Your friends and family influence you. They affect the way you view life. If your friends are frugal, it’s easier to be frugal yourself. But if they’re wrapped up in consumerism and materialism, and can be difficult to resist the urge to join them. It’s only natural to want to fit in.

Rob wrote yesterday to ask how to handle a situation where he wants to lead a simple life, but those around him aren’t supportive. How can he cope with peer pressure? Here’s his story:

Since we try to live frugally, we don’t have a television or video games or any other electronic toys in our house. We try to spend time as a family, talk to each other, read books, try to help my wife in cooking etc.

My colleagues at work tell me that I live a miserable life, and I don’t give my family “materialistic life pleasures”. Those sort of words hurt me a lot. We don’t have a TV at our house and my colleague makes fun of this thing all the time.

How should I respond to people like this? Should I even pay attention to them? I don’t want to spoil my relationships at work. I’ll bet a lot of your readers experience the same thing. What are your thoughts?

It can be tough when you’re trying to save, trying to focus on the simple things, and everyone else around you seems to value Stuff. But materialism doesn’t lead to happiness. Though having money might increase your happiness, wanting money (and things it can buy) almost certainly will not. “Indeed, not only does materialism not bring happiness,” writes Sonja Lyubormirsky in The How of Happiness, “but it’s been shown to be strong predictor of unhappiness.”

Rob needs to ask himself some questions: “Am I happy? Is my family happy?” If he can answer yes to both of these, then what does he care what other people think? If he continues to struggle, he should remind himself of a few ways to cope with peer pressure:

  • Trust your instincts. If you’re sure of your choices and the reasoning behind them, say so. When you get pressure, explain that you’re happy just the way you are. Be confident. Be proud to be a non-conformist.
  • Laugh it off. When your friends and family get on your case, make a joke and move on. Don’t let their opinions rattle you.
  • Find other friends. This isn’t always possible (or desirable). Rob may be stuck with his co-workers eight hours a day. But if your friends are pressuring you into a lifestyle you don’t want, hang out with other friends. True friends support each other; they don’t tear each other down.

To live happily as a non-conformist in a world filled with peer pressure, you have to learn to ignore everybody. Do what you believe is right, and to hell with what other people think.

Rant: I think it’s nuts that Rob’s co-workers make fun of him for not having a television. Maybe it’s because I grew up without a TV, wrote my senior thesis on how TV influences children, and rarely watch TV even as an adult, but I don’t see how the lack of television is something to mock. If anything, it ought to be praised. The most productive, least materialistic people I know are those who watch little or no television. This site would never have been built if I were a TV-watcher.

To me, Rob’s life doesn’t sound miserable. It sounds idyllic. It’s the sort of thing Kris and I aspire to: spending time together, talking and reading. I’m proud of what he’s doing.

Do you have financial trolls in your life? How do you handle them? How do you cope with peer pressure?

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