I grew up in privilege. I have never known real hunger or discomfort. Up until recently with the closing of my business and the transition into a new one, I have not had to be especially frugal ever. I bought what I wanted without too much thought.
I have eaten meals in the most expensive restaurants of Paris, flown first class more times than I can count, woken up in 5-Star hotels all over the world. I have known abundance, but I have never really known lack until last month.
Last month there was a point where I had $8 to my name. I had never been in such a financially perilous situation in my life. I couldn’t pay my bills, I had to borrow money to pay rent, I was unsure how I would buy food if the situation did not change. I was in no real danger of starving or living on the street, but I decided to carry through rather than ask my family to intervene.
It was my own fault, of course, combined with an unfortunate series of delayed payments that put me in this situation. I had just returned from a month abroad traveling around India where I overspent. But there was nothing to regret, what I had enjoyed so thoroughly had to be paid for. This was the other side of the coin.
It is good to experience temporary poverty because it makes you question where you derive your self-worth and happiness. It shines a light on the emptiness of consumerism. You will discover that you don’t need any of the things you thought you needed to be happy, and then you will have found liberation from them.
Most likely your situation is fleeting. You won’t be broke forever, so what is the harm in the experience? There is much to learn from it. You can even enjoy it and be grateful for the opportunity to grow in the face of it.
When you are broke, anything non-essential is dropped out of necessity. You only have money to spend on the things which you cannot live without. Everything else is a luxury. Too often we convolute the two concepts. We must have the latest iPhone, or the shoes we saw someone wearing on Instagram, or an $8 green juice. These things can be enjoyed, but they are not needed.
We are programmed by our society to live in a constant state of consumerism. We are bombarded by advertising and media that tells us we can be happy if we have a new car, we will have friends if we drink a certain brand of vodka, we will be beautiful if we buy a certain brand of shampoo. We believe we are defined by what brand of Kombucha we drink, what gym we belong to, what label is sewn into our sweat-shop produced t-shirt. Even the people selling these products are unhappy, so how can they sell us happiness?
It is what has been understood in the East for thousands of years. A man can subside on the same meager diet his whole life, have only one or two pairs of clothes and yet he is happier than most of us in the West with our super abundance.
When you lack the means to effect continual external stimulation, you have no choice but to turn inwards. You cultivate your happiness from inside, rather than find it in the bar, the mall, or your account balance. This contentment becomes unshakable; it comes from your very foundation.
The more you have, the less you appreciate. But when you have experienced hardship and gained from the experience, it colors the rest of your perception. You will recognize abundance when it is there; you won’t take it for granted or expect that it should never end.
When you have very little money, even the smallest things become luxuries to be enjoyed. Having coffee in the morning, buying fresh grapes for dessert, the smell of freshly laundered sheets. You appreciate these things more deeply and your state of mind becomes one of gratitude.
Finding lasting happiness has nothing to do with money or prestige, it has everything to do with your mind.
Money is there to make life comfortable, but it has no real value or importance in itself. However, in order to fully realize this, you have to have experienced both abundance and lack. Someone who has been poor their entire life will dream of one day when he might attain wealth – if he is unhappy, he will believe happiness resides in the palaces of the rich.
Someone who has been wealthy their entire life knows that money doesn’t equate happiness, but they’re also afraid to live without money. They are too accustomed to luxury, too attached to it. Here there is a danger, because what happens if one day they wake up and there is no money? They will certainly be unable to cope.
The real test of strength comes from being detached from both extremes, or being able to pass from abundance to lack with the same equanimity.
Rich is the man who depends on no one and nothing for his happiness.