I took a class this morning on stress management and one of the most interesting parts of the class was when we discussed reasons for stress in our culture today. A lot of the usual answers were thrown out: technology, traffic, cost of living, culture of perfection (being the perfect mom, boss, employee, wife, homemaker with a smile on your face), longer working hours, etcetera, and then someone finally pointed out the culture of consumerism. Technology is a product of our consumerism. Traffic is a product of our consumerism. Increased cost of living is a product of our consumerism. Perfection plays into the culture of consumerism. Longer working hours are necessary to afford the culture of consumerism. Our stress is proportional to how much we buy into consumerism.
This was not a revelation to me; I’ve always believed that a simpler life is a happier one, but it led me to realize something I hadn’t before. I actually have a pretty good handle on my stress. Compared to some of the other people in the room this morning, I’m actually not that stressed out. Sure, I wish I was making more money and I wish I was working more, but for the most part, I’m a pretty happy person.
When I started this job, I worried if I was making the right decision. I worried if I would have enough money. I worried about how I would survive on so little money, if I would ever get ahead, if I was being stupid. I even worried about how much I worried—lying awake at night wondering if I would be lying awake every night and how long I could possibly gone on like this… in the second week of my job.
Guess what? My fears at the beginning of my job were unfounded. I don’t lie awake every night worrying about money. I don’t lie awake worrying if I’m earning enough. I don’t feel deprived because I don’t go to restaurants anymore or because I eat a lot of rice (eating some right now!). I’m not resentful when I decide I can’t afford a t-shirt or when I carpool to practice to save money on gas. To be honest, I don’t really notice. My expectations and my lifestyle have adjusted to my lower income.
Most of the things we think we need we don’t. I don’t need to socialize by going out to drink. I don’t need to spend $50 on groceries each week. I don’t need to buy something to bring to a work potluck. These are choices that I make, and they’re choices that I can change. Change is stressful, and I feel extra stressed and anxious for a few weeks after a big change. But I adjust. What was new and frightening becomes comfortable. What I thought was impossible becomes routine. I can live on a lot less than I thought I needed and I feel less stressed while I do it.