Today I want to talk about why being broke, or almost broke can turn into happiness and human connection. So why can being almost broke can give us really good clues about how to be happy and how to have human connection?
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Now, when I talk about being broke I’m talking about “first world” broke. So we can still feed ourselves and have a roof over our head, but we extra-curricular spending is quite limited after that.
Human beings are Social Creatures
You’ve heard me say this before: Human beings are social creatures. We’re actually happier when we have meaningful relationships. We’re actually happier when we hang out with people. We’re actually happier if we go to a concert and sit beside someone. Our bodies get “happy juice” aka endorphins that go into our bodies more than if we sit down and watch TV by ourselves, and it has a lot more than just the sound quality and visuals.
One thing that struck me a long time ago, is when I first purchased my house over eighteen years ago, I was pretty limited on cash. I literally moved in roommates, I had a suite upstairs, I had a long term roommate who actually helped me buy the house (thank you Jody!). I rented out my dining room and spare room as bedrooms – every square foot that I could rent out, I did. That was the only way that I could actually make it work financially, and it was a total struggle, but I LOVE this house (and I’m still here).
After that, a number of months after I bought the house, I met my husband and fell head over heels in love. It took a while (like a few months), but he eventually moved in after one of my roommates moved out. We still had another roommate here, and another in our separate suite upstairs where we literally kept the door open, we’d go up and down, and we’d have friends in both areas. So one of the things a friend said to him was “What? You’re moving in together? And she’s not getting rid of her roommates? What is that about?”
He was really critical of this. And the reason being because when you’ve launched into your permanent relationship or have achieved proper, good success, that we start to move away from that “student-y” model of living with others, living cooperatively and more into our own kind of “digs”.
I was on a super tight budget – $25 a day
I thought about this while I was traveling in Europe about 25 years ago. I was on this super tight budget – $25 a day. Because of my tight budget, I camped, I met people at the campground. I stayed in hostels and I met people at the hostels. What I didn’t have the money for was to stay at a fancy hotel all on my own with my own room, my own bathroom, my own shower facilities.
But what ended up happening, was I ended up having this rich, vibrant experience of my Europe trip because yes, seeing the Greek Pantheon was pretty awesome, and the Statue of David was really cool, but what I really remember when I carry on in my heart are the connections and relationships I made. Matter of fact, someone I met on the beach in Greece – she remains my friend to this day.
On the other hand, my cousin and her family went to Europe, and they spent a lot on their trip, they spent money on a tour, they stayed in these fancy hotels, they saw all the sights, but they didn’t really connect with other Europeans, they didn’t connect with other travelers. To me, I think, “What a waste is that?”
One of the things I’ve really tried to create in my life, is (and I’ve been quite bossy) is trying to get my other friends to move into my neighborhood, and to a certain extent, it’s really worked. I live literally a stone’s throw away from very important people in my life. So we get to do what we call the “neighborhood pop by” and we come in for a cup of tea, a hello, drop off a dog snack, you name it. The point is, I live very very closely to the people I care about.
I had a business/life coach once, and I was telling her this story about my neighborhood and how that’s important. Her reaction was that she was so jealous to hear that, and how she really wished that she had that in her life.
I’m friends with her on Facebook, and I noticed just recently that she’s doing quite well financially, and she’s built her family’s dream home. Let’s be clear. It’s a really nice house. And it’s huge, and what I see is that it’s in this suburban neighborhood, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but every drives their car everywhere. People can’t walk to the store because there’s no store to walk to, so there’s no opportunity to run into neighbors that way.
They have a big huge double garage whereas at our house, we park on the street so when we’re coming in and out of our car we’re saying “Hi” to Pete and Dora across the street , “Hi” to Mary next door, “Hi” to Neil over here. I doubt we’d have those little bits and pieces of connections if we had to drive 10 miles to our house, click our way into the garage, and close the garage door. How much engagement is that really?
What I see about my old business coach is that she has “made it” financially, and yet her structure about what “making it is” is getting that suburban, nuclear type home. Is that really what’s going to make her and her family happy? What happens when the kids move out after spending years of amassing all these things? Do you then go through the process of downsizing after that? I don’t know.
I think maybe, if we spent more time focusing more time on what was great about being a student, or great about not having a lot of money like when I bought my first home, or when I was a university student. As a university student, I lived with other people because I had to live with other people to make the finances work.
What I try to do now in my adult life, now that money is less of an issue in terms of making it all work, I still really gravitate towards living with other people. So in my family now we had Dana. Dana lived with us for 4.5 years and we’re still good friends. Now we have Jacques, my brother in law living in our spare room. So what we’ve done, again, is re-created our extended family even though it’s not a financial piece now, but it’s really about those human connections and how important they are for us.
Here’s the point:
I believe the nuclear family, the whole thing of “Oh we’re gonna have a mom, dad, and child or two, it will be functional for the next 20 years, then the kids will leave, then mom and dad are going to be alone” seems like a bit of a messed up model. If we lived more communally with people (and I’m not suggesting we pool our resources), but I think there’d be less pressure on the spousal relationship and there’s less pressure on the other relationships. From my experience even just having Jacques around makes things a little bit brighter and brings up the vibration in our home just a little bit more. Also, sometimes when we’re too tired to cook dinner or to deal with our daughter, sometimes he picks up the slack. Everything is a little easier and a little happier.
Going back to my European experience, I know that my experience in Europe would not have been nearly as rich if I had waited until I had more money and could afford a private hotel. The very fact that I was stuck and hanging out with other people made that experience so rich. And that’s what we can do in our lives even though we’re older and sometimes we might even want to think about as our kids get older and move out on their own. What’s wrong with having a roommate? Even if some people find that weird. Maybe it’s not the best experience in the world, but even little cups of tea or coffee is going to make things a little brighter.
From my home to yours,