It’s a question I ask everyone who seems to inspire me, but I’ve found that many people are also asking the same question of me. I guess my answer is the same as the one I get from the people who seem to be living my dream life : I prefer to spend my hard-earned money on what is actually important to me.
I’ve grown up in a generation bombarded with huge advances in technology and social media. The stuff we have is constantly being upgraded, and on top of that, our social networks are super on top of letting you know who got the newest, hottest stuff. It doesn’t take much to find yourself caught in the race of materialism based worthiness thanks to societal influence and the allure of “fitting in”. Consumerism drives us further from freeing ourselves of the cyclical dance of suffering, samsara.
Most will agree that money doesn’t buy happiness, but then some will turn around to argue that money does buy things that make us happy. If that’s true, what is it that you are buying that will make you happy and keep you happy? The Dalai Lama teaches that we have tricked ourselves into believing that “satisfaction can arise from gratifying the senses alone.” No doubt, buying the newest iPhone or a fresh new handbag makes you excited and validated for some time, but then it wears off. We adapt to the things we buy and they lose their novelty and power to excite us. The cycle continues as we keep needing more upgraded stuff to maintain the good feelings.
Travel, learning, culture, fantastic food, adventure…these are the things that are valuable to me. So when people ask me how I can afford to take a vacation every year, it’s not because I’m rich. I save my money to spend it on those vacations because that is stirs my soul. For me, the experience and personal growth that come from traveling or investing in a meaningful education is worth far more than a new outfit or an updated laptop.
I probably won’t look back on my life and regret not updating my cracked iPhone for the newest model. It’s more likely that I’ll find joy in remembering my experience climbing around the ruins of Angkor Wat for 3 days. When I pull from all the personal growth and realistic knowledge I gained from investing in 500 hours of yoga and wellness trainings, I likely won’t miss the nights I didn’t spend at bars downing $8 cocktails.
The Bhagavad Gita suggests that the material world cannot impact the Soul, our true Self. So why not invest in the experiences that will truly fill you on that deep and lasting level? Let your money bring you closer to true happiness and growth, away from the cycle of suffering that consumerism perpetuates.
The material world ultimately be separate from your true Self. Experiences on the other hand become part of you.
Check out this article To Do or To Have? That Is the Question from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (yes, I'm a nerd who reads scholarly research) written by Thomas Gilovich of Cornell University and Leaf Van Boven of University of Colorado at Boulder on the links between money, happiness, materialism, and experiences.
“Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods. You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences. " – Thomas Gilovich