Have you ever considered the importance of having time? After all, building a house takes time. Preparing a meal takes time. Even sleeping takes time. One thing we know for certain is that time doesn’t wait for anyone. It marches forward no matter what you or I do. However, time is something often wasted or at least not fully appreciated. There are obvious places where people waste time: scrolling through hours of Instagram posts, or getting lost in the rabbit hole that is Facebook. As much as these things concern me, they’re not nearly as big a deal to me as the less obvious and “societally correct” scenarios.
Work is a Waste of Time
Let’s look at a big one. How about wasting time at work? I don’t mean scrolling through Facebook when you should be working, I mean working when you could be enjoying life instead. Yes, I just called work a waste of time. Of course, not all work is a waste of time as there are indeed very meaningful professions out there. I also recognize that, for most of us, money is something we need in order to afford the way of life we have grown accustomed to. I have two college age kids, so I know a thing or two about expenses. But that’s not the point. The point is, much of what is billed today as work is a waste of time.
The crazy thing is that it’s a waste of time because of the end result: money. That’s right, money is the problem. Not lack of money, but money itself. Okay, maybe it’s not the root of this problem, but the stuff we buy with it is. Think of it this way: all the stuff you buy has to be paid for. As a result, you have to work to raise money to make those payments. What if you simply stopped buying so much stuff? What if you changed your focus from the need for money to the need for time?
“When you buy something, you are not paying for it with money. You’re paying with the hours of life you had to spend earning that money. The difference is that life is one thing money can’t buy.”
-Jose Mujica, the former president of Uruguay
When Mr. Mujica’s message becomes our mantra and time becomes our focus, we can let go of the old focus (money and stuff), and our lives become that much richer. After all, why do we as consumers buy things to begin with? So that we can enjoy ourselves and our lives more. The new iPhone is supposed to make our life easier and more enjoyable. How’s that working out? The new, bigger house is supposed to make our family more secure and happier. How’s that working out? It runs out, that it’s not working very well at all.
Statistically, We Aren’t Doing Well
The data shows that people with higher debt levels, no matter what income bracket they’re in, have more stress. It’s also known that it’s not common for people on their death bed to wish they had worked harder or made more money. In the end, they wish they had spent more time with their loved ones. They wish they had not been so busy all the time and that they could have slowed down and simply enjoyed life. Right here. Right now.
The good news is that you can do just that. You can start enjoying your life right now whether you are 100% debt free or leveraged up to your ears. It doesn’t matter if your bank account is bone dry or flooded with coins and gold. Happiness has nothing to do with those things. True happiness comes from within. I know, I know…you’ve heard it all before. Maybe you have. Were you really listening though? Do you have a negative reaction when someone tells you that happiness comes from within? It’s not uncommon to have a reaction like that. The challenge is that the reaction is typically because we humans don’t like taking responsibility for ourselves when we can externalize things and wait for someone else to fix our problems. Unfortunately, you could be waiting a long time if you’re waiting on someone else to solve your problems.
It’s All About Perspective
So how do you change the patterns of wasting time in the name of creating happiness (i.e. working away at a job you dislike to pay for the life you wish you had time to enjoy)? It all starts right now. It’s a shift in perspective. Let’s look at the country with the highest national average annual income (averaged since 2000): Monaco. The average gross national income (GNI) is $186,950. That’s US dollars, per person. Now let’s compare that with the lowest GNI from Burundi of $260. Both of those numbers are annual incomes. Now, imagine what your life would be like if you lived in Burundi. How about if you lived in Monaco? I imagine that you see yourself living a much more enjoyable life in Monaco than in Burundi. Is that true for you?
But here’s the problem, that’s all based on money and what you think money provides for you. What if you shifted your perspective and learned that if you lived in Monaco, you would have to work 50 or more hours per week to make that money and you would have very little time to spend away from work. Couple that with the image of spending most of your time in Burundi simply enjoying your time on this planet. In both cases, let’s assume that your food and shelter needs are taken care of. The rest is up to you to decide if it’s important. Which would you choose: more money but less time, or more time but less money?
Money Does Not Build Wealth
Roughly 22 years ago, I traveled to West Africa. I spent some time in both cities and a remote village in Senegal where my sister was in the Peace Corps. I learned then and there that happiness was not related to money. The people whom I met in the cities seemed to be stressed out, working hard to make ends meet. On the other hand, the people I met in the remote village, who had next to nothing in terms of possessions, were BY FAR the happiest people I had ever met, anywhere. They were loving, full of smiles, engaging, and literally dirt poor (financially). They were, however, some of the richest people I have ever met when it comes to love of life and enjoying their time on the planet.
The news gets better. You don’t have to choose between more money or more time. You can have both by minimizing consumption. If you buy less stuff, you need less money. When you need less money, you can work fewer hours. If you work fewer hours, you will find more joy. When you find more joy, you will need less stuff. And so the cycle continues towards your financial freedom and the prioritization of joy in your life. Any money you make that’s above and beyond your daily needs can be put away in savings or used to buy more time. In other words, reduction in working hours and increased time enjoying life. Sound good? You bet it does.
Discover Your Current Wealth
Let’s get back to making the change right here, right now. The best way to start feeling rich is to be grateful for what you already have. There are different ways of accomplishing this, but I suggest that one thing you MUST do is start recognizing your incredible wealth, especially in comparison to the rest of the world. For example, do you have at least one meal of food in your house, right now? Do you have a house? Do you have your health and/or access to health care? For many people around the world, the answer to all of these questions is no. From that perspective, can you find gratitude for your own situation? It’s all about perspective.
Each day, I spend time actively finding things to be grateful for. If I experience a beautiful moment, I stop and recognize it. Even when things don’t seem to be beautiful or amazing in any way, I find the areas of gratitude. Examples: family I love, shelter over our heads, food in the fridge, a fridge!, chopped firewood, sun on our solar panels, and so on. It’s the little things that can and do change the world, from the inside out. As I recently heard said: gratitude is the antidote to suffering. I believe this to be 100% correct. When I am grateful, even for the little things, any attachment to suffering goes away.
Exercise: The Attitude of Gratitude
If you don’t believe yourself to be in a position to suddenly start finding gratitude in every moment, you can start with a simple exercise: the Attitude of Gratitude. Follow the steps below and you’ll likely be amazed at what you discover.
- Find a quiet and comfortable place to sit or stand with your eyes closed for about 10 minutes (or more if you prefer).
- Put on some inspiring, yet background, music. Pick something that gets you going, moves your energy, or even inspires you towards something great. Maybe try out “Worth Everything Ever Wished For” by The End of the Ocean. I think it holds great energy for this exercise.
- With your eyes closed, take 4 deep breaths, slowly. Be sure to hold the breath for a few seconds before transitioning from inhaling to exhaling.
- Now, picture something in your life that you are grateful for. It could be anything; big or small. Some examples could be “my children,” “the person who carries my bags at the grocery store,” “my dog,” “the fact that I can afford to buy organic food,” or whatever else comes to mind. There is no “right” answer here.
- Really focus on feeling the feeling as you picture the person, situation, or thing that you’re grateful for.
- Now reach out your hand at full arm’s length towards the image you’re holding and gently bring that image to your chest. This is a physical action that allows your brain to anchor the gratitude in your heart.
- Do this for two more places in your life for which you are grateful.
- Repeat this exercise daily until you reprogram yourself to naturally focus on gratitude.
This simple exercise will help you retrain your brain and your heart. Once you start finding gratitude in every moment, there is nothing that can stop you from loving your life, exactly as it is right now. This doesn’t mean that you can’t move to make improvements. In fact, it will likely result in improvements because you’ll be living from a place of huge gratitude rather than fear or being judgmental of others (something our world has far too much of right now).
I challenge you to do this exercise every day for the next 14 days. No matter what happens in your life, no matter how busy you are, no matter what excuses you try to make up. Do this exercise for 14 days, no matter what, and your life will never be the same. Do you have 140 minutes to spare over the next two weeks in order to change your life towards the better? The answer is yes. Yes you do, and you deserve to give yourself that time so that you can shift your life path from surviving to thriving. If you’re already thriving, then this exercise can deepen that experience even more.
Ask Yourself: “How is my life going?”
Be sure to answer with 100% honesty. Is your life going the way you want it to? Could it be better? Are you fulfilled? Are you getting by, but not really enjoying your life the way you had hoped you would? Is it exactly how you dreamed it would be? For many, the answer to these questions is “no”, or “sort of”. It’s rarely a resounding “YES!”
If you want your answer to be “YES!”, then you may have some work to do in order to get there. That’s fine, there’s time. Start by finding your attitude of gratitude every day for the next 14 days. See what happens. This may be a first step for you or an additional tool in your tool belt. That’s not important. What’s important is that you move forward on your journey and that you learn to inspire yourself like never before. I hope you’ll share your experience in the comments below. If we share our insights and our victories, we can inspire others to do the same. Together, as a community, the world is easier to change and joy can become our currency of choice.