, I also started to notice that the people in the different cultures and countries I visited had something in common. They all seemed so content and happy, even if they didn’t have much money or many possessions. This was very interesting to me.
Years later, I found myself in a deep depression. I was incredibly unfulfilled and immensely unhappy with myself and my life. I realized that the house and car and things that surrounded me were meaningless. I felt disconnected and lost. If I didn’t make a move, I knew my situation would only get worse.
So I did some deep self-evaluation and determined I needed to make a drastic change in my life. I decided to leave everything behind and take a solo trip around the world.
I emptied every drawer and cabinet in my house and donated or sold everything.
And those boxes I stashed in the garage cabinets when I moved in seven years earlier? Still there, filled with things. Things I hadn’t seen or touched in over a decade. The amount of possessions I had accumulated over my life was quite astonishing. I got rid of just about everything.
Walking away from all that stuff made me feel so much lighter.
I packed up only the bare essentials into one bag and traveled the world solo for nearly two years. And you know what? I don’t miss any of the things I use to own. Not a single one. But I cherish my experiences and what I learned about myself and life during my travels.
I heard living with less is called ‘minimalism’ these days. I don’t like to label or put myself into a box, so I’m not sure I should call myself a minimalist. But less things definitely means more for me.
I want experiences, memories, and a deeper connection. I want a better understanding of myself, the world and the people we are sharing this lifetime with. These are the things that make me happy- the things that are priceless and are with us at all times, and can never be taken away.
Oh, and that friend with the new car? There’s been infidelity in the marriage, are struggling daily in their relationship, and they are contemplating divorce. All while the shiny new car sits in the driveway.