By: Revanche

At the intersection of money, happiness, and fulfillment

April 3, 2017

Happiness, joy, and fulfillment(With thanks to Ms. Steward for putting into words the title of this post I’ve been ruminating on.)

We’ve been talking about happiness a lot in this area of the interwebs.

Recently, Mrs. BITA discussed happiness portfolios which I LOVE.  I assiduously tend mine, nurturing the connections to my loved ones every bit as much as I do our investment portfolio.

Much as I desperately want to, I can’t control everything, or pretend that happiness is an easily attained Zen state.

I can’t wish away pain, I can’t just decide not to be first trimester pregnancy-level tired.

I can choose other things, though. I can choose to support friends and chosen family during tough times, to celebrate with them during good times. Life can be a collection of these shared moments.

Then, Ms. Steward talked about the connection we make between our income and our self worth.

For me, coming from survival economics, it’s been a journey from needing money above all else, to knowing that it plays a critical role in our lives, but money is only one of many components of comfort and happiness. It’s natural that my self worth is linked to my income and net worth. There aren’t many tangible ways to measure success and money is one of them, naturally, because that’s usually how you see it celebrated when you achieve successes at work. If you do really well for yourself, typically, you can make a case for yourself to earn more money, because you’re worth more. That was the cornerstone on which I built my career. The mentality fed my fire to over-achieve, to build success on success.

That has evolved, though. Two Christmases ago, I reflected on our contentment. It was almost puzzling to realize that I truly was content. It didn’t seem possible, but here we are, two years later and I still am content.

Obviously that doesn’t mean life is perfect. It gets bumpy when you negotiate conflicting, deeply-ingrained beliefs, it stays bumpy when I still have tension over what my next career steps will be.

Thankfully, we learned the art of compromise and that gives us the flexibility to let go of a stressor, step back, and reassess, or to know that our partner will help us if we need a hand. That’s not something we could buy. It was a knowledge earned after putting in the hours into our relationship, developing trust in the scorched earth of my heart, by showing up, repeatedly, reliably, over and over, day after day. I could have bought a whole lot of therapy, I could have made PiC try to buy his way in, but we took the harder, more austere route – the one without easy credit card swipes, but much more meaning.

Don’t get me wrong, a surprise flower and donut will always put a smile on my face. The gift of actual gifts is not to be scorned! Hanging from a hook on the necklace holder he picked and put up for me is a deeply cherished sterling silver necklace from an early anniversary. They both mean a lot to me.

But as Maggie discussed, I don’t look outside myself for validation, to form the basis for my joy. Not anymore. My acts of service are rooted in what I expect of myself, though they be for others. My sense of achievement draws from my professional and personal accomplishments, but it’s no longer rooted in the salary I draw.

Penny touched on how difficult it is to move away from that mentality, and I won’t lie – it was the work of many years, and years of solid earning – to make it.

Sometimes it puts me in a hard place. If I can only feel fulfillment, that savory-sweet new fulfillment, when I do something that I consider worthwhile, it can be a long dry spell between flashes. External fulfillment is a much quicker fix. Swiping my card for a beautiful sweater on sale gives me something tangible to hold and enjoy. It ticks the same pleasure center in my brain that achieving a desired goal does. It shouldn’t, but it does, and I know it does. So once in a while, once in a long while, I take that shortcut.

I save rigorously so that I can afford it but that’s a zero-sum game and I know that fact even better. Spending isn’t the answer. It can be once in a while, and it’s no sin, but it’s a cheap mini Snickers compared to the decadent luxurious chocolate mousse of closing a long project successfully. No sweater will beat that sense of satisfaction of saving thousands by refinancing. It’ll tide me over but it doesn’t fill my well.

Right now, in general big picture terms, life is pretty good. Zoom in a little closer and there are a lot of empty spaces to be filled in, question marks to be replaced with answers, and it’s incredibly uncomfortable when everything is in flux, but they’re not in a dire state.

My life pie chart is best when balanced between my family, working productively, and nurturing friendships.

I draw joy, grow happiness, and achieve fulfillment by working to earn money, enjoying my family, nurturing friendships that I’ve built over the past two decades. I deepen the strength of our family and our relationships and that pays back dividends in love and support.

And here’s the other side of my happiness truth: happiness isn’t solely a personal choice.

It can be an attitude but unlike some, I have not yet reached the state of nirvana. My happiness can be impacted by the actions of others that increase or decrease demands on me. With chronic pain dogging me, it’s impacted by how my pain fluctuates, daily, hourly. It’s impacted by whether my contributions to the pie are matched by those I engage with or if it’s just all me doing the heavy lifting for a while.

It’s important to recognize that in this, just like most things in life, we only have so much control over. Without that acceptance, or acknowledgement of what can unbalance our happiness, how can we hope to rebalance it?

:: How do you seek long term happiness? What brings a smile to your face on a gloomy day?

*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich.*

19 Responses to “At the intersection of money, happiness, and fulfillment”

  1. I think one key thing you said is about looking outside of yourself for validation. Your expectations are almost never fulfilled because you may get a tiny bump here and there from many likes on a picture, or traffic from a post, but then things return to baseline. Whatever happiness level you were before you go back to. And then if you go through a period of no likes or bad traffic to your site, you feel like shit. It’s not a good place to put your attention. It’s hard in this community because there is a lot of humble-bragging going on. I think that’s why it was hard for me to post my net worth. I didn’t want anyone to feel good or shitty. It’s just what is and I want some accountability.
    Tonya@Budget and the Beach recently posted…March Rewind: My Net Worth RevealedMy Profile

    • Revanche says:

      Right – if you’re relying on external validation, that’s both ephemeral and unreliable, it takes a special community to get continual validation, and I’m not sure if that’s one you’d really WANT to be part of? Seems maybe not healthy.

  2. I am so sorry about the chronic illness. I just can’t even. Hugs? Despite some terrible things you are dealing with, you do seem legitimately content. And that is great. For me, it’s all about how my relationships are going. If I haven’t totally lost it to my kids or if I’m actually communicating well with Mr. T (since he’s a non-talker), life is great despite any “empty spaces” as you said.
    Maggie @ Northern Expenditure recently posted…March 2017 Plan UpdateMy Profile

    • Revanche says:

      Thanks, I think you know what it’s like to have health troubles long term, and it’s tough! But I’ve found that it’s not the end of the world, over time.

  3. Ms. Steward says:

    Thank you so much for writing this! Obviously, my validation metrics are still pretty tied to my salary–something I think will be resolved as I both grow wiser and make slightly more. This gives me hope that I can someday, even though I come from a similar survivalist background, find even more lasting contentment (not that I’m terribly discontent now).

    I appreciate your honesty about dealing with you chronic pain and how the changing nature of that impacts each moment. I am not dealing with things of similar intensity, but often I feel like my contentment is impacted each moment by just life–and I don’t even consider myself a particularly changeable person. It was great to hear that vocalized and yet also hear, despite that, we can reach a general contentment in the mess.

    • Revanche says:

      I think that you’ve got a leg up on those of us by being aware that you can find contentment that’s not dependent on your salary, though obviously there’s a certain amount of SENSE to having that connection while you’re building up a foundation.

      It truly helps to recognize that we are impacted by external factors, that’s when you start seeing yourself more honestly and are able to handle those ups and downs better.

  4. Mrs. BITA says:

    My mother has lived with chronic pain most of her life. I’ve lived through brief periods of pain. Pain makes my world shrink, and I shrink as a person when I am living through it. I have a healthy amount of respect for folks like you and my mother who not only don’t let the pain define them, but find it possible to be a source of strength and happiness to others.
    Mrs. BITA recently posted…Exploring the World with a Toddler in TowMy Profile

    • Revanche says:

      My empathies to your mother – it’s a sucky club to be in. Pain definitely has a way of shrinking your world, I feel it every day, and I thank goodness for the internet that still allows me to connect to awesome people every day.

  5. Thank you for writing this. So many blogs try to be this shiny beam of positivity that assert financial wellness and happiness are easy equations to be solved and ignore things like chronic illness. Scratch that. Society at large tends to ignore it. Internet hug! ?
    Felicity (@FelicityFFF) recently posted…Six Steps to Saving Money by DIYing Everything Like a Bad-ass EngineerMy Profile

    • Revanche says:

      My guess is that society, and bloggers, tend not to write about this part (except for me and Abby, I think!) because no one sticks around for the Debbie Downers 🙂 And society doesn’t know how to appropriately respond to people who are suffering.

  6. “Happiness portfolio”: what a great way of saying “count your blessings!” 🙂

    I learned something about this subject from my father. He was a Merchant Marine deck officer. We would take him down to the boat — in Rodeo when we lived in the Bay Area or in San Pedro when we lived in Southern California. He would say good-bye to my mother and then he would walk away. He would never look back. He would never wave at us. It was a long way across the parking lots and the dock and up the gangplank. But he never once looked back.

    Never said it in so many words, but that’s what he taught me: Don’t look back. He didn’t talk about his past (though I gather from what my mother said that it might not have been very happy). He didn’t talk about his family. He never second-guessed or hashed over what came before.

    I’ve made some major mistakes in my life. No doubt he did, too. You can’t change what’s done. And often you can’t do very much to change what you have in your hand just now. So don’t obsess about what’s done. Move forward and do the best with what you have today.

    That’s a large part of contentment, I think: coming to terms with what you have right now.
    Funny about Money recently posted…Paper!!!My Profile

  7. Femme says:

    Love this introspection! For me, happiness is in no way tied to net worth. In fact, many times it’s been the exact opposite. A big paycheck can make you feel important, but not necessarily happy. For me, having a clear vision of my values and living in accordance with them in as active a way as I can has been what brings me happiness. Not the fleeting feeling, which is another thing all together I’m convinced. But general contentment, as you’ve outlined.
    Femme recently posted…How to Write a Goodwill LetterMy Profile

  8. ” It ticks the same pleasure center in my brain that achieving a desired goal does. It shouldn’t, but it does, and I know it does. So once in a while, once in a long while, I take that shortcut”

    I think sometimes we’re a little too hard on ourselves about this. I mean, if we’re 80% financially responsible (and let’s be real -for most pf bloggers, the number is much higher than that), savoring the occasional reward feeling surge when we buy something pretty or delicious or overall consumable, fleeting but wonderful for a hot second, why kick ourselves over it. Enjoy the high for a minute and then move back into our normal territory.
    Mel @ brokeGIRLrich recently posted…Financially Savvy Saturdays #189My Profile

    • Revanche says:

      I don’t know about anyone else but for me, it’s “If you give a mouse a cookie” syndrome. Once I get one nice shiny thing, my brain goes down a path of “oh! And also, I want…” and it’s always far more painful to force that to stop than to skip buying entirely. It’s like me and pastries. I’m prone to binging when I start so I don’t let myself have some every week. If I did, I’d want five every day. So I allow myself to eat to my bingey satisfaction once a month or two to achieve the average of moderation. It’s basically budgeting willpower. I don’t want to waste a lot of it everyday.

  9. My wife and I both suffer from chronic illness and it can be hard to find that long term happiness when dealing with the daily struggles. But since neither of us is in the working world anymore, the tendency to equate self worth with income or net worth has receded. It’s most certainly about the relationships in our lives. That’s not to say that small trinkets can’t bring pleasure, but the long term happiness is about the people.

    • Revanche says:

      So true – it’s partly why I write about this, to keep it top of mind and remind myself that overall, despite the struggle and the pain and frustrations, we do still have that common thread of happiness wending through our daily lives.

      Small trinkets bring small pleasure, real happiness is tied to more substantive things.

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