A Little Stuff Can Make You Happy
A friend of mine kept giving away all of her shit. Furniture. TV. Dishes. Sex toys. A few months later, she’d buy it all back. The cycle did nothing but drain her bank account.
Every year, she announced her purge on Facebook. Finally, people stopped caring. Maybe she wanted attention. Or something else. Like some kind of spiritual enlightenment.
But giving away all your shit doesn’t lead to eternal happiness. Going on a Buddhism retreat doesn’t turn you into Julia Roberts. It just means you’ll own less. My friend skipped a few steps.
That book Eat, Pray, Love was still floating around. She talked about it all the time. Like she thought she’d fly off to Europe. Then Bali. Write a memoir about her trip. Become rich.
There’s this ageless fad. Acquire a lot of shit. Realize shit doesn’t make you happy. Promptly dump said shit off at Good Will. Hop on the next jet to another continent. Make a big deal about it. Oh what fun.
These people all have one thing in common. They had a decent amount of shit in the first place. Some of us never acquire that much. Look at me. Most of my furniture comes from Target. Donating it all wouldn’t make me feel much better or worse. Well, probably worse.
Most of the time, I’m not sure I’m happy. Or unhappy. It’s a useless question for a lot of us. We’re just trying to stay employed. Pay our rent. Cover the bills. I’m happy when I’m out hiking. When I’m writing. When I’m fucking. And when I’m drinking. Everything else is just in between.
Wait, I forgot Netflix.
And thunderstorms. I like those.
That’s a pretty simple life.
Let’s say I gave up everything and moved into the woods. I’d spend most of my time hunting and gathering. Avoiding predators. And bacteria. Learning how to start a fire.
Would my life really feel better? Only if I could survive for a year, then come back and write a best-selling book about my experience. That would assure me decades of hiking, running, fucking, and thunderstorms.
The stuff you want
One of my students asked me for twenty bucks last semester. No joke. Said she needed cash for gas. So I gave her an Andrew Jackson. Yeah, arguably the most famous crook in American history.
Instead of gas, she bought nail polish and makeup. Kinda pissed me off. Some teens at my school do need money for essentials.
Maybe makeup and nail polish makes you happy, if you typically can’t afford them. For all I know, she had a job interview and wanted to look nice. Or she was trying to launch her Instagram. Understandable, if misguided. When you’re poor, you’ll try anything.
Imagine me giving this girl a lecture on how she doesn’t need makeup to find true happiness in this world. How judgmental. Me, a full grown adult who can buy makeup whenever I want, I’m going to convince a 19-year-old that she doesn’t need what I don’t even have to budget for.
“You don’t need it.” In truth, that’s the line I’d use only if I were trying to excuse myself from giving someone money.
That’s the line you feed a toddler who wants something from the toy aisle at the supermarket.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve loaned about $300 to my students.
When I say loaned, I mean gave. But to them I say loan to help everyone save a little face. They say they’ll pay me back. They don’t. Because they can’t. There’s no point in me guilt-tripping them.
Sometimes they need bus fare. Rent. Or baby formula. My school’s a mixed bag. Some students come from middle class families. Others don’t.
The fact that teens have to beg for money to buy a little lipstick speaks to the wealth gap in the U.S.
Somewhere out there, someone’s wearing a bra made out of diamonds. It’s a real thing. They show up in Victoria’s Secret fashion shows sometimes. A diamond bra costs about three million dollars.
The existence of this bra makes me want to puke. Such a flagrant display of wealth. Meanwhile, some college students have to beg their professors for gas money. Maybe a little makeup.
Wearing a diamond bra probably doesn’t make you feel that amazing. And yet some people get off on flaunting their extreme wealth and privilege. It’s the closest they’ll ever come to joy.
The stuff you like having
They say money can’t buy happiness. Or love. Entrepreneurs like telling us we don’t need more dough to feel successful. But without it, we can’t function. Ask anyone with fifty grand in student debt if a little extra cash would make them happy.
For one, it would make us less anxious. We would sleep better, not sending ten percent of our paycheck to Sallie Mae. Just to cover interest.
It’s really my fault, though. Instead of going to grad school, I should’ve just started a marketing company and learned how to brand myself.
I’ve noticed something odd. A handful of self-appointed experts are making a ton of income by telling everyone they don’t need money.
You don’t need money to find self worth. But sign up for my course so you can find out how to make a million dollars.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting more money. Maybe one day capitalism will sink in on itself. But that day’s not coming anytime soon. Meanwhile, you probably do need a car. Because most cities don’t invest in public transportation like they should.
There’s no inherent evil in wanting a few things.
My first few months as a professor, I could barely afford groceries. My soul pined for an espresso maker and a mug. So I set aside $50 for a Mr. Coffee. Making my own espresso made me happy.
It took three more months to save up enough to frame my PhD diploma. What a day to remember. Hanging my degree on the wall. Taking a selfie with it. One that got seven likes.
For a year, I lived in a studio apartment with no laundry machines and no dishwasher. Sure, I wasn’t miserable. But I hated having to spend two hours a week at the laundromat.
Now, I finally have my own washer and drier. It fucking rocks. I can do laundry in my underwear. I can do laundry at 2 am. I don’t have shouting matches with token machines.
Owning some furniture and key appliances has made my life easier and more comfortable. Don’t even get me started on couches. I love them. For most of my 20s, I never owned a couch. I’ve seriously been missing out. You see, couches make watching television a lot easier.
Last year I bought a $150 office chair. My ass spends enough time behind a desk. Why not give it a little cushion?
And I also bought a window unit for my home office. Not absolutely necessary. But nice to have in July.
The stuff that doesn’t matter
You could take away my smartphone. My laptop. My flat screen TV. Banish me to a cabin in the woods with no electricity. I’m sure I could cope. I’d find happiness despite my lack of my gadgets.
That doesn’t mean their absence caused my happiness. Which means you could stick someone else in the same cabin, and they’d crack like dried mud. They were miserable beforehand.
All you did was remove their distractions. Becoming one with nature might lead them to enlightenment, or not.
Connecting with some kind of spiritual plain might be the only way for them to escape utter boredom. When they come back, they’re still staring down all their old problems. No kind of newfound spirituality’s going to help any of us pay down our student loans.
The only life philosophy that’s ever helped me is stoicism. In short, you can get through life much better if you control your emotions. The world might be burning down around you. All you can do is keep your own shit together and try to solve problems in a calm, reasonable manner.
I’ve always tried to avoid isms. I’m all about the ics. Stoic. Laconic. Sarcastic. Sadistic. Bottom line, you don’t need to chase happiness. Just do things you like. Avoid things you don’t. If you plan to purge your belongings, let me know so I can go through your stuff.