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. Even after that, I wondered, when would I ever feel like I have enough?
Abundance is a Choice
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, well, 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 told her attendant that 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 I have already decided to love it.
Most people would think, I’ll see what I get and then determine how I feel. That assumes that the external circumstances make the decision for how you feel; it takes away your control over your feelings. This might be ok if things turn out to your liking, but is devastating if the circumstances are devastating. Instead, this woman was making the decision that no matter the circumstances, she would be happy. Rather than having the circumstances control her feelings, she was going to project her feelings onto her circumstances. Whatever the room would look like, she was going to project happiness upon it.
I think it’s the same with abundance. You can pick a number and say, “that’s when I’ll feel the abundance.” But there is no number that makes your feelings automatically change. You think the external circumstances are the chief factor in determining your happiness. But the money won’t change your feelings; you have to. Feeling abundance is a choice that we make for ourselves every day, every minute.
Creating an Abundance Mindset
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 (streaming on Amazon), and throughout the movie, people described 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.
Reframing 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. It’s not that you’re broke, it’s that you’re picky.
Counterintuitively, I think we feel scarcity when we have too many things. It’s because we haven’t properly curated our things. We have too many bad things clogging up our perception of what good things we have. If I mindlessly bought new clothes I could end up with 10 times as many clothes and nothing to wear because I would have to go through all these garbage clothes to find something I like. If I had all these toxic friends, it might make it hard for me to realize I have good ones. The bad people often can distract us from the good things.
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.
If you wake up and have to deal with a slew of bad things, you can have a feeling of scarcity. When you have only good things in your life, it’s hard not to feel abundant.
Another counterintuitive point is that 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.
Treating Ourselves Well
But while it’s important to give, it’s also crucial that we be able to receive (or get, as in, give and get =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 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 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 for 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, if you have that, what more could you really need?
How to Live Abundantly On a Budget
Marketers would have you believe that buying this or that product, car, or house is the key to abundance. That marketing ploy actually leads to discontent, which is exactly what the marketers want. You get on a treadmill of wanting, buying, being discontent and wanting again.
The only way to stop running is to get off the treadmill. Look at what you already have, get rid of what you don’t want, spend your time and money on caring for yourself and others. An abundant life can never be bought with money, but only with intention.