I was reading an article on CNN's website recently that talked about happiness and what makes us generally happy, even in the midst of a recession that has seen unemployment skyrocket, homes lose their value (and then some) and people losing those de-valued homes at astonishing rates.
Yet so many living in America still say they are happy. And the reasons for this may be the shift in our expectations of what "happiness" actually is, over the last couple of years.
In the boom years, many of us wanted the McMansion with two higher end cars and at least one annual vacation to an exotic place. We wanted flat screens and BBQ's and snowmobiles. In fact, many of us had three car garages, not to store three cars but to store the boat or jet ski's or other 'toys' that we felt necessary to reflect our success.
Suddenly, the economy changes. We don't give a toss about the damn jet ski's anymore and why should we? We have to focus on our mortgage and getting our credit card debt down (notice credit card companies sending out notices of interest rate hikes en masse, recently?) and feeding our kids and praying our health insurance doesn't get cut off.
And when we see that we have a roof - any roof - over our heads, and that we have one car to get to work/school in and that we're able to make our payments, we're happy. We have learned the real value of what's important and that's having family and friends around us, food in our bellies and shelter.
How....primal of us.
Suddenly we're the same as our grandparents. No-one ever talked about "lifestyle" before the 1950s. We talked about "survival" and "making it." It was less about "job satisfaction" and more about earning a paycheck to live your life as best you can.
And I say good! I hardly think that losing jobs and drowning in debt is the best way to learn a lesson in values. But I think through the journey most of us have to make to get out of debt and start living a healthy financial life again, we've learned that not all grasses are greener. That our 'toys' and our trips and our high tech lives are fine if we can really afford them; if we can save substantially and use our discretionary income on whatever pleases us. After all, these high ticket items keep the economy moving along.
But in the end, when we have to sell something to pay our bills, we're not selling our kitchen table or stove or our food. We're selling our plasmas and our ATVs. And is our life really worse because we are watching the nightly news on a 19" tube instead of our 72" flat screen?
Everything is relative. So relative. I full understand how, despite the mayhem around us, many of us are now happier. We have learned the real value of money and the real value of "stuff".
Proof of us changing our attitudes is all around us. People in America are giving less money to charity. We simply don't have the cash. But instead of turning way, one million more of us have volunteered our time for worthy causes.
We have not decided that less is good. We have figured out that more is not better. And therein lies the change in so many of us. I live a good life but I also have learned my lessons, like most others around me. I'm so grateful for a family I love and friends to support me (and have fun with!)and a house that we've made into a beautiful home. For work that challenges my brain and makes my creative juices flow and for our health and opportunities to travel to some really great places. And if I had to take even some of that away, I know I'd still be left with my family and friends and a roof - whatever roof - over our heads.
While the last couple of years have been hard on us all - and perhaps the next couple of years too, we may all pull out of this with a much stronger - and deeper - appreciation for what "happiness" really is.
Have your attitudes toward "happiness" changed in the last couple of years? Have your values changed? How?
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