The problem with frugality is that it seems to go hand in hand with a feeling of scarcity. When I was paying down my debt, it certainly felt like I was fighting for every last scrap. And even after my debt had been paid, I looked at my paltry bank account and still felt fear. After I had saved some more, I wondered, when would I ever feel like I have enough? What is the exact number?
I tried to answer this question by reading books. As if there was some set value that was scientifically proven to make anyone say “aha! I’ve made it!” But of course there’s not. There are billionaires who want more. There are people who have nothing who want for nothing.
I read a story on Quora about an elderly woman who was about to be shown her new room in a retirement center. The woman said she loved her new room. Confused, the attendant pointed out that she hadn’t even seen the room yet. But the woman said, I know I love it because she had already decided to love it. It didn’t really matter what the room looked like. As she reasoned, happiness was a choice. And she was choosing it before she knew about the circumstances.
I think its’ the same with abundance. You can’t pick a number and say, that’s when I’ll feel the abundance. Because you will find that you will reach that amount (hopefully you’ll reach that amount) and your feelings won’t change. You think the external circumstances affect how you feel inside. But it’s not the money that changes your feelings. It’s you. You make the feeling. You make the decision. Abundance comes from within. Feeling abundance is a choice that we make for ourselves every day, every minute.
Creating a Mindset
The book, The Secret was a best-selling self-help book based on the ‘law of attraction,’ which claims that thoughts can change the world directly.
So yes, to the extent that The Secret causes you to believe that if you imagine wining the lottery, you may actually win the lottery, The Secret, is total crap. Still, research and some common sense consistently show that your thoughts are incredibly powerful in changing your life.
Harvard research shows that, in certain instances, just thinking about doing something can give nearly the same benefits as doing the activity. And it should come as common sense that if you enter an interview thinking you’ll do great and that the interviewer wants you to succeed, that you’ll likely do better than if you think you’ll bomb the interview and that HR is out to get you.
In my previous post, I already discussed how the feeling of abundance is a choice. But what happens after you decide that you want to feel abundant? How do you actually get the feeling?
The nuts and bolts of feeling abundant even when you have to live frugally is to reframe how you view your life.
Be grateful for what you have.
When I think of abundance, I think of a bowl full of cherries, because I read an article about abundance that had a picture of a bowl of cherries. When you think of abundance, it’s probably about health, social connections, money and peace. And I hope you have all or a mix of those things. But even if you lack in some areas, it helps to focus on what you do have. Think about what blessings you have. Think about if you have shelter, food, a job. Think about your friends, your family, people who’ve been nice to you throughout your life.
I watched a documentary recently, Kindness is Contagious, and throughout the movie, people would describe a time when someone was kind to them. Some were truly amazing and miraculous and some were silly. But if we all thought about our lives, we could come up with a few anecdotes about people who were nice to us. Be grateful and focus on these things. It’s hard not to feel abundance when you frame your life as one filled with amazing blessings.
Reframe frugality as curation.
Too often, frugality is framed as denial. You can’t get a new pair of shoes because you don’t have the funds.
Well what if you thought of yourself, instead of a miserable frugal person, as a fancy museum curator. Pretend you work for the Louvre and there are no shortage of painters/shoes who want your attention. But you don’t have nearly enough space for all of those vying and you can only take the very best. You want to be right so you can wait to take your time until you have the right funds. It’s not that you’re broke, it’s that you’re picky.
Imagine you meet a guy with 7 Hyundais and another one with a Tesla. 7 Hyundais cost more than a Tesla. But do you think Hyundai guy is rich? No you think he’s weird. Why would one person own so many cars. This guy hasn’t properly curated his life. You don’t want to be like that. It’s quite a privilege to enter your home so you make sure everything is finely chosen.
Every day, you make the choice to live feeling deprived or feeling abundant. And though I don’t believe in The Secret, I believe that feeling abundant will lead to abundance, even if only in your head. But maybe that’s enough.
So now you’ve decided to feel abundant, you have the right mindset, but you still have all this STUFF and nothing to wear.
I’ve heard the criticisms over Marie Kondo and minimalism- that these concepts are only for the rich. While it’s true to some extent that most people can’t live on very little without some degree of privilege, it’s a straw man. Neither one of these clutter gurus say you have to live on very little. It’s more that you should get rid of whatever is unnecessary and whatever is actively bad for you.
So I had a letterman jacket in high school, but to my great shame, I never lettered in anything. I never wore it because it looked odd without the letter. It was very expensive and it represented to me all the failures of my high school life. It’s not like I could ever wear the jacket even if I had lettered. Who wears a letterman jacket outside of high school? And I couldn’t sell it because it had my name embroidered on it. And I kept the jacket in my closet, where I would look at it everyday and feel the shame. (It’s kinda funny how stupid your high school problems seem when you’re older but then again, the shame and fear are still very real.) I could hear the voices that said “you’re not good enough” every time I saw this jacket.
So one day, I just threw it away. I felt like a huge burden had been lifted off my shoulders and mind.
Part of me thought that having things that made me feel shameful were good for me. Maybe it would remind me of when I didn’t work hard enough and make me work harder in the future. But all it did was cast a shadow on my day, every day. It just sucked my energy and provided nothing good. It was better gone. I realize that now.
And I guess you could say, well you had a jacket so you could get rid of that jacket. What if that’s your only jacket? Well, I guess if you had very strong negative feelings towards your only jacket, you could try swapping it with someone else for their jacket. Or put money in a fund to get rid of this jacket. Or worse to worse, try to change your relationship with your jacket. And I realize that sounds pretty stupid to have a relationship with your products, but it makes it much easier to change the relationship because the jacket can’t talk back.
Or you could still just throw it out. If you cannot stand the jacket, it might be worth it to be cold. You have to weigh the options there but hate is a strong word.
Marie Kondo’s tagline is everything in your house should “spark joy.” To me, I’ve turned her tagline around.
If it sparks joy, or is useful, then keep it.
If it sparks hurt or fear, and is not very useful then get rid of it.
So what does this all have to do with abundance? Well, I’ve been most successful at decluttering my closet. I have all my work clothes in one closet. When I wear something, I move it from one side of the closet to the other side. So how do I get dressed in the morning?
I pick something at random from the side of the closet that hasn’t been worn.
I don’t worry about it being something I hate, something that doesn’t fit, something that needs to be mended. I got rid of that stuff or I had it fixed. Though my closet has far fewer clothes, every thing I have is a winner.
It seems that even when we have a lot of something, we can feel like there isn’t enough. We have too many bad things clogging up our perception of what good things we have. If I had three times as many clothes, I might not have anything to wear because I would have to go through all these clothes to find something I like. If I had all these toxic friends, it might make it hard for me to realize who’s a good one. If I have all this clutter, I might not be able to find the precious things.
So I guess my advice on abundance is this: you have to choose it, you have to reframe your mindset to focus on gratitude and only bringing good stuff in, and you make sure to get rid of anything bad that would rob you of your abundance.
What things can you get rid of to make your life feel more abundant?
Counterintuitively, giving is a key part of feeling abundant. I’m currently reading The Broken Ladder and it starts off by saying that feeling poor can have debilitating effects whether or not you’re actually poor. And of course the problem with this is that numerically there is a limit on the number of people who can be poor. (Technically, this could be a large percentage depending on how you define it, but if we’re assuming that some people have to fall under “rich” and some people have to be “poor”, I guess we’d understand probably the bottom third to be poor). Technically anyone can “feel” poor even if they’re the richest person in the world, because feelings don’t have to be tethered to facts.
The way we feel poor is to look at people who have more. Thus, to feel rich, we should look at people who have less. Obviously, that sounds really condescending. I mean, don’t criticize those with less. I mean, give to those with less.
There’s a wealth of research that shows giving activates a part of the brain that is typically associated with rewards (food, sex, drugs, money). Giving has also been linked with better health outcomes, promotes social connectivity, and increased feelings of gratitude. It also just changes your worldview from inward facing to outward facing, increasing our humility and empathy. Better health, more connections, a decrease in pride and an in crease in gratitude would all seem to help decrease your feelings of relative poverty and increase your feelings of abundance.
But while it’s important to give, it’s also crucial that we be able to receive (or getting, as in, the name of this blog =D).
And I’m not saying you should give because you expect to receive anything tangible in return. First, I just don’t think life works like that so you’ll be mad at me for telling you a lie (although some research shows that giving is contagious, it doesn’t necessarily mean the contagion will come back to you). Second, there are perfectly good intangible reasons to give, as listed above.
But I don’t want to only say that giving alone is key to abundance. You’ll quickly be worn out. Receiving is also key to feeling abundance. I heard something on an episode of Rob Bell‘s podcast that really resonated with me: “You don’t take good care of yourself and you wonder why you have less and less to give.”
There’s all this talk about “self-care” and it sounds really mystical and self-indulgent. I’m not saying it is, but it just seems that way. I just don’t like the terminology. But I understand the concept. There’s so much pressure to be masochists – to get by on little sleep, to be as productive as a factory-farmed animal, to give and give and give. And I don’t want to advocate that. I want you to take good care of yourself. I want to take good care of myself. Microsoft’s Satya Nadella noted: “With all the abundance we have of computers and computing, what is scarce is human attention and time.”
We have no shortage of electronics or social media accounts or advertising. We have a scarcity of care, attention and time. And part of this will take some time to remedy by finding friends and family that will fill those needs but it starts with giving the attention to ourselves and being able to receive care and love from ourselves and others.
I think there is no better picture of a life of abundance than someone who realizes and receives love and attention from friends and family, and who give it freely to others. And if you have that, money becomes such a small factor in obtaining abundance. I mean, what more could you really need?