Sometimes, I wonder if I was happier before I fell into the world of personal finance. My life is more fulfilled now. My priorities are more concrete. But there is something to be said about blissful ignorance. Yes, it’s ephemeral. It was only a matter of time before that bliss came crashing down quite literally. My closets could only hold so much stuff.
Still, I realize that my happiness hasn’t shifted quite the way I anticipated when I started this blog last August. I have ambitions, I have goals. I’ve reached pretty impressive milestones in a relatively short span of time. While I have even shifted my mindset in terms of focusing less on material things and more on freedom, this change in mindset hasn’t been quite as transformative as it sounds. Whether it’s focusing on acquiring more things, more money, more investments, or more freedom, I’m still focusing on what I could have, not what I do have. And therein lies the problem.
I have so much. And I’m not just talking about the fact that Americans are so comparatively wealthy when it comes to a global perspective. Don’t believe me? In a 2013 study reported on Forbes, it found that “the typical person in the bottom 5 percent of the American income distribution is still richer than 68 percent of the world’s inhabitants.” So, yeah, I have a lot in terms of wealth.
But that’s not what I’m talking about. I have so much in terms of the rest of my life. I don’t talk about it much here–I’d like to blame the double-edged sword that is anonymity, but it’s more likely my myopic focus on dollars–and that’s a shame. In fact, it’s probably the reason that I’m not as happy as I’d like to be. I get so bogged down in the fact that I don’t have a six-figure income that I forget that I love my job. I spend so much time pouring over spreadsheets and early retirement posts that I forget that I’ve already found fulfillment. There might be days when I want to run out of my classroom tearing at my hair. To say otherwise would be a lie. But you know what? After a few days away, I miss my students. By about the second week of summer vacation, I start dreaming about literature circles, Socratic discussions, and that one time I knew a kid was tricking me into opening an exploding Go-Gurt and I did it anyway because he really wanted to pull a prank on me.
That’s to say nothing of my family and my friends. I don’t always have the support system I’d like in terms of things like navigating 403bs and Vanguard versus Betterment versus Wealthfront. But in those rare moments when it felt like my world was ending, that I was completely unmoored, and that all hope had been extinguished, I’ve had so many people act as anchors, extending hugs, kind words, and compassion that I feel so incredibly foolish for overlooking them.
And while we’re on the subject of money, the personal finance blogosphere is rife with bloggers whose net worths are so sky high that my mouth drops a little bit every time I click on their updates. Could I have that? Maybe. But instead of allowing myself to read those posts and think about what I could have, I’m suddenly awash in all the incredible wisdom, generosity, and laughs that these friends–yes, you are my friends even if you do not know my real name–are willing to share with me and the rest of the interwebs.
Could I have more? Yes. And I know that as I continue along this path, I will acquire more — more wealth, more wisdom, more laughter, more love, and more memories. Still, when I stop and think about happiness, I realize that it has nothing to do with what I could have and everything to do with what I do have. I have more than enough to be happy. I really do.
So Tell Me…How do you stay focused on what you do have while pursuing future goals? Have you ever had to realign your perspective?