Living fully requires you to choose boldly, to shape your life according to your own values, goals and dreams instead of letting yourself be pushed along by outside forces. It also requires you to choose realistically. You probably can’t fit all the things you want into your life. There’s an old proverb–Spanish or Persian, depending who you believe–which says “Take what you want, says God; take it, and pay for it.” When you choose what matters most and accept the cost of that choice you set yourself free from pressure and confusion, and you open yourself to meaning and gratitude.
Psychologist Mary Pipher writes, “If we just let the culture happen to us we end up rushed, stressed, addicted, unhealthy and broke.” You’re constantly bombarded by ads and media messages telling you what to do: Stay tuned! Don’t miss it! Treat yourself! Buy now and save! You read one vaguely interesting story, notice an eye-catching sidebar and click on that, leave a comment, notice a link in someone else’s comment…. and before you know it the evening, or the weekend, is gone. You go to the restaurant because they have such nice publicity, order the new gadget because everyone else is getting it… and you end up locked into a job that pays enough so you can keep getting things you don’t really want. The alternative to this drifting isn’t a stingy and joyless life. It’s conscious choice.
Ask yourself: What brings the most joy into your life? What are you most proud of? What do you most wish to cherish, foster or protect in the world outside you? (This could be a great global cause, or the sense of community in your neighborhood, or the health of a nearby stream, or bluegrass music, or math instruction for kids…) What would you most like to add to your life if only you had time and money for it? Take a moment to write your answers down.
Reality Check (1)
Now ask yourself: Would an outsider be able to guess your answers to the questions above by observing how you spend your time and money?
If the answer isn’t clear, try keeping track of that spending for a week. Don’t try to change your habits. Just follow your normal routine, and make notes of how you spend each dollar and each half-hour. (You may do this with all your time and money, or only with your free time and your discretionary spending. In the second case, look closely at which purchases you consider ‘necessary’.)
Look back at your record of what you want and value. Consider whether you’re spending your time and money–your life–on those things. If not, think about ways to close the gap. This doesn’t have to be a huge dramatic step. Maybe you can forgo texting and social networking for one evening each week and read to your child, walk in the woods or practice your cello. Start with small changes and see what brings you satisfaction.
Reality Check (2)
Whatever your life goals are, if you have a toddler, or a relative who is sick or elderly and frail, much of your time and energy may be demanded whether you like it or not. In these circumstances it is both harder and more important to spend whatever free time you do have in a way that is truly satisfying.
Your Money Or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin discusses mindful financial choices, large and small. The Shelter Of Each Other by Mary Pipher discusses the deliberate setting of family priorities in the midst of a confusing and overwhelming culture.