It’s 2004 and Chung Li, Taiwan is hot and muggy. As per the usual. I’m choosing to celebrate the weather by living in flip flops and sundresses. I’m swapping out my full-faced scooter helmet for something lighter and breezier and significantly, uh, less protective.
Meanwhile, the brakes on my scooter have been squeaking and requiring more squeezing than usual but I’m choosing to put off the repairs till my monthly paycheck comes through. My commute is short! I rarely drive faster than 15 mph! IT’S FINE.
I imagine, dear reader, you can see where this is going. Can you see me tootling along the street on my way to work, thinking about my lesson plans for the day? Can you see the black Mercedes cutting me off and me tumbling into the street in my cotton dress? Can you see the hospital and the stitches and the scar tissue? Perhaps I should have chosen a different outfit. A different helmet. To get my brakes fixed.
We’re at that point in the dinner party when we’ve moved from the dining room into the living room. Everyone’s on their third glass of wine. Shoes are off. I’ve given up trying to make my hair look decent. It’s the messy top knot part of the evening, ya know? I’m admiring my friends’ new house and expressing envy over the woodwork. “It’s crazy to think we own a house now!” the husband laughs. “Well, actually, your parents own 20% of this house,” the wife says good-naturedly. “And the bank owns the other 80%.” We all laugh a little awkwardly and the conversation moves on because OH GOD WE ALMOST TALKED ABOUT MONEY. But I want to stand up and cheer. I want to hug my friends and high five them and thank them. In the space of two sentences that wife did more for her dinner party guests than she could ever realize. In two sentences, my friend essentially said: “It’s okay if you haven’t saved up the $50,000 necessary to put a down payment on a house in Minneapolis. You’re not doing anything wrong if – between school loans, 401ks, and health insurance premiums – you haven’t been able to sock away that much money. You’re not failures. You’re not doing it wrong.” Honestly, talking about money is a gift to everyone around you. Click To Tweet
Why you should talk about money (even if it makes you uncomfortable)
It’s August 29th, 2004 and things are NOT going as planned. I wake up: zero ‘Happy Birthday!” texts. I open my email: three pieces of spam and one email from a colleague asking me to teach his Friday evening class.
I push through the glass doors of the school where I teach and my co-workers barely glance up from their grading. My work BFF pulls me aside for a quick gossip about our boss and points out I have a marker stain on my shirt. I head into my kindergarten class hoping this is some sort of elaborate ruse: A setup to lower my expectations before everyone jumps out and yells ‘Surpriiiiiise!’
Friends, there was no surprise party. My 26th birthday was commemorated with a voicemail from my parents and two belated emails from high school friends.
After I spent a few days sulking and eating my feelings, I realized there was exactly one person to blame for The Sad Birthday Debacle Of ’04.
Had I told anyone my birthday was coming up? I had not.
Had I given my roommate or my friends a head’s up that my birthday was a big deal to me and one of my love languages is ‘fuss-making’? Nope.
Had I done anything to make it easier for my friends to show me they loved me? No. If anything, I’d made it oddly hard. I’d created one of those “If you don’t know, then I’m not telling you” scenarios.
What if we made it easier for our friends and family to make us happy? What if we helped people make us happier?
Of course, a giant preamble: Really, you’re the only person who’s responsible for your happiness
In a perfect world, the people who love us add to our lives. They help us be our best selves. They’re interested in knowing what makes us happy. Once they have that information, they want to do things that will add more happiness to our lives. That said, your best friend is busy. Your partner has hobbies. Your family members have lots of things on their proverbial plates. They all love you and want you to be happy! They do not necessarily have time to make your happiness a priority in their lives! So let’s do our very best to hold two truths in our big, clever minds and hearts simultaneously: 1. People probably won’t know how to make us happy unless we tell them. 2. Even if they know how to make us happy, the people in our lives are not required to spend their time and energy making us happy every minute of every day. Yes? Yes.
Now that we’ve established that, let’s talk about how we can help people make us happier.
Let’s imagine a super luxurious spa day. Picture it: cucumber water. Fluffy robes. Enya.
Now, imagine exiting the spa and driving directly to a tax appointment, to be followed by dinner with your passive aggressive cousin.
But CLEARLY you wouldn’t do that, right? No sane human would ‘undo’ six hours of happiness and self-care like that, would they?
My dudes, we all do this ish all the time. We check email while we’re on vacation. We make mental to-do lists while friends tell hilarious stories. We start doing the dishes in the middle of the party we looked forward to hosting <- real thing I do because I’m Super Fun. This is so, so self-defeating and joy-sabotaging. In the pie chart of our lives, joy is a pretty small slice.
Much of our lives consist of boring, responsible, logistical things. The shining moments of joy – a great conversation, a long-awaited holiday, amazing food – are the minority. And yet! So many of us crowd those few happy moments with stuffed schedules and mental to-do lists.
In fact, studies show that a significant amount of happiness comes from anticipating something we enjoy and a significant amount comes from recalling it. We’re literally sucking joy out of our lives by cramming our schedules and minds so full. We deserve better than that. Our lives and minds and relationships deserve better than that. And it’s not hard to do better!
It’s 2009 and I’m standing in the tiny galley kitchen of the ‘garden’ (read: basement) apartment I hate, fighting back tears as I stare into the fridge.
Two days ago, I splurged on an expensive ball of fresh mozzarella. Today, where there was once fresh mozzarella, there is now a plastic container of cloudy mozzarella water.
That cheese cost $5. At the time, I was earning $16 an hour as a teacher at a non-profit. After taxes, the cost of that cheese = 30 minutes of my life. And my boyfriend ate it. My earns-three-times-what-I-do-doesn’t-have-school-debt-wants-to-split-everything-50/50 boyfriend ATE MY SPECIAL EXPENSIVE CHEESE.
It will not surprise you to know, dear reader, that what followed was an all out, raised-voices fight about money.
It also won’t surprise you to learn we did not remain boyfriend/girlfriend much longer.
If you’ve ever shared a living space and expenses with someone, you’ve probably had a similar experience. In fact, 57% of people who divorce cite money as the reason for their split.
Of course, money is complicated. We all spend it in different ways, for different reasons. These five basic steps can help you argue much, much less.
5 ways to argue about money nicely and productively
I’m standing in the aisle at Target, staring at a plump, pink tube of $20 ‘cheek gel.’
My cart is already filled with sensible, not-really-for-me-purchases. Toilet bowl cleaner, frozen peas, ibuprofen.
Can I afford this blush? I can.
Is my current tube of ‘cheek gel’ almost used up? It is.
Do I feel cuter and more on top of it when I’m wearing makeup? I do.
Am I pretty sure this particular blush would work best with my skin tone and type? Yup.
I sigh and shuffle my way to the Wet & Wild and buy the $4 blush instead.
Maybe you’ve never done this. Maybe you’ve never spend $150 on sensible purchases and gifts for other people and then denied yourself something you want and can afford. Maybe you’ve never bought the ‘close enough’ jacket because it was cheaper (even though you could afford the jacket you truly loved).
If you’ve never done that – congrats! You can stop reading now. Here is a post with photos of animals in buckets.
If this behavior sounds familiar: I see you and I get you.
One of the things I hear from many of my ‘Put Your Money Where Your Happy Is’ students is “I just can’t seem to spend money on myself or on anything fun.” They don’t have trouble living on a budget and they top out their 401 k every year. Their savings accounts are flush and healthy but their closets, homes, and calendars are, uh, less so.
Why do we do this? Why do we deny ourselves things we can afford and we know would make us happy?
Actions taken from the hyperlinks on this blog may yield commissions for Yes and Yes. All content copyrighted by Sarah von Bargen. All photos are embedded with links to the original source unless otherwise noted.