Financial hardships can bring extra stress in life. But financial freedom doesn’t bring enduring happiness. We need to live our lives so that the amount of money we have doesn’t keep us from flourishing.
Happiness with less isn’t only a good sentiment. It’s true that people with less tend to have a level of happiness that eludes those who have it all. By choice or by force, they live with the value of thrift.
According to Sonja Lyubomirsky in her book, The Myths Of Happiness, the word thrift originates from the word thrive. What we may think of as being cheap or stingy is more about optimizing the use of our resources.
One of the biggest ways the value of thrift becomes natural to a person is when resources are limited. It’s very difficult for a child to grow up with a sense of thrift if their families have seemingly unlimited resources, or live like they do. As Malcolm Gladwell states in his book, David and Goliath, every culture has a phrase along the lines of “wealth skips a generation.”
Without an attitude of thrift, we don’t learn these important values:
- Industry – The harder we work for rewards, the less likely we want to squander them.
- Temperance – Practice moderation and self restraint.
- Pursuit – Avoid wasting time and resources on frivolous pursuits.
- Delayed Gratification – Work hard now for later rewards (a critical component to thrift).
In her book, Lyubomirsky states, “These thrifty behaviors can make us feel happier, impart a sense of self-control, and foster success.” Kids who grow up with a thrift mindset tend to earn better test scores, are less likely to have low self-esteem, and are less prone to addictions.
Not living with the value of thrift has psychological implications. One example is becoming house-poor after purchasing a larger home. Living in a bigger house with an amazing back yard gives a sense of pride and pleasure, but the pleasure eventually wears off. After a while we no longer notice the extra square footage, amazing deck, or updated kitchen. We adapt to it, expect it, and eventually seek bigger and better.
The other negative of being house-poor is probably apparent. The strain of the monthly mortgage and dealing with home-related issues begins to overtake the relatively small pleasure that comes from the bigger home. The newness, niceness, and bigness of the home can’t come close to matching the strain of ongoing financial obligation.
Moving to bigger and better won’t increase happiness, and could do the opposite.
According to the author, “Going from house-poor to house-rich means less daily stress and more moment to moment happiness.” That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to move to thrive more – but it may.
Thrive in life with an attitude of thrift. Buy only what you can afford, help your children and grandchildren learn the importance of “work for reward,” and invest your money in the things that count, not on possessions that will fade with time.