One of the struggles I have come into over and over again while working to eliminate debt is the feeling that I am missing out. That I don’t have much. That I’m struggling to get by. At least, that’s the default narrative that seems to come up for most people. The language we use to talk about frugality often generates this mentality: we cut back so that we can get by on a shoestring budget, eking out a living on paltry resources.
Good news! That narrative is a bunch of garbage.* We live in the most abundant time in human history. We communicate at the speed of light with people 20,000 miles away via satellites orbiting the Earth 250 miles above us. Life expectancy continues to grow longer, and medicine promises to begin helping people live to 120 in the near future. Food and drinking water in the industrialized world are ubiquitous. Basically no reason exists to have an attitude of despair because you are choosing to empower yourself with debt freedom by eschewing a few frivolous amenities.
Getting into this new, more positive mental state can be difficult at first. But the way our brains work, the more we actively choose to put ourselves in that loop—and yes, it is a choice—the easier it is to get there over and over again. And that helps you see the startling abundance we are steeped in. Here are a few easy methods to encourage yourself to feel good about where you are right now.
Start By Practicing Just a Little Gratitude
If you do nothing else, do this. As part of your morning routine, find three specific experiences, people, or objects for which you have reason to be thankful in the last 24 hours. Why? It forces you to think about something positive. The more you search for positive thoughts, the easier they are to find. As I write this, I have not done my own yet today. Here are mine, by way of example:
- having a hot cup of home brewed coffee with Mrs. Mortimer while we sat outside watching the sun rise and our breath leave in small clouds
- eating homemade lasagna with my youngest daughter while she talked about wanting to be able to walk on the ceiling
- playing tag and soccer with my son at the park down the street from our house
Be as specific as possible. Don’t regurgitate the same unthinking gratitudes we hear so often like “family” or “health.” Those are absolutely things you should be grateful for, but it doesn’t help develop your mental discipline at finding the good in the world around you. It’s also even better for you if you write them down. The more you practice gratitude everyday, the more you’ll be thankful for what you have right next to you. It’s hard to feel deprived when you feel thankful for all the good things around you.
Focus on the Connections
Another way to appreciate what’s around you is to think about the deep connections our everyday objects have with the rest of the world. It’s so easy to take these connections for granted.
Think about something as simple as the fork you use for dinner. How many metals went into making it? What kind of alloy is it? Where did those metals come from? Who was responsible for mining them? Who designed the shape of the fork? How were the metals formed? If a coating was applied, how was that done? Why did the designer settle on the particular height and width? Who did they have in mind when they created it? Who packaged the fork in the flatware set at the store? Who was responsible for stocking it on the shelf? Who carried it across the country, or perhaps the world, before it made it to the store at all?
It took a tremendous network of people and resources just for you to have that fork! And here you sit, at the very end of this incredible chain that all began with some other person’s idea about a simple, everyday object. And you are surrounded by hundreds of them. What an abundant world!
Think About Your Meaning Markers
How you orient your thinking has a lot to do with how you spend your time, and what you think you’re
getting out of that time. Be clear with yourself. What matters to you? The positive psychologist Shawn Achor has written in The Happiness Advantage about what he calls “meaning markers” which are essentially targets that relate to your core values. Like your gratitudes, your meaning markers should be specific. Again, “family” and “health” are too vague to orient your life choices. Your meaning markers are specific values that might be updated every year or even more frequently. Here are a few of mine this year:
- spend at least 30 minutes a day reading to the kids
- bike to work at least 3 times per week
- eliminate $25,000 in debt by the end of July
These are specific markers that I can use to orient my decisionmaking. New episode of my favorite show available to view, but kids are still awake and want to spend time with me? That gets in the way of my first meaning marker. Easy choice. Weather is slightly cold, and I start thinking about driving to work. But that will depreciate my car and costs way more than you’d expect in ownership costs (~$0.54 per mile!) and requires burning unnecessary fuel. Those get in the way of my second marker, and very likely the third.
Having these written down as a reminder is great way of reorienting yourself when you start getting sucked into negative thinking like, “it’s cold, why should I have to ride a bike to work?!” Well, because by not riding my bike, I’m compromising two of my meaning markers. In this way, doing something slightly uncomfortable becomes positive—I am gaining progress towards my goals, rather than suffering, or losing out on something. It always feels better to be gaining than losing!
What about you? What do you do to help yourself stay in a positive mindset while living a frugal life?