A blog to which I contribute recently won a contest, and upon finding out, my boyfriend suggested that we celebrate.
“Oh, no, it's not a huge deal,” I told him. “It was just a small contest.”
He responded, “But if you wouldn't have won, you'd be upset, right?”
“Yeah,” I admitted.
“So why not be happy now?”
My friends, I have set the bar for happiness way too high. I've made happiness an emotionally expensive luxury. When I make a mistake or fail at something, I think about it for days. I talk about it incessantly. I regale my annoyed friends and family members with the details of my mistake and point out the lesson learned.
But conversely, when I succeed at something, I quickly dismiss it. I move on. More often than not, those little milestones aren't anything to think, talk or be happy about; they're things I expect of myself. And while that punitive mind-set may help me reach my goals, I think it's time to make happiness as accessible as disappointment. I'm not talking about lowering the bar for success or goals or achievements — just happiness. My standards for everything else can and should be as high as I want them to be, but by setting the bar for happiness so high, I'm missing out on just how enjoyable life can be.
A sense of entitlement
Like most frugal people, I'm anti-entitlement. It bothers me when someone automatically thinks they're owed something that not everyone is owed. But as anti-entitlement as I am, I feel like my high-expectations mind-set comes from that same place. People with entitlement issues think, “This is what I deserve to have,” and people with ambition issues think, “This is what I deserve to be.”
It's one thing to strive for great things; it's another to think those things are automatically owed to you.
Making the small stuff significant
When I first started my get-out-of-debt journey, my dad gave me a copy of Dave Ramsay's Total Money Makeover. I had a few debts after college, and his snowball plan really spoke to me: pay off your smaller debts first, because it will keep you motivated. It was the first time that I realized money is more about mind than it is about math.
The snowball advice was effective for me because it allowed me to celebrate little milestones along my debt journey. It made the small stuff important, and I was happy each time I took down $150 here and $200 there. Soon enough, I was out of debt, but what's more, I actually enjoyed the journey of getting there. Why? Because I focused on the small stuff, and the small stuff made me happy. Being happy made the overall process enjoyable, and that enjoyment made me want to keep going. Similarly, if I take time to be happy about the milestones along my career, it would make my career a lot more pleasant. It would also keep me motivated to move forward.
Oh man, how a Shipley's doughnut used to bring me such happiness. If you don't know Shipley's, it's a Texas-based doughnut chain that makes Krispy Kreme taste like garbage — and I love Krispy Kreme. Years ago, I went to Shipley's with a friend, and I was so excited at the anticipation of that soft, glazed golden nugget that he joked, “Wow. It's sad that something so small makes you so happy.”
He was teasing me, but I didn't think it was sad at all — I thought it was resourceful. The higher the bar for happiness, the more it takes for you to be happy, obviously. I then asked him, “Well, what would it take to make you happy?” After some thought, he responded: “A wife and kids. And a six-figure salary.” Whoa! That's a tall order.
These days, I've been overlooking the little things. Like my friend, it's taking more and more for me to be happy as the years go by. Perhaps it's partially because, as a society, we're always so focused on progress. We can always have more Stuff, make more money, be better at what we do, etc. That's the unattainable American Dream, and I'm not necessarily against it. I think it's good to always have something to strive and work hard for. But I've made happiness more costly than it needs to be. A 95-cent doughnut just doesn't do it for me these days, and it should. Those doughnuts are really good.
Utilizing my frugality
Frugality is all about getting the most out of something. As a frugal person, I find it difficult to let things go to waste. I replant my grocery-store produce. I use our juicer pulp to make scones. I hate throwing things away, even the littlest things. So why do I throw away the little milestones in life so easily?
Furthermore, when I waste the little things, I'm also wasting potential inspiration and encouragement. If I would allow myself to celebrate the things I think are “not a huge deal,” I'm guessing it'll be easier to feel inspired to reach my next goal. It will help me remember what I'm working toward.
So this year, I've made it my resolution to lower the bar for happiness — not success, but happiness. Since I make the most out of my money, I want to make the most out of my happiness, too. If I reach a savings goal, I'm going to enjoy it. If something cool happens in my career, I'm going to enjoy that, too. And not only will savoring the little things help me to appreciate the journey, it'll keep me encouraged to strive for more.
Kristin Wong is a freelance blogger who frequently writes about relationships for MSNâ€™s The Heart Beat blog. After paying off her student loan debt, Kristin decided it was time to pursue her dream and also put her English degree to use. She scrimped, saved and in 2010, left her hometown of Houston, Texas to pursue a writing career in Los Angeles. Since then, she has written for television, web, and occasionally, sketch comedy. When sheâ€™s not attached to her laptop, Kristin enjoys baking, amateur gardening, listening to 60s rock and exploring her city.