I like toilet paper.
When I run out of it, there is that frantic millisecond when I am desperately scrambling for the nearest paper substitute. It is a helpless feeling.
This is money in a nutshell.
Like toilet paper, we obsess about money when we are running out of it. But when we have it in abundance, it drifts to the backburner.
In America, there is a premise that material wealth and happiness are intertwined. We link a larger home, designer car, and haute labels with contentment–even happiness. But in our bigger-is-better mentality, money can — and does — pervert happiness.
Remember your college years? For many people, they evoke fond memories. Some might say it was the best four, or six, years of their lives. A proud UNC alumnus, I am getting wistful thinking of March Madness, late-night Cosmic Cantina runs, and Halloween mayhem.
The delicious irony: Many of us were cash-strapped during our college years. We lived in cramped dorms with malfunctioning air conditioners. We scrounged for money for Natty Ice beer. And we loved it. This was the proverbial good life — assuming we didn’t run out of toilet paper in the dorm bathroom.
As we age, our relationship with money becomes more complicated. Professionally, I have watched money provoke lust, envy, and greed. Personally, I have watched it divide my family.
My financial philosophy is rooted in toilet paper. Yes — toilet paper. We need money to meet our basic human needs — housing, food, transportation, etc. But to maximize money’s happiness quotient, it’s what you do and how you earn those dead presidents.
This year, I have spent money for one-of-a-kind experiences: traveling to Haiti, hiking up a snow-capped Washington mountains, and eating authentic comida in a Mexico City barrio. These experiences have provided me greater meaning than a 56-inch (or is it 60-inch?) plasma TV with the latest gadgetry. And, generally speaking, the experiences have cost less than that hulking TV.
While I cherish my one-of-a-kind experiences, I take as much satisfaction in my work contributions. Through the Psych Central platform, I provide a voice for the mentally troubled. This sense of empowerment contrasts with current soul-sucking legal projects. Reviewing documents for two multi-billionaire insurance companies squabbling over profits, I contemplate storming out in a blaze of glory, devilishly laughing as I stomp on those haughty legal templates. The lesson: find something that permits you to stay true to your values and provides meaning in our increasingly cynical world.
Money can tether us, chaining us to a certain lifestyle and societal-imposed expectations. “You don’t have the latest iPhone 36?” our consumer-driven society collectively intones. But consumer culture doesn’t define your happiness goals. Be true to what sparks your imagination. Once you are, money is more than a soulless pursuit. It is a reward to pursue your joy. And, who knows, buy an extra roll of toilet paper.