You don’t need to earn millions. Chances are, if you already have a pretty good job, you may not even need a pay rise.
The real valuable commodity for a better life is time.
Time for yourself, to spend as you choose.
A lot of people don’t really know what would make their lives happier and more fulfilling. There is just an assumption that more money and things will help.
Yet why is it so many people who’ve one the lotto say it was the worst thing that could have happened to them?
So many people working in the corporate world are working more and more, to try and earn more, to buy things and create a lifestyle they don’t have time to enjoy. And you never reach a point of contentment because it’s an endless cycle. If you died tomorrow, what value will it all have had?
We all have the ability to make changes and re-design our lives to suit us better. You can challenge the societal norms. In fact, I dare you.
Less is more.
You know those people who go live on a tropical island somewhere, that you envy? Most of them don’t actually have much money. Sure, some do. But I didn’t. I went and tried it out for myself for a year and most of the people I met had given up most of their possessions and chose to live more simply and within their humble means.
I believe the secret to living better is to prioritise your time and money on what actually gives you joy and optimises your sense of wellbeing.
This kind of life generally requires less of everything. Less work, less stress, fewer things, fewer commitments, fewer bills, fewer cares, fewer worries.
More time. More contentment. That’s it.
When I say less work, I don’t mean being a “bum” and doing nothing – unless you can afford that and that’s what you choose, in which case, good for you. Of course we need an income to take care of our basic needs. I just mean not burning yourself out just trying to pay for a lifestyle you don’t have time to enjoy. It about finding, what buddhists call, the middle way. A healthy balance.
What’s your dream lifestyle?
My idea of a nice lifestyle is getting enough sleep and feeling fresh and alive every day. It’s not feeling rushed and having the choice of how I structure my day. It’s having the time to cook wholesome delicious meals for my partner and I, to have time to meditate for 20-30 mins, to spend time being creative or reading, to enjoy some time doing exercise or in nature (or both), to do something grounding like some household chores or playing with the neighbours cats, and to some hours of solid work.
I actually want to have time to do my own household chores and not pay someone else to do them.
My requirements for this lifestyle are a quiet, comfortable place to live (small is fine), somewhere with access to nature, access to fresh food and ingredients for cooking, some essential belongings and not much else really.
This lifestyle is all about spending less so I can have more time to enjoy and savour my days. It’s not about being rich and owning lots of things.
This is the life I have now. One day I’d also like to have a garden to look after and maybe grow my own food. But I’m really content.
A bigger salary doesn’t mean more happiness
One of my first jobs was for a very junior role in a big investment bank. It could have been my long term career. I was put on a training programme to become an investment banker. But it was the most miserable place I have ever worked. Everybody looked so unhappy all the time, some even confessed to me that they wished they could do something more meaningful with their lives, but felt trapped by the expensive lifestyle they had become used to. That was not the way I wanted to spend my life, and I felt like my soul was literally dying in that job, so I quit, even though I didn’t have another job to go to.
I eventually found a great job for a company I really loved working for, but I still had lessons to learn about what is really important about work and income. I really wish they would teach this to kids in school.
One day I moaned to a senior colleague of mine about my pay, I felt I worked really hard and wasn’t rewarded fairly. Thinking I’d get some sympathy, they actually warned me that as you earn more you just find more ways to spend it. They pointed out the cash flow doesn’t get better, because you simply have bigger expenses to look forward to: a mortgage, a loan for a car, a big wedding, day care or school expenses for the children and so on.
I thought to myself that that won’t happen to me because I thought I wasn’t materialistic and wouldn’t spend my money on that kind of stuff. Well, a few years later I got the promotions and payrises I had wanted, but I just found other ways to spend my money instead.
I spent all my money eating out with friends or getting take aways most nights, travelling abroad several times a year on vacation, taking up expensive hobbies with expensive equipment to go with it.
I mean, when I decided I would give triathlons a go, I spent thousands of pounds buying a racing bike and all the gear to go with it, just like my housemate had. The difference was he was an actual triathlon coach, I was a total unfit beginner. I only ever did two triathlons and I came pretty much last both times. That equipment wasn’t buying me any competitive advantages, who was I kidding. I should have just borrowed stuff for the races, but I wanted all the shiny new beautiful things.
Be more clever about spending and saving. Spend less.
Yawn. It sounds so obvious and so boring at the same time.
But unfortunately it’s the simple, simple truth.
Don’t spend what you don’t have, or on things you don’t really need.
Live within your means.
And before you tell yourself you couldn’t possibly spend any less, ask yourself how true that really is. I used to say that to myself all the time until one day my friend told me she was buying a flat.
Now, she is the same age, we lived in similar areas, we had similar salaries and in the space of 5 years she managed to save for a deposit on a nice flat.
I, on the other hand, was drowning in debt and was panicking about how I would pay the bills that month. She ended up lending me some money to help tide me over for a few months. But it was a huge wake up call.
How on earth was it possible?
She went on holidays, dressed nicely and seemed to have a nice lifestyle so I didn’t get it. She didn’t buy the cheapest things either, in fact she always seemed to have good quality items. I thought we were living such similar lifestyles that we must have had similar finances.
But probing her further and just starting to pay attention to how she lived her life, I learnt so much.
Really all it came down to was that she didn’t waste money. It was little things like bringing a packed lunch to work each day instead of spending it all on take away like me. She walked to work most of the time and saved on gym and transport fees. She bought good quality items that lasted many years and didn’t need replacing all the time. She put a modest amount of money aside every month, avoided unnecessary spending and it all added up after 5 years.
The way I live my life now is very much inspired by her. She was very mindful about how she spent her money. She was always great at finding ways NOT to spend it while still enjoying a good quality of life.
Different ways of working.
Work less. Do more of what you enjoy.
An important part of the equation is looking at the way we work.
We need to create a society that supports better quality of wellbeing and life. Giving people the flexibility to work in different ways will benefit businesses and individuals alike.
I love what Ariana Huffington is doing with her company Thrive Global, for example. She learnt herself the lessons of overworking and not getting enough rest. Too many of us have lost our boundaries and are expected to be available to reach 24/7. Most of us are not actually saving lives so this is crazy. It helps no one. We are least productive and make more errors when we are not well rested.
You don’t necessarily need to quit your job to find happiness. It could be you just need to work less. If you can identify what it is you really love, and also dislike, about your work, maybe you could find the happy balance.
The goal of working less is simply to reclaim time for yourself so you can have time and opportunity to nurture your wellbeing and give space for your soul.
I have always hated working in an office. Even when working for the company I loved the most, I found it a massive challenge. I loved my job and the people I worked with, but physically, from the wellbeing perspective, I could never feel good about spending that much time in an artificial working environment.
No pretty views, no quiet space or privacy (it was open plan), no nature, having to wear clothes I didn’t feel comfortable in just to be seen to fit in and impress (buying work clothes can get very expensive!), having meeting after meeting in stuffy airless rooms and barely any time or energy left to exercise. I was exhausted every day, just the act of commuting across London was exhausting in itself. Knowing that pretty much everyone living in London and in cities across the globe probably feel the same, it made no sense to me why we continued to live like this.
Then one day our company introduced hot-desking which was the death knell of whatever little joy I had left for working in an office.
But my life changed when my boss told me that if I wanted to consider going part time, he would be ok with that.
To put that into context, I had started working as a wedding & lifestyle photographer on the weekends and I really enjoyed it. I needed a creative outlet of some sort and it had just naturally started growing out of my lifelong hobby. I figured that if it ever took off, I could quit my day job, but I didn’t see that happening any time soon.
But I liked the idea of trying the part-time lifestyle, I knew I could afford to, so I gave it a go. I started working 4 days a week.
It was the best thing ever!
Having more time for myself made me happier, more relaxed and more productive on the days I was in the office. I also spent less. The desire to spend dropped when I was enjoying my quality of life more.
One of the employee benefits my company offered was that you could buy or sell one week of your holiday back to the company. I had always bought a week of extra holiday each year, but when I went part-time, I ended up needing a lot less holiday.
I just didn’t feel like I needed to get away on vacations anymore because I was enjoying my life so much more. Because I also had time to prepare food for myself at home, I stopped buying so much takeaway and started taking packed lunches. Financially it worked out the same as working full time and that was without even consciously trying to make the effort to spend less.
I also lost all desire and the pressure to keep climbing the corporate ladder at this point. I had only ever felt it previously, because when I worked full time, that was all I had going for me in life.
Once I made space in my life for creative pursuits and a more relaxed lifestyle, I didn’t feel the need to keep striving more and more.
I appreciate that not all employers show that much flexibility, but unless you ask you may never find out. And unless everyone starts asking more, nothing will change.
I’ve tried out pretty much all the different alternatives of employment, from full time corporate work with unpaid overtime, to part-time, freelance/self-employment and contract work. I’ve had jobs with great salaries and bonuses and also really low paid jobs. I don’t have an opinion on which is best, it really depends on all the circumstances.
The benefit of a part time arrangement is that you have the security of a monthly salary and any other employee benefits to cover your monthly bills like rent. Anything else you do or earn is a bonus. And you still get to feel part of a company, a team while having your independence and freedom to pursue what nourishes your soul.
Life was a lot more challenging once I committed to full time self-employment. You can’t just put your earnings straight into your pocket, you have to take care of your own overheads, equipment, you don’t get sick leave – so if you don’t work, you don’t get paid. And you have to remember to put money aside for your taxes. So it’s worth having a bit of a financial plan for yourself and learning about running a business so that it doesn’t just become a new source of stress.
What kind of life would you design if you worked a little less?
I invite you to think about what your dream lifestyle would look and feel like, and whether you could find a way to design that lifestyle with what is already within your reach.
If you were to go from full time work to part time, perhaps you also wonder what you would do with all that time on your hands.
You might find enjoyment in the simple things like gardening, cooking, spending time with your kids, starting to write that book you keep thinking about. Simply not feeling rushed all the time and being able to savour the moment is wonderful.
Or you could use your time to give back to society, maybe volunteer for something, get involved with your local community. Something that is meaningful to you and will therefore nourish you.
There are many different options you could explore. I hope that post pandemic, more businesses will be supportive of more flexible arrangements because we’ve seen how working models can work in different ways already.
What I am suggesting is that we can learn to love and feel content with what we already have, if we have the time to actually enjoy it.