People say money can't buy happiness, and for the most part, I believe they are right. Having a big house, a fancy car, a new wardrobe, and the finest things in life is not going to make you happy. What good are those things if you have an empty life, without people who you love and who love you?
No, money can't buy you love, that's for sure, but there is one way in which money CAN make you happy: spending it on others and with others.
Last year, I read a very interesting article about money and happiness in the Ideas section of the Boston Globe that I still think about all the time. It said that while spending money on material possessions doesn't make people happier, spending money on or with others, CAN actually make people happier. Making donations to charities, taking friends out to dinner, going on vacations with loved ones--in essence, spending on people and experiences with people--WILL make you happier.
I love that article. I guess that's why I still think about it a year later. It validates a feeling I've always had. In the pursuit of happiness, we need to know what to spend our money on...not so much on things, but on people and experiences.
Last week, we went on a family vacation to Maine and I thought about the article again while we were there. When I think about the happiest times of my life, they always involve events like this, vacations with family and friends, weddings and parties, and dinners out with friends. So much of our lives is mundane: housework and chores, kids' activities and homework, and of course, our jobs. Much of it is joyful, but little of it is memorable. The times that are the most memorable, however, are always the special ones: birthdays and celebrations and vacations. Those times are precious. When you look back at your life, yes, you remember some of the quiet times you've spent with your family doing the mundane things, but the most vivid memories are the ones spent doing something out of the ordinary. It's so important to remember that money spent on intangible things like this is priceless, and far more valuable than spending on getting an expensive trinket or toy. The trinket will tarnish but the vacation will grow in your memory into one of the most special times of your life.
Our little vacation in Maine last week was planned on the fly by my husband (because we had so much fun on a day trip we took this summer for our 11th anniversary), and we ended up picking the worst week for weather, but it was still an awesome time we spent together with our kids. I know when we look back on it someday, we'll say, "Hey, remember the time we went to Maine and we sat in the hot tub while it was raining? That was so cool!" We did the Cliff Walk in Ogunquit, ate at the famous Maine Diner when it was raining buckets, went to Old Orchard Beach and went to the amusement park. The amount we spent was small compared to what we got out of it.
Anyway, I'm not bashing those of you who have nice things. Of course, we all like having nice things, don't we? My particular weakness is clothes and jewelry. I love dressing up. I grew up winding my mom's old saris around me and wearing her shoes and jewelry and using her make-up. But I can tell you that while I like all the pretty things, there is nothing I own that I am so attached to that I would miss too much if it was gone. And, if need be, in a heartbeat, I would give it away.
It is good to remind yourself now and then to enjoy your money but never to become too attached to it or to the things you've bought with it. Not long ago, when I was stressing about money, my father reminded me, "Kirti, I don't worry about you. Why do you worry? If you lost your house, your car, and all your money, what would happen? Absolutely nothing. You still have yourself. You should never worry about money." (God, I love my Dad!) And just like that, I felt calm. Because he is absolutely right. If I woke up tomorrow with not a single penny, I would easily have a place to stay, food to eat, and most importantly, myself and the opportunities that I can make for myself and my family. And in a year, maybe two, I would be fine again.
So, I no longer live in fear of losing money or all of my material possessions. (No, I'm not wishing for that to happen! But I don't live in fear anymore.) There is only one thing I own that is worth anything, and that is myself! And the only things that are worth caring about losing are not things at all, but the people you love and people who love you. So, I spend my money on them and with them. Life is for living, for enjoying, for sharing your joy and happiness (and wealth) with others. That is the best kind of investment I can think of!