Saturday, November 03, 2007

Money and Happiness

(A special post for my friends at SundayScribblings )

I graduated from college with a degree in business in 1981. Interest rates and the cost of money was high. It's funny that I had just gotten through my studies and had no idea what high interest rates meant in the real world. In this case, it meant the employment market was a little bit tight.

This was fine because I hadn't yet decided what to do with my life. Over the course of my college time, I had spent some college breaks helping out my brother. He was a contractor and I would do some work off and on to make a few extra dollars. It was basic grunt work but I appreciated it. It was around the time of my completion of my formal education that he was starting to build a new house on speculation. I had never been on a project from the beginning to end so I was hired on as the laborer. It was here that I would begin a 6 year career in the construction industry. It seems strange to call it an industry. I did about everything. I dug ditches, poured concrete, painted, framed, roofed, etc. They never let me touch the wiring. I think it had something to do with a contractors warranty that future inhabitants would not get fried. This is exactly what would have happened if my electrician skills matched my carpentry skills.

No, I never "got it" when it came to the trades. Still, my brother took care of me and I was able to make a subsistence living between him and other contractors that I knew. I did this for 6 years. At the end, I was in great shape and had an excellent tan. Try framing houses in a Sacramento summer when there are 35 days over a 100 degrees and you start being darkly complected.

I lived in a duplex. Two of my high school buddies had graduated from college and this was their first pad since obtaining real jobs.

When they moved in, they said, "hey, dude, move in with us."

"It only has two bedrooms and, while I love you guys, I don't love either of you enough to sleep with."

Shortly after that, I was sleeping on a day bed in the dining room with my dresser out in the garage. I paid the guys $75 a month for rent. Little did I know, they would have let me stay for free because I had brought a refrigerator and a couch into the equation. Sometimes it was a stretch but I always made the rent.

I think fondly back to those days of being 28 years old and broke. I went into the mortgage business. I learned the craft. I struggled like many do when they begin to build a practice. I ended up almost $3000 in debt. I remember worrying about money. I remember asking myself if I was happy. I never could quite answer the question. I was having a good time. I had my friends.

It's twenty years later now. Debt is far behind me. I have done better financially than I would have imagined back then. I study the subject of "Happiness" now because I never have been able to answer that question, "Am I happy?"

I have come to land at a spot that tells me that isn't a question that any of us should really answer. Are we good judges of ourselves? Should we judge anyone....including ourselves?

Perhaps a better question is, "am I happier now that I have money than when I didn't?"

I honestly would have to answer, "No. I was fine then. I am fine now." I don't concern myself with having enough money to pay the rent. Instead, I concern myself about having enough money to retire. By most standards, people would say that I am doing well. Yet, I could live another 50 years....the US economy could have a recession...a depression....gas could be $5 a gallon....these wars we get in cost a pretty penny....the Democrats could tax the heck out of me. I could go on forever. It is for this reason that I don't.

I have spent 21 years in the mortgage business. I see people behind the facade. I see the bank accounts, the income, the credit reports, the divorces, and the illnesses. From a subjective viewpoint, I can't equate money as a predictor of how happy the people seem to be.

We all have heard it since we were children. The scientists have now studied the wealthy versus people that make a living and have now proven it. I have now lived it. Money does not buy happiness. I am about as happy now as I have always been. It's my nature. I see Donald Trump on numerous shows. He doesn't seem any happier than I am. I see the contestants on The Apprentice go through an arduous process of turning on their friends so they can work for Mr Trump. I ask, "what's the prize?"

Happiness is a pursuit. It is something that must be worked at. Happiness comes from choice. My nightly HappyUP!!!'s and reflecting upon the good things that happened that day have been one of the most effective things that I have ever done to increase my level of happiness. I end every day on a note of reflection about the things that gave me moments of happiness throughout the day. I have more moments of pure happiness now than I have ever had in my life. Just today, I cracked myself up so much that my stomach hurt and tears came to my eyes. Earlier in the same day, I read a piece of a book that moved me so much that it brought tears of happiness to my eyes.

If you have the ability to make choices in how you perceive your surroundings, you have the ability to be as happy as you want to be.

Some Say That I Am Cheap

I live on common ground
Though could afford to dwell among the elite
vacations in modest quarters
Yet could enjoy extravagant villas
Some say that I am cheap

The finest cars can grace my garage
Wines of the finest vintage could tumble across lips
Young women beyond number
could pass before my threshold
All these things I am told that I should desire
Am I cheap or is it that I can't hear

Things pass
Decaying hubris to soil
Hands wither in search of lotion
Unnecessarily exposed to winter's harsh touch

I spend my money to purchase time
Time to spend alone
To conjure upon snails and window pots
The next time we meet
You will find out what they have told me
What value do you bring to me
Tell me now who is cheap

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