I never worried about money when I was young and single and earning nothing in New York City. I never really worried about money until sometime in my 30s, not quite sure when, when it hit me that there were more bills to pay, more mouths to feed, a future to finance and the what-ifs of mortality setting in.
I don’t really worry about money anymore – and that’s a feat I am proud to have achieved. But for a few years in there, I worried relentlessly about having enough, affording everything before me, achieving those milestones that would let me do what I dreamed of and more.
Money is a funny thing. It’s a necessary evil in this life, but it comes and goes, truly.
In most nations of the world, there is a scant amount to go around. People subsist on bare essentials every day. Their closets are filled with far less than we Americans deem “necessary” and the idea of a two-car family in a single large house with enough grounds to surround you is laughable.
When I was in Bali last year, I marveled at the family compound. Truly, generations of a family live together in so many locales, with several children, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins boarding together.
There are buildings for family meals and a whole courtyard devoted to devotion with religious icons and worship spaces. The focus is on what’s important rather than having, getting, affording.
Whole communities come together to celebrate and observe the meaningful moments of their lives. Each day is peppered with religious observance, so that when you walk up and down streets, you smell the incense and notice the colorful offerings placed before storefronts and door frames to please the gods.
I passed a woman carrying quite a load on her head up hundreds of steps from an ancient temple site. The scenery was lush and green, and though we comfy westerners sweated our way through the climb, she proceeded peacefully, seemingly unaware of the burdens she carried.
They weren’t burdens. It’s all in the frame of reference.
So this money thing – it’s actually an illusion.
The more we have, the more we worry; the less we have, the more we focus on what’s important.
When we go inward and listen to the silence, we notice the meaningful things of our lives. It’s not going and doing and racing and getting. It’s being and helping and serving and noticing.
I remember, when my children were small, people saying, “Little children, little problems, big kids, big problems.”
It’s the same thing with money, with lifestyle. When you live in a 12×12 college dorm room and have a part-time job to afford your pizza outings, everything is fine. You don’t think about it, you don’t worry, you just live.
When you inhabit the 5,000-square-foot abode, suddenly you focus on grounds upkeep and furniture and polishing the floors and it’s no longer OK to buy wine in a box – suddenly, you crave the corked concoction that’s been in a cellar for decades and deemed fine by some high-brow specialist.
It’s all about perspective. Focus inward or focus outward? Only you can decide.