If you look around, we’re bombarded by ads all day long, every day of our lives. They’re on Facebook, billboards, HGTV, in magazines, everywhere.
We’re lead to believe that the stuff in those ads is what makes us happy. Those strappy sandals it seems every single style blogger has, should you have them too? That beautiful farm sink, ugh, you hate your dated kitchen. Perhaps a perkier butt, bigger boobs, or a boyfriend that looks like a lumberjack-European football player hybrid.
Or perhaps, no definitely, the HGTV dream house, that would definitely make you happy.
These are the things that as women, we’re lead to believe make us happy. And to get them, we need money. And sometimes to be thin and beautiful by societal standards. And doesn’t it always seem too, that the things we think we need to be happy are unfortunately, usually, just outside our reach?
Ever notice how the home buyers can never get everything they want, in their ideal location, within their budget? Well, except for on Fixer Upper. They basically give houses away in Waco, TX. Speaking of, let’s add a Chip Gaines to the list of things we think we need to be happy.
Have you ever sat back though, and thought “what do I really need to be happy?”
If you’ve been reading CTK for a bit, it should come as no surprise that I have done that. Many times. And I’ve realized that I don’t really need all that much to be happy.
I realized this for the first time around 2010, when I picked my head up after five years of working in corporate America. I was in the office at a hedge fund in midtown Manhattan. I looked around and realized that all these people, the wealthiest of the wealthy in the world, all still wanted more. They were stressed out and overworked and sometimes downright hostile on their quest to get it. Most seemed miserable to me. They always had something to bitch about. Some were very unpleasant to be around.
And it was around that time that I found The Minimalists. And what I’d been feeling – this sort of growing sense of quiet desperation or the nagging feeling that I was missing something big and obvious in life – was being clearly and precisely articulated by these two random dudes in Dayton, Ohio. And they had a system in place to escape it! Just get rid of all your shit and simplify your life!
They helped me come to the realization that the reason I’d been feeling that way was because it really was all kind of bullshit. Working in a job I hated in order to earn the most money I could make, in order to live in a city I didn’t really love, and buy clothes and stuff that didn’t actually make me happy. It was bullshit. I was doing it all kinds of wrong.
I was doing life wrong. So with their online guidance and even a little one-on-one mentoring from Ryan, I started making changes.
I started thinking about what I actually needed to be happy, and it wasn’t all that much. And six years later, it still isn’t all that much.
I need my health, my basic needs covered, my friends and family, health insurance, good food, a nice bottle of wine (Okay, let’s be honest, not even that nice of a bottle of wine.) Sunshine helps and an ocean breeze is a huge bonus. If I had all of these needs met for life, I’d be a pretty happy lady. Oh and I need books, and a journal. I have a lot of feelings.
But none of that requires a ton of money. And once I realized that, the career trajectory I was on seemed like a giant waste of my time. It seemed like I was setting myself up for a lifetime of working with miserable people, doing work I didn’t care for, trying to keep up with the Jones’, make big mortgage payments, endure a long commute and a lot of stress. And since my list of things that made me happy didn’t actually include a big home, a nice car, lots of clothes, or even tons of cash, it seemed like a lot to trade for very little in return.
So I left. And I’ve been figuring it out ever since. And I’m so much happier now.
It’s not easy. I currently face the guilties of not earning a full-time income on a daily basis. I remind myself constantly that my husband’s income is paying the bills while I build my business, which doesn’t make me feel great. I’ve cried many times while building Crop Tops & Kale. I’ve been stressed, frustrated and I’ve felt like a giant failure. But, at least I’m living by choice, right? And I’m working toward replacing my old salary and getting back to a place where I can support myself independently, which is important to me.
And I realize that I am really fortunate. A lot of our fellow humans don’t have the luxury of asking themselves this question. They are worried about clean water, and safety and feeding their kids. I don’t want you to think I’m taking anything for granted here. I’m not. What I’m talking about is voluntary simplicity, not poverty. Poverty is not by choice. I don’t think anyone would choose to be lacking basic needs.
But if your basic needs are covered… then it’s a different story.
And what I’m talking about here is investigating what you need to be happy and then taking a look at your life and deciding if what you’re doing right now lines up with that. Because we always have a choice. Those choices might not be ideal, they may require sacrifices but, there are usually choices to be had.
The biggest complaint we hear is that people hate their jobs, their bosses, all the stress in their lives. And we get that. We’ve been there.
And while Bridget and I, clearly, do not have all the answers, we do know that living our own lives more considerately and deliberately has made us both happier, more confident and more hopeful and enthusiastic for the future.
And it all started by asking ourselves this very question: What do I really need to be happy?
All we want to do is encourage you to ask yourself the same. Because we think our society has us making a lot of assumptions about happiness – like assuming we need to make as much money as possible in order to have it. Or that we’re supposed to live a certain way because that’s how our families, friends and neighbors live.
We’re suggesting that you investigate, especially if you don’t feel particularly satisfied with your life. Or if you find yourself asking is this all there is?
Look at your life from a place of curiosity and see if it’s lined up to provide you with what you really need to be happy. Because it might not be. It wasn’t for us. And if that’s the case, then working harder at the life that’s not working is probably not the answer.
The farm sink, losing the weight, getting the boyfriend or the beach house might not be the answer either … see where we’re going here?
Bridget and I both realized at one point that our lives were not lined up to deliver the things we actually needed to be happy. More than anything, they were distracting us from those things and impairing our ability to enjoy them.
Our lives were lined up to deliver what we thought or were told would make us happy, not what actually does. So we made some changes. And we’re both much happier now, even though we haven’t got it all figured out just yet. (Not that we expect to any time soon. Sometimes we can’t even figure out Skype.)
So what about you? We’d really love to hear from you on this. Have you every asked yourself this question? Leave a comment below.
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Also published on Medium.