“Happy Father’s Day to my dad. We didn’t have a lot growing up, but you worked hard and showed us how to make the most out of our situation.”
So began Debbie’s Facebook tribute to her dad on Father’s Day. Debbie is my friend from high school, and I was surprised to see what she had written. We went to high school in the late ‘80s, and compared to current times, it seemed like none of us had a lot. However, as far as I remember, Debbie had a good childhood.
She traveled overseas twice during high school—once to Europe as part of a special choir, and once to Spain for Spanish Club. In addition, she and her brother and sister and parents took family vacations every summer. Sure, her dad worked hard; he often worked overtime, and her mom also worked a part-time job.
However, to me, they always seemed to have a good life, which was why I was so surprised by her Facebook post. Not having a lot growing up and making the most out of your situation are not terms I would have applied to Debbie’s childhood.
It’s All About Perspective
But, then again, my family was never as prosperous as Debbie’s family.
We always had food on the table and a roof over our heads, but our clothes were hand me downs, and when my dad was unemployed for 18 months, our relatives chipped in to donate money to make sure we didn’t lose our house. We only took two family vacations—once when I was five we traveled about 4 hours from home upstate and stayed for four days and when I was looking at colleges in Vermont, my mom took me there to see them in person. Even on that trip we were frugal—we packed all of our own food for the entire trip.
Yet, I had one more friend in high school, Brenda, who had even less than I did growing up. Brenda got her lunch from the free lunch program at school. When I went to her house, the cupboards were frequently empty, and I know Brenda went hungry sometimes. She never went on vacation with her family because they never had the money. To Brenda, I had a lot.
It’s all about perspective.
Change Your Perspective, Change Your Life
Who do you surround yourself with? Do you have friends and neighbors who are always spending carelessly, buying material goods? If so, you likely feel “poorer” than them if you have less.
The key is to remind yourself how blessed you truly are. Most of us in the United States do not know the true meaning of poverty. Even if we struggle with money and have many wants, we often have our most basic needs met.
Sure, making more money might help you feel better about your life, but that’s not always the case. Perhaps the answer to feeling better about your financial situation is to change your perspective. Often, people who spend time in Third World countries are shocked by American standards when they return. While you don’t have to go to a Third World country to change your perspective, you can take other steps to rid yourself of materialism.
Forbes recommends two important strategies:
- Spend money on others rather than yourself.
The idea is that if we underindulge, we appreciate what we spend our money on more. “The concept is that by denying yourself the excess that you may ultimately desire may allow you to savor and appreciate the finer things in life” (Forbes).
There is also quite a body of research that shows we’re happy when we give to others rather than buying another materialistic item for ourselves. “People who spend money on others rather than themselves are actually happier in the long run” (Forbes).
If you find yourself longfully looking at others and their lives, as Debbie must have done time and time again, there are ways to find contentment in your situation.
What strategies do you use to find contentment in your own financial situation?