Not so long ago, if I were to have had a week off work I would have felt as though not using it to travel abroad would render it a missed opportunity. Free time is finite, after all, and so it made sense to put any big ol’ block of it towards journeying further afield. There’s only so far you can travel during a weekend, so your Annual Leave is what supplies you with that infrequent option to go to those exotic places beyond, and if you want to make the most of life, you need to capitalise on those opportunities.
That was very much the logic of my twenties; before the mortgages and the taxes and the service charges and the insurance premiums and ALL OF THOSE OTHER MISERABLE SOUNDING WORDS that do – regrettably – take a hold of you and enter your daily vernacular. I knew that buying a property would hinder my ability to live the same kind of lifestyle as I had been able to enjoy previously, and though it filled me with slight trepidation, I knew that it had to be done. I love my parents very much, but in life one needs, above all else, to be able to live independently. While they allowed me a lot of privacy and we always got on, I needed my own kitchen where I could produce my own dinners, burn my own spuds, and replenish my own bin-bags. I have absolutely needed the mental struggle of getting used to living alone for the first time and the freedom to paint my living room wall bright green, and my parents needed their guest bedroom back and the additional space in their fridge.
I don’t have a lot of disposable income these days; I don’t know many people who do. Just being alive is incredibly expensive, and when you’re trying to afford all of those boring fundamentals like water and gas on a single salary – as well as trying to sustain the more emotional of the human needs, like a decent social life – you have no option but to carefully consider the destination of each pound you spend. You want to make the monthly payslip stretch as far as it can possibly go without having to miss out on the activities that fill you with joy, and much of this is about sacrifice. You learn to cut back on luxuries like eating out (“Spending 20 quid on something you just shit out the following day,” as a like-minded friend so eloquently put it as we rejoiced our financial epiphanies in unison during a recent car-ride), because you know you’d rather put the money towards a train-ticket to visit a friend. You learn to see beyond the brand-names and realise that Tesco’s own coconut rice tastes just as good as Mr Ben’s. You almost encroach Narnia whilst digging out those long-forgotten old clothes at the back of the wardrobe, which probably suit you better now anyway, because they at least make you look younger. Aldi becomes a deity, because if honey-roasted peanuts cost you an arm and a leg in Waitrose, then there they’ll cost you a fingernail clipping. And you do adore the occasional ramekin of some good old honey-roasted peanuts.
Ultimately it becomes quite liberating. You realize that many of the things you thought you needed in life you actually don’t, and that by cutting back on those things, you have more financial and mental freedom to focus on the important things: spending time with people you care about. Sharing fun experiences together. Just talking. Moments which invigorate your spirit and soul don’t actually need to cost you much at all, and you can get so much more satisfaction from those than you could an over-priced perfume, or – let’s be honest here – a completely pointless cocktail served in a thimble that makes you pull a face after one sip. There’s nothing wrong with indulging in a little bit of luxury every now and again, but it’s not something you need to spend your life chasing.
During my latest spell of Annual Leave, I realised I didn’t actually want to go anywhere like I may have wanted to before, even if I had been able to afford to. All I wanted was to stay at home and use the free time to make the most of the sweet, humble little town I live in. To cycle along the river and slip over in the mud. To walk along the cobbled streets and listen to my favourite songs. To make small talk with strangers and pat their little yappy dogs with silly names (no offense to Olive’s owner). To sit at the duck pond where I used to go with my Grandad when I was a little girl and reflect upon the magic of life and time. I realized that while things haven’t felt especially easy in recent months, I don’t actually need as much as I sometimes think I do.
When I think of some of the occasions in my life in which I have felt particularly sad, it has often been because there was something I wanted but was struggling to get: a change in my life of some sort, to move out, a nicer set of teeth, for somebody to like me back, to be better at something. It’s actually of very little surprise that in Buddhism, desire is seen to be the root cause of suffering. To want can be – and is – a great source of direction that should never be dismissed without considering the reasons why. But feeling sad about things you don’t have is a negative energy that won’t help in changing things. In fact, it will only serve as a further resistance to the possibility of that change. In an instance of exceptional timing, I came across this quote and it seemed to slot in perfectly with many of the things I have been thinking about recently: “When you love what you have, you have everything you need.”
There is definitely an exciting freedom to be gained and new, energizing lease of life to enjoy from wanting less and appreciating more.