Creating a Worthwhile Life – that Doesn’t Rely so Heavily on Money

We all want to be happy in life, don’t we? That’s a worthwhile goal toward a worthwhile life. But happiness is defined by different people in different ways. Unfortunately, in our current money-centric world, happiness often comes with a dollar sign attached to it, as though we’ll be happy when we achieve Wealth Level X (please read Robert J. Hastings excellent essay, The Station).

In Ending the Money Chase – Creating a Less Money-centric Life we considered why the current cultural norm of money as the measure of all things may not be the best way to live your life, particularly in a world where the fortunes of the middle class are declining. Today we’re going to examine the mechanics of making that transition.

So, what if you don’t have much money, and the prospects of acquiring it are looking dim? That’s an increasingly common outcome for the Millennial Generation, as well as for many facing retirement. To a lot of people, that situation looks like the end of happiness, and the beginning of a dismal life.

Creating a Worthwhile Life - that Doesn’t Rely so Heavily on Money
Creating a Worthwhile Life – that Doesn’t Rely so Heavily on Money
But it doesn’t have to be, and it shouldn’t be. Money is commonly seen as a validator, as the indicator that a venture is worth the effort, or even that a life is worth living. But you can create a worthwhile life that doesn’t rely so heavily on money. Once you divorce yourself from the connection between money and happiness, then you are free to live just about any kind of life that you choose.

How do you end the money chase and create a less money-centric life, and maybe find happiness in the process?

Ask yourself – “What kind of life do I want to lead?”

When choosing a career or business, it usually starts with the question “how much money can I make?” That puts money in control right from the start. But what if instead you asked, “What kind of life do I want to lead?” That’s actually a bigger picture question. It challenges you to build a life and not just a career.

Other important questions:

  • Where do I want to live?
  • How do I want to live?
  • What will I choose to believe in?
  • What kind of people do I want to be my friends?
  • What activities do I want to participate in that actually have nothing to do with work?

Those are the questions that will frame out your life. And they’re not just for a young person starting out in life – you can ask them anytime you’ve had enough of the “rat race“, and you’re serious about making changes.

Turn off your TV

I write this a lot here on OutOfYourRut and on many other sites that I write for, and I know that I am in danger of becoming an anti-TV zealot. But from where I sit, it’s a recommendation that never gets old.

TV isn’t just another form of entertainment, it’s a svengali-like medium designed to create followers. It doesn’t just entertain us, it also tells us what to think, how to think about what were supposed to think about, how we’re supposed to live, how we’re supposed to dress, and even what we’re supposed to like. That’s not entertainment – it’s indoctrination. Turning off your TV – in my humble opinion – is the beginning of free thought.

Do you REALLY want a better life? Stop conforming

We often take our social cues from the culture around us, and that includes attitudes toward money. That has its good points, but it can also get you playing a game you were never meant to play.

Be comfortable with who you are – who you really are – and stop trying to mimic the herd. Stop worrying about what everybody else does and has. The world needs the individual who you are inside, and not yet another copy of some mythical standard. And you need that even more. Conformity has a price, and that can also be measured in money – money you don’t need to spend.

Breaking free of the Suburban Sandbox

Ever since World War II, a comfortable life in the suburbs has been the goal of the middle-class. Way back when, that was a very attainable lifestyle for ordinary people. Today, it is becoming increasingly gold-plated. That makes now a good time to ask yourself the question, is happiness really found in the suburban lifestyle – or is it hindered by it?

The suburban lifestyle isn’t just expensive, it’s very expensive, and getting more so all time. It will be very difficult to build a worthwhile life with the $100,000 per year price tag that is now common with the suburban lifestyle. Will you be doomed if you “only” make $50,000? Hardly. It would be sad for anyone to think that way.

Would you be better living in a struggling urban area, or even a small rural community? That’s a question that few in suburbia dare to ask themselves. But there are people who come from just such areas – including the Third World – and do great things in life. And they do it without a six-figure college education, without ever having lived in a swim and tennis neighborhood, and without $6,000 braces straightening their teeth.

Most us will have a far better chance of achieving happiness in life if we learn to travel light in life. That will mean letting go of a lot of the perceived needs that are part and parcel of the suburban lifestyle. Give it some serious thought.

Redefine negative events

The world will tell us that we need to protect ourselves from every potential negative event out there. That requires a big, fat pile of money and 29 different types of insurance. Read: money, money and more money.

But negative events are often what define us and our lives. They are an opportunity to rise from the ashes and to redefine and redirect our lives.

If my mortgage career hadn’t crashed and burned, I wouldn’t be writing this article. Was it a bad thing? Maybe in the very short run, but from where I sit now, I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. Find the good in everything – especially the ones that look bad. And while you’re at it, read Deuteronomy 31:8 – and believe it.

Find – and do – work that you actually like

Perhaps nowhere is money more of a controlling influence than in determining the career that we choose. But what if instead you decided to start with the premise of finding work that you actually like to do? It seems to me that such a strategy would be more likely to lead you to a place of happiness, than if making money is the primary focus.

I believe there is a strong connection between job satisfaction and happiness: after all, work is what you do every day, and even how each of us define ourselves. If we don’t seek happiness in the work that we do, how will we find it in the lives that we lead? These are important questions that are seldom asked when money is the driving force in a career or business decision.

Paradoxically, if you really like the work you do, there’s a very good chance you’ll make more money doing it. Is it possible that we approach career choice from the wrong direction?

Stop seeing money as the ultimate goal

If creating a worthwhile life is the ultimate goal, then money has to take a back seat. In truth, money should be viewed as a tool, and not as a goal. We get this wrong because we have developed an unshakable faith that money is the ultimate answer to all questions.

You might be surprised to find out how much you can accomplish in life – and how happy you can be – without a lot of money. A certain amount of self-reliance comes from living on very little. When you can’t swipe a credit card, or write a check, every time you need a product or service, you find ways to obtain cheaper alternatives, or to live without it completely. Once you do, your self-reliance grows, and so does your satisfaction – both with yourself and with your life.

Most people however, are scared to death of this outcome. The culture even tells us that we need to avoid it like the plague.

Accomplishment is often a casualty of the money chase. When money is the ultimate goal, accomplishment is simply how you get there. But turn that around – accomplishment is actually our contribution to the human race. Shouldn’t that be one of our primary goals? Or do we prefer the prospect of accumulating enough money that we can live in splendid isolation, and spend our days entertaining ourselves?

It’s only when you look and live beyond money that you begin to learn who you are and what you’re really capable of. That’s also how we grow. Perhaps we need to spend more time and attention on growing ourselves on a personal level, and less time worrying about growing our assets.

To read about a example of the kind of lifestyle I’m trying to describe, please read this post, Imagine Being Owned by No One.

Maybe my views are extreme, but do you agree that it has become a cultural norm to overemphasize money? Do you ever contemplate living a life that doesn’t rely so heavily on money?

( Photo by Celestine Chua )

2 Responses to Creating a Worthwhile Life – that Doesn’t Rely so Heavily on Money

  1. Kevin, I don’t think these ideas are extreme at all. In my own life, I’ve been trying to take small steps to break the stranglehold of money.

    Self-reliance plays into that a lot — this spring, we’re starting our first vegetable garden. I’ve never gardened in my life, and I think everything I’ve ever tried to grow has died in a withered mess, but this time, I’m going to try to learn everything I can to make it work. Instead of just novelty or aesthetics, this garden is going to put food on my table and if I make it work, it means money will have just a little less dominance over something as basic as feeding myself.

  2. Hi Adam – I get a sense that a lot of this is actually happening with a lot of people, the soft/weak economy is forcing it. It isn’t just a matter of being more frugal, but of building a rewarding life in a world of less. That requires more talent than we think, but it’s doable.

    I’d love to grow a garden but here in Georgia but the ground is hard as a rock (clay), the summer sun is searing, and there are critters all over the place that just love to feast on the bounty. When I lived in New Jersey it was much easier to grow a garden. Most people don’t think of NJ that way, but the soil there is very fertile. Even if you can’t produce all of your own food, there’s a feeling of independence and satisfaction that comes from being able to grow at least some of it.

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