Happiness, Minimalism, and Escaping Debt Forever

Get Out of Debt
*photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/pgautier/

 

The Sentinelese people are possibly the most remote tribe in existence. They live on the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal and little is known about them as they’ve resisted contact with outsiders. Wander onto their island and you’ll be met with a hail of arrows.

Even though we know little about the Sentinelese, there are a few things we can expect. For example, we can reasonably surmise that they are happy, have little in the way of material wealth, and are not deeply in debt. They also don’t like visitors. Some days I can relate.

A key lesson the Sentinelese demonstrate to us is that you don’t require great material wealth to thrive and be happy.

Get Off Your Hamster Wheel

You know what a hamster wheel is right? It’s a big wheel that you run around on, but never get anywhere no matter how hard or fast you go. Most people spend the better part of their lives on a hamster wheel. The fortunate ones figure it out and get the hell off, but many never do.

In discussions on why people go into debt, the pundits will tell you many things. Overspending, divorce, unexpected emergency with no emergency fund, poor money management,  but it always comes down to the same essential problem. We spend more than we make. And this can go on no matter how much you make. Making more money isn’t the solution. If you don’t make a fundamental change, you’ll never make enough. Getting off the hamster wheel is the solution.

Instant Gratification is Your Enemy

Wouldn’t it be nice if someone just came along and paid off all of your debts? If you’re looking for what’s really in your best interests, this is probably the worst thing that could happen to you. I have a saying; “Adversity is your friend.” As bad as it may seem, we learn and ultimately grow happier through the lessons of our mistakes.

Have you ever been to the dentist and had freezing in your mouth? They tell you not to eat anything until most of the freezing has worn off. Why? Simple. They don’t want you to eat your own mouth! If you bite into your inner cheek, you won’t feel any pain, and if you don’t feel the pain you’ll keep eating your face. I think we can all agree, that’s a bad idea. Without the pain you’ll keep making the same mistakes over and over. Sometimes it requires a lot of pain for the message to really sink in.

Occasionally in my posts you’ll hear me rant against instant gratification. While it seems like an easy out, in the long term it isn’t usually the best solution. Try to loose weight fast and you’ll likely gain it back. Try to form a habit fast and you’ll fail. Get out of debt fast and you’ll likely just end up deeper in debt later, and looking for someone to bail you out yet again.

Would you heat up a stove element and then place your hand directly on it? Of course not. You know the reality of the pain that would result. There comes a time for many of us when the idea of pulling out the credit card and buying something we don’t really absolutely need would be like placing our hand on that element. We just wouldn’t do it. The pain is all too real.

In order to stay out of debt you need to endure the slow, hard method of getting out. Some of us need to go through it a couple of times.

The fundamentals of how to get out of debt are pretty well established. There’s a million websites that will tell you how. Despite all these sites, people are still in debt. Why? It’s because there has to be a change in your thinking, not just in your budget and buying habits.

Why Real Minimalists Are Never In Debt

In Buddhist philosophy they teach us that the cause of our suffering is desire and attachment, both to material items as well as ideas and beliefs. In order to stop the suffering caused by desire, and in this case, the ongoing accumulation of debt, we need to eliminate this desire.

There are several ways to approach this and we’ll talk more about other aspects in future posts, but today let’s look at the minimalist lifestyle.

At some point in their life the minimalist decides that they have too much stuff and they don’t like it. It’s a burden and it complicates things. So they start divesting. Little by little, they start getting rid of things. As I went through this process, something quite amazing happened. I began to see buying stuff in a different way. I began to see it as something undesirable. It’s not that I don’t buy anything. It’s that when I buy something, I ask whether I really want it and why. Is it ultimately going to bring me more grief than satisfaction? Will I get a brief amount of pleasure out of it and then have this new purchase become a burden? Something I have to clean, store, repair, and finally try to find a way to get rid of, all the while having sacrificed cash I could have kept in my investments or spent on something more important?

So maybe you want to do a little lifestyle experiment. Start getting rid of stuff. Experiment with minimalism. Sell, donate, and throw out anything you don’t really need or use. It takes time, as we’ve formed attachments to our stuff, but I really recommend you try it. What have you got to lose? You may end up with a little more cash and a little more space in the house. Maybe you can use that cash to start paying off that debt.

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