Yesterday I finished reading The Happiness Project, a New York Times best seller. The author, Gretchen Rubin, spent a year focusing on ways in which she could improve her life without changing her life. Like Eat Pray Love without the heartbreak, bi-cultural moves, and Ashram influence – instead Gretchen sought out her inner buddha at home, New York, NY. Each month she focused on a particular topic hypothesized to boost happiness. Sounded like a better version of my past year – change EVERYTHING; then dig yourself out of depression by slowly reimplementing happy habits.
While reading I took notes – quotes that resonated with me, research that made me question humanity (like the fact that a typical child laughs more than 400 times a day, but an adult only manages 17), and what I would focus on for my own happiness project. The topic I was most interested in? Money. Logical according to the American Psychology Association which claims job pressure and money as the leading causes of stress for people living in the US.
I, in my 26 years, have never seriously worried about money. I can’t remember a time in childhood that my mom said no because she couldn’t afford it. I had a personal running coach in High School, a college fund, and we took international family vacations once a year. As a (sort of) grownup I once asked my dad for help with rent because I was waiting for a race check to come in (there is no time frame for mailing those – I’ve waited weeks, I once waited a year). My roommate at the time said “you’ll never have to worry like I do – I have no one to call for help”. Thankfully I’ll never be in her position; compared to most I’ve lived a spoiled life. One of my ‘Secrets of Adulthood’ [Gretchen Rubin’s term for personal truths that you didn’t realize as a child or may have even been taught the opposite of] is the ability to afford more doesn’t mean you want more. And yes, I mean want, not need. As people receive raises they typically raise their materialistic junk. Bigger and better don’t equate to happier though. According to a Princeton University study, people only need an annual income of $75,000 per year per household to be happy. Above that, more cash has no effect on emotional well-being. Similarly, another study concluded that those who pursue wealth and material possessions tend to be less satisfied and experience fewer positive emotions each day. Yet I’ve been living that lifestyle in a I don’t work on Wall St, but make more than I need to spend, yet haven’t saved a dime kinda way; it’s loathsome. The problem is not wealth, but the continual drive for greater wealth and possessions. Experts agree that mindfulness is the key to keeping consumerism at bay.
“You own twice as much rug if you’re twice as aware of the rug.” – Allen Ginsberg
So, I’m going to force myself to figure out what happiness is to me. For the month of April I am going to live on the poverty line (for one person, a monthly net income of $958). Years ago I dated a guy who attempted this annually – and although he didn’t move for one month every year he substituted his housing cost for 30% of the poverty line income (which is the highest recommended amount experts believe people can afford while still leaving enough mulla for the rest of life).
Concrete Expenses For The Month:
Rent [@30% of income]: $287.5
Energy: ~$42 [30 day average since moving into my Manhattan
Cell Phone: $50
Insurance: medicaid – pretty sure that is 100% covered by the government except small copays [hopefully I am healthy and don’t have to worry about those numbers]
Grand Total: $513.51
$958 – $513.51 = $444.49
So, the remanding $444.49 will be spent on food, travel, cleaning my clothes somehow [I don’t have a washer/dryer], entertainment, health, beauty, etc. Clearly I’ll be sacrificing some pleasures since, in some ways, you can buy happiness (according the authors of Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending, it’s not about how much money you have, but how you spend it) to discover what I’ve been taking for granted. Plus I enjoy breaking social norms, learning quirky Allie-isms, and this experiment should act as a catalyst for other resolutions – reading more, drinking less, placing less value on relationships with men and more on relationships with my girlfriends – simply because I won’t be able to afford most discretionary pleasures.
I’ll leave you with a study quoted in the Happiness Project that particularly resonated with me: