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Thanks for a good life

Happy Thanksgiving image

I like Thanksgiving. Unlike the über-materialistic-buy-buy-buy madness of the four weeks that follow, Thanksgiving encourages us to focus on being grateful for the people and things we already have in our lives.

Who doesn’t enjoy gadgets and clothes and vacations and a nice house? But I don’t think they make us happy. Not really. (Okay, well, travel makes me pretty damn happy, but it’s best when I’m not alone.)

I’m most grateful for the things I can’t buy:

– My family and friends

– Good health

– The freedom to pursue the career I want

Boys with clown faces

Seriously, that’s it. That’s all I need. I could even live without the last one as long as I had the first two. Though I’d rather not. 😉

My iPhone might make my life easier, and even more fun, but I’d never trade it for my husband or one of my kids, or even a friend. Honest!

You laugh, but the rat race that so many of us are on because we feel like we have to have that car or live in that house or wear those clothes—just to impress a bunch of people who don’t love us—forces us to give up our time with those who do love us.

When my first son was born I really, really wanted to stay home with him, but I couldn’t because we had bills to pay. It never—not once—occurred to me that we could adjust our lifestyle to lower our expenses so I wouldn’t have to work.

(BTW, I’m not saying that staying at home is the right thing to do, only that it was the right thing to do for me.)

By the time I had my second son, we had been introduced to authors like Stephen R. Covey (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) and Thomas J. Stanley (The Millionaire Next Door), and we were thinking very differently about our money, our lives, and what matters.

I had quit my job to start a consulting business and wanted to continue working from home. We sold both of our newer cars and paid cash for an old van. I drove my husband to work on days I needed the car. We cut down eating out to once or twice a month at cheap restaurants. We budgeted everything down to the penny (still do).

Best thing we ever did. Tightening the belt doesn’t feel good—it’s hard to cut back on the lifestyle you’re used to—but it was worth it to be home with my babies.

Boys standing in the rain

It was worth it again in 2008 when I quit my 55+ hour/week job as a manufacturing engineer. That time was even harder because we had a big house in a nice neighborhood—the kind where everyone is trying to keep up with the Jones’—new cars, and a trip to Europe planned.

But we had learned our lesson. Since we’d been living below our means, we were able to get creative with our budget, postpone the trip to Europe for two years, and keep the cars and house.

The stress levels in our house plummeted. My kids finally had someone at home to help with their homework and pick them up from sports practice. My husband and I weren’t both getting home late and scrambling to put dinner on the table. We no longer had to spend our two precious days off each week running all the errands we couldn’t get done while working.

There’s something uniquely satisfying about stepping off the treadmill, backing away from the culture that tells us we need more, more, more to be happy, and refusing to be owned by the things we own.

We had less money and less of “the good life” and a lot more happiness.

Which would you prefer?

Boys sitting on grass facing away

A simpler lifestyle requires less cash. When you need less cash, you suddenly have more freedom in the work you choose.

Sure, we all need enough money for the basics, and not everyone can afford a safe roof over their head or good, healthy food on the table. But if you can, I’d encourage you to think about what you’re truly grateful for this year.

Does the life you live let you enjoy those people and things that matter most?

If not, are there things you’d be willing to give up so that you can enjoy them?

I hope I didn’t get too preachy, but I feel very strongly about making the most of this life we’re given. At the end, none of us will care if we’re surrounded by cars and computers, wearing fancy clothes and lying on satin sheets. We’re going to want our loved ones at our side.

I hope you have yours by your side this holiday.

Happy Thanksgiving!

17 Comments

  1. Reply

    Choices and priorities! Son and daughter are now grown, independent and pursuing their own lives with their partners. However, during their growing-up years, my husband and I did make many choices, list priorities, to facilitate the way that we wanted to raise a family. I chose to be at home with them as that is what fitted with our hopes and dreams. Whatever is decided in a family, it’s great to have these choices. Grateful every day for the ones we made. Happy Thanksgiving!

    • Reply

      That’s great, Patricia! I’m glad you were able to make it work. Half the battle is sitting down to figure out what your priorities are. I’ve had several life “realignments” after realizing I wasn’t living to mine. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Reply

    Wonderful column! And you’re living a life so much like mine has been. Like you, my dream was to stay home with our four kids (who are all now grown). SO thankful we made that happen. Worth every missed vacation, every stick of furniture we didn’t buy, every nice outfit I didn’t own, every box of Kraft macaroni and cheese we ate instead of steak. We’re still a one-car family and rarely eat out (unless Burger King is having their 2-for-1 Whopper sale. 😉 ) But we feel very blessed. So much to be thankful for! And much to look forward to.

  3. Reply

    Hi Gwen,

    Thanks for this post. Makes me glad all over again I organized my life around my kids. I must confess. I failed miserably as a consumer. I don’t think it was because I was brilliant, I think it was because I was so darn practical. I figured I could only wear one white shirt at the time. One blue shirt at the time. etc. So, why did I need twenty-five of each? And, besides my cleaners was not my favorite charity. Happy Thanksgiving !

    • Reply

      LOL, Curtis, I think failing as a consumer might just be my definition of success. I’m pretty practical too. Not getting hung up on buying the latest clothes is a lot easier when you have no fashion sense and prefer comfort over style (like me). 😉 Enjoy your holiday!

  4. Jan Petrie

    Reply

    Almost 25 years ago we too changed our thinking and priorities. Gone were yearly vacations and instant consumer gratification, entered family nightly dinners and 3-day weekend seasonal getaways.

    Put my regular gig on hold 15 wonderful years. From driving them everyday to school, bandaging every scrap, to seeing them suffer the first break-up to celebrating graduation and acceptances to colleges. Except for a brief hospital once (during which one child contracted bronchitis and the other almost flunked english), was lucky enough to be there each and every minute.

    I’m thankful to have survived the stroke and then appreciated everything I witnessed, mundane and momentous alike.

    Being an observer, photographer and writer. I have memories and material to never run dry.

    Real life stuff.

    Our youngest was kind enough to take his first steps on a Sunday so my husband (business owner) could be there and our youngest was lucky enough to have her severest stomach when moi was making dinner, leading to a ‘let’s just make sure it’s nothing serious’ acute care visit, eventful ambulance ride and ending in 6am emergency appendectomy 11 hours later.

    For all those cynics who said…’Oh you stay home? You must get bored.’

    ‘Not quite! ‘

    • Reply

      Wow, Jan. Definitely never boring. So glad you survived the stroke! And that you’ve been able to live your life according to your priorities. 🙂

  5. Reply

    ‘Live simply, simply to be sure that everyone can live’ said Gandhi.
    We made, three years ago a big changement in our live, my husband and I, at age 60 we became Vegan.
    By following Dr Michael Greger on is site, nutritionfacts.org, we learned a lot regarding health and what we eat. Our health improved greatly.
    Your words encourage me to share this experience with you.
    We retired at 60 because we considered we had enough even though it is not that much.
    We choose the freedom, and we LOVE it.
    ‘Non rien de rien, non je ne regrette rien’ used to sing Édith Piaf, this great french singer.
    Have a nice day Gwen,
    Lison,

    • Reply

      Lison: We’ve been vegan just over three years as well. One of the best things I ever did on so many levels. Congratulations on your retirement at 60, and thanks for sharing with me! 🙂

  6. Reply

    I completely admire and agree with the decisions that enabled you to stay together as a family and truly be a family. That counts for a lot!

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