Sometimes the desire I have for the things that I know will not bring me any real long lasting happiness can be so strong that I have found myself wishing those things would cost more than they do. Or even, perhaps, that I had less money altogether.
When I have less money, or at least the perception of less, I seem to take much more care in how I choose to spend my money. I am often more resourceful and find myself having unique experiences that can bring feelings of exquisite happiness.
Often less really is more.
Money and happiness – an expert’s struggle
The question as to whether money buys happiness is an important one, and one I’ve spent more time than most people thinking carefully about. By some accounts I might even be considered one of the world’s experts on the topic. Not because I’ve got a lot of money or anything like that, but because it was once my job to examine the question deeply, and many of my discoveries were eventually published in leading academic journals.
And then there is of course my present pilgrimage to Bhutan, a country where the pursuit of national happiness is favoured over ever higher national income. I have been journeying toward Bhutan on a bicycle for the last 15 months and because of the nature of the journey the subject of money and happiness is never far from my thoughts. The length of time I’ve been on the road is testament to remaining conscious about the relevance of money for happiness.
Yet it remains an everyday challenge to stay conscious of how one spends their time and money, and it is very easy to slip into the mind-set that through spending more money life will be better.
Lessons from a mistake at an ATM
I finally arrived in Thailand last week, after crossing a land border from Laos. One of the first things I did was head straight to the nearest town to find an ATM machine to draw some local currency. It was a hot day and I wasn’t thinking too clearly. Rather than draw out the equivalent of £100 in local currency, enough to easily meet my basic needs for more than a week, possibly two, I mistakenly drew out the equivalent of £500.
When I first realised what I’d done I felt frustrated and loathed myself for a bit. However, I soon broke through this with acceptance of the situation, and in addition to that there was a perception that I was somehow wealthier. I noticed myself thinking that I could, and perhaps should, stay in more hotels than usual rather than my tent. I perceived myself to have an abundance of money that on some level I thought I may as well spend.
Whilst there is an ease and comfort staying in hotels, one hotel is often much the same as another, and though I always appreciate a shower after each day in the saddle, I typically then might eat at a restaurant eating less than ideal food, and then collapse on the bed and spend too much time doing relatively unfulfilling things on the internet. Sometimes that might be exactly what I need and it can be nourishing. Most of the time, however, it is not.
What I really crave, that I rarely get from staying in a hotel, is deeper connection with others and myself, and it is more likely to come when I set out to find a little spot to bed down in my tent for the night. The experience is nearly always unique – I might experience, for example, a beautiful landscape all to myself or, whilst I search for the ideal spot, some soul might cross my path with whom I make a connection with. I will then cook a little food on my small stove, look up at the stars, and feel really thankful.
I’m intrigued that when I perceive myself to have more money I am tempted to eschew something that, though not without challenges, brings me greater happiness.
Lessons from changes in the cost of living as I have ridden through countries
I was initially aghast at the cost of things when I finally arrived in the USA. Prior to my arrival there I had spent 10 months of this journey cycling in Latin American countries where in general, due to the combination of local living costs and the strength of my own currency, many things were relatively less expensive than I was used to. It meant that spending my target of only £10 on day to day living costs was very easy. I had a lot of freedom to spend but what I noticed is that I just tended to buy a lot of junk food and, as above, take more hotels than was perhaps optimal.
When I was in the USA I’d go into shops and look at the price of things and considered more carefully as to whether I really needed them. I didn’t even think about staying in hotels, and when I wasn’t enjoying the hospitality of a wonderful soul I’d met I’d just be in my million star hotel (the tent). Though the cost of living was more expensive in the USA I was no less happy; I just found other ways to be so with a little less.
Would I be happier if I was able to buy less?
I have sometimes wondered what my journey would be like if I had less money. I don’t think I’d have been any less happy for it. I’d have been even more conscious than I am of how I am spending, I’d have had to have been, and perhaps I might have found more happiness as a result. I’ve met many cyclists who travel on much less than I and I’m inspired every time I get social media notifications updating me on their own journeys, especially when I see them having enriching experiences that I know have come about because of limited funds.