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On Being Content

July 14th, 2017 at 01:38 pm

When we asked what our kids wanted for their birthday they both said, "nothing." For Christmas they were both absolutely delighted with their one simple gift. We bought DL(11) a blanket and he made a point last month to tell me how much he loved it and it is the BEST gift. Six months later!

I've been pondering this a bit. This is nothing I expected from my kids. (Much like my last post, where I didn't necessarily expect them to be "super frugal" through their childhood). The best I can guess is that all their needs are WELL met (can't help but think of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs). & beyond that, they just absorb what they see. We are VERY content. We like our toys and we have our stuff but we aren't constantly shopping/spending.

& let me make it real clear. My kids have computers and cell phones and a virtual reality system. (Which I know many people think would cause kids to go the opposite way). There is no deprivation going on in this house. But they aren't over-saturated. They can appreciate something as simple as a blanket.

In fact, I received a big box with the new pots and pans I bought. My kids (12 and 14!) are having a BLAST with the box. It's cracking me up. I encouraged MH to just leave it be for the cat to play with. The kids seem to have the same wonder and excitement about it as the cat does. It's along the same lines. We haven't over-saturated them so much that they can't appreciate the small things.

Anyway, I saw the most amazing article from Frugalwoods today, that ties into this.

How Making Luxuries Rare Increases Our Happiness

http://www.frugalwoods.com/2017/07/14/how-making-luxuries-ra...

Some highlights:

"Repeated exposure to stimulants deadens our ability to derive pleasure from them. These stimulants range from shopping for stuff we don’t need to sugar to dining out. Anything designed to deliver jolts of dopamine and excitement are best if used sparingly."

"After embarking on our extreme frugality journey, I was suddenly awakened to a slew of behaviors that I performed ritualistically without much consideration for whether: a) they were good for me; b) I needed them; c) I actually derived any true, lasting pleasure from them. I was a consumer automaton, ritualistically buying new clothes every season, automatically getting a latte if I happened to walk past a coffee shop, dumping a ludicrous amount of ersatz sugar into my coffee mug."

"Spending money works in precisely the same way and impacts the same pleasure centers in our brains. We humans have the remarkable ability to acclimate ourselves to almost any level of comfort or deprivation. We can all craft a reality in which we’re deprived or in which we’re surrounded by abundance (with caveats for privilege and the understanding that not everyone enjoys the basic necessities of shelter, food, and safety required for this exercise). Abundance denial is exactly what it sounds like: a failure–or inability–to appreciate our blessings."

"When we sign-up for our culture’s materialistic consumer carousel, we’re signing up for a lifetime of spending money. There is always more to buy, more to crave, and more to convince ourselves we “need.” There is no path to lasting happiness through excessive consumption because you’ll never reach a point of enough. You’ll never look around your home and experience the gratitude of wanting what you already have; rather, you’ll look around your home and constantly identify more things you can buy. Marketing is designed to continually create these false needs for us and to continually convince us that we are lacking and deprived and uncool if we don’t consume at the level that’s advertised to us."

"“But buying things makes me happy!” you might be thinking. And you’re right, it does make you happy, but only for a brief period of time. That’s the key–the adrenaline and pleasure of making a purchase fades quite quickly and leaves you casting about for something else to buy. There’s a deeper, more permanent happiness to be had when you stop this cycle and instead start to focus your energies on people, activities, and experiences that are meaningful to you.

It’s also true that you’ll have more time. I often hear the complaint that frugality takes too much time, but I find it’s quite the opposite: frugality takes far less time and frees up your physical and mental energy for fulfilling pursuits. Imagine for a moment if you didn’t have to run a million errands this week: no dry cleaners, no haircuts, no manicures, no dog groomer, no shopping (other than for groceries)… that’s what my weeks are like. I’ve created time and space for myself by ceasing to participate in the consumer carousel.

When we instead acknowledge that we do, in fact, have enough, we surrender to a default position of gratitude. We look around our house–that very same house–and think “I am so grateful to have a couch for my kids to snuggle on. I am so thankful we have a roof that doesn’t leak.” We no longer notice the stains on the couch and the scuffs on our furniture or our non-trendy-looking appliances. Instead, we see all of these things as benefits in our lives and evidence of how fortunate we are to have running water and electricity and the ability to safely cook inside our home–all things that many people in the world so desperately need."

"Our culture writ large doesn’t encourage temperance or restraint. Frugality is viewed as miserly and boring. But in reality, it’s the golden ticket that delivers us off the hedonic treadmill and out of the “you never have enough” mentality and away from the buy-your-way-to-happiness prompts that we’re all old enough to know are empty, false promises.

Frugality is not about depriving yourself, it’s about reconstructing your worldview so that you need less, want less, and spend less in order to achieve a higher level of happiness. Spending is a vicious cycle of always feeling that happiness is out of your reach whereas frugality engenders a virtuous cycle of knowing that what you have is indeed enough."

8 Responses to “On Being Content”

  1. ThriftoRama Says:

    Hmmm. Tell me more about how you came to be this way with the kids. I'm wondering if we will get there, but my kids are also young, probably too young to know that true happiness comes from inside not outside.

  2. MonkeyMama Says:

    I don't know! We are very happy and content adults, and we've been very frugal-focused since we cut our income in half when we had kids. I think they just absorb what they see. Our parents certainly won't so zen and in such a secure financial place when we were kids. (But by the same token, I don't remember my parents being quite so frugal either. I think they were more in a "more stuff will make us happy stage" in their own lives, when I was a kid).

    I don't know if it's anything you can really force. It's just the only thing my kids have ever seen. But I will say that it has to start with you. If your kids see you being happy and grateful without a lot of consumerism and spending, it's what they absorb. (The younger the better). That part is rather obvious when I look back at my own kids' childhoods. & I don't see this working unless all needs are met. For example, my mom stayed home but was absolutely miserable and never there emotionally. My dad worked crazy hours. I would say I could have never gotten to this point as a child. My basic needs weren't being met to the point I could move beyond.

    I don't think most people reach this level of content/zen in their entire lifetime. Really my only advice is to work on your own happiness.

  3. Joan.of.the.Arch Says:

    Hey, I still love me a big box and I'm 58!

    MM, I agree with you about what makes it more natural for a child to feel contentment. But I also think that a kid's innate personality makes it either more likely or less likely that they will feel content.

  4. MonkeyMama Says:

    @Joan - absolutely!

    I was just typing up a reply and that was one of my points. Which I guess is all the more reason I think it's most productive to just focus on your own happiness.

    {I abandoned my reply because it was getting too long and I have other stuff to do}.

  5. snafu Says:

    These issues described are mostly N American and to some extent 'western' tribulations. Is it the clever marketers who are driving excessive consumerism? In so many other countries Maslow's Hierarchy is the force to be reconciled.

  6. rob62521 Says:

    I would say you have great parenting skills. How wonderful that your kids appreciate what they have and aren't on the gimme, gimme track. It's funny, some friends and I were discussing this topic on how so many kids have gotten so many over the top things and that each year the parents feel they have to exceed what they did last year. One gal we know runs a tea room and although she appreciates the business when moms book for a tea party for a daughter's birthday, it is the limo ride and then the mani, pedi, hair do experience that follows that she can't get over. So many of the birthday parties are so over the top. Anyway, I think the article you shared has some great points. I think so many are used to the luxuries that they aren't considered special anymore. We have friends who eat about every meal out. Then complain they are tired of all the restaurants. We eat a few lunches out and one dinner out, but lots of cooking at my house and some plain Jane recipes that are nutritious and frugal most times. Eating out is a treat for us. So, even if we aren't kids, we appreciate this luxury.

  7. ceejay74 Says:

    That's awesome. Whether nature, nurture or luck, that mindset will serve them well in life!

    My kids are kinda in between. Yeah they see things they want all the time, their birthdays and Xmas are really lavish due to the abundance of grandparents, and I'm an occasional pushover, but I don't usually indulge. They could easily go to a place where they don't appreciate things if I did give in all the time, but as it is they really appreciate the things they do get. I brought home a pair of shoes for each because theirs were uncomfortable and falling apart, and you'd have thought I'd brought them pots of gold from the way they celebrated and exclaimed over them! Big Grin

  8. ThriftoRama Says:

    Clearly, I need to scale back. My youngest thinks the world is beautiful and everything is a treat, but my oldest is captain complainer, captain not good enough. Then again, they've been like that since they were babies!

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