Stop Chasing and Start Living

Stop Chasing and Start Living

From an early age we are taught that bigger is better, that more is better. Maybe we aren’t taught it directly, but all the advertisements we see show us that the more we have, the happier we’ll be. The more we earn, the more respected (and powerful) we’ll be. The better we dress (and the more we spend on face cream), the more beautiful we’ll be. The more holidays we take, the more relaxed we’ll be. If we work hard, we’ll be able to accumulate all this stuff, we can live happily ever after in a nice house and afford to retire comfortably and live in the countryside.

I used to believe this too. I had no reason not to. It seemed to make sense. A big house must be far better than a small one. Six bedrooms and space for a pony must be better than two bedrooms and just enough space to swing a cat. A job where you earn a heap of money must be far better than a job which pays only an average salary. A hundred pairs of shoes must be better than ten pairs of shoes. Several holidays a year must be better than one. Surely?

Like many, I graduated from university, went travelling, came home and got a full-time job. That’s what you do, right? I was at the bottom of the corporate ladder, but I was determined to climb it, to get that great job with the fat paycheque and buy all that stuff that was going to make me happy.

Climbing the ladder means working hard. I had to jump through hoops and put my hand up for “projects” that increased my workload but reflected well on me, and were noticed by management. I’d work extra hours, and take work home to try to get ahead. Slowly I began to climb. I got a few successive small promotions, with bigger teams, larger budgets, more pressure…and further to fall.

But I wasn’t enjoying my job. My passions in life did not match the work I was doing, and it was getting harder and harder to put extra effort into something that I had no passion for. I was frustrated, and miserable.

I started questioning what I’d been led to believe. Was more really better? I wasn’t earning big bucks, but I was earning the national average, so I could afford to pay my bills, go on holiday and still save a little. It was enough. I doubted I’d ever reach the heady heights of the luxury I saw on the billboards.

It seemed like aspiring to a life like that could only ever bring disappointment. Even if I worked harder and got closer, would relentless pursuit of promotions and payrises really bring extra happiness?

Slowly, another idea began to grow in my mind. What if, rather than working towards having more and then being happy, I learned to be happy with what I already had? What if, rather than trying to earn more money, I found ways to spend less?

If I am happy with myself and my situation, and accepting of who I am, I reasoned, even though I’m not perfect, then I don’t need to chase the external rewards I’ve been told will make me happy. I don’t need them. Who I am now is all I ever have.

That’s not to say I don’t (or I shouldn’t) aspire to change or grow or be more, and chase my dreams.

It just means I shouldn’t depend on this for my happiness.

What makes me happy is spending time with friends and family, being in nature, gardening, cooking and good food. Learning new skills. Seeing new places and experiencing new things. Being connected to my community. Contributing to society, and having a positive impact.

I’m not alone: research shows the three main things that make people happy are close relationships, a pastime they love and helping others.

What helps with this is having time. I don’t want to work more hours, I want to work less. I don’t want to spend more time cleaning a bigger house and shopping for stuff to fill the extra rooms. I don’t want to be too busy working (or too tired after working) to miss living life right now.

I stopped chasing. I stopped thinking about work as a career and started thinking of it as a job; something that paid the bills. I reduced my hours. Colleagues thought I was unusual: after all, I wasn’t semi-retired and I didn’t have children, the two socially acceptable reasons to work part-time hours, but it didn’t matter to me what they thought.

I spent more free time growing my own food, and doing the things that brought me joy. Interestingly, I found that with less time spent at work, I enjoyed my job more. I also felt less inclined to shop and “treat” myself – something I hadn’t consciously noticed I was doing in the past.

I owned (with a mortgage) a flat in the UK, which I sold when we moved to Australia. My husband and I have been renting for the past four years. I laugh when people say that renting is money down the drain, or a waste – actually it’s a great deal because you get somewhere to live in exchange for your money. There are plenty of things that I consider a waste of money, and renting is definitely not one of them.

We’ve been able to live in a suburb we couldn’t afford to buy in and live car-free with excellent access to everything at our doorstep. Now we plan to buy a flat, because we want to move to a new community and the project is something we believe in. We didn’t think about re-sale factors, or whether it was a bargain or over-priced when we bought it because we aren’t buying it to sell. We are buying it to live in. Maybe we’ll never need (or want) to move again.

We don’t need more. We need enough. Learning to accept what we have and being able to find pleasure in the simple things is something we can all do. Chase dreams, but don’t chase more in the pursuit of happiness. You might never get there.

25 Responses to Stop Chasing and Start Living

  1. Fantastically said!!! I am so opting out of “normal” life and living more too!!! Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful. M x

  2. Hi Lindsay – Excellent post. You are so right – the most important thing in life is your time. What’s the point in having a big house full of expensive things but spending all your time working to pay for it all? By default I have pretty much followed this lifestyle and would not change for anything (more money, bigger house nor more stuff!- in fact I am still trying to declutter excess in a house that others would consider minimal).

    • Thanks Mel, loved your comment, it reminded me of this quote: “normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work, driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for, in order to get to a job that you need so you can pay for the clothes, car and the house that you leave empty all day in order to afford to live in it.” : )

  3. So very true. I was raised with the expectation that each generation had to do better than the generation that came before so there was a lot of pressure on me to succeed. But success wasn’t what it was cracked up to be. I found myself making the choice of a simpler life with a smaller home and less work hours when I found myself a single parent who didn’t want to have sitters raising my children.

    And no renting isn’t throwing money away. I liked renting because it freed me to do more of what I wanted to do. Home maintenance and repairs weren’t my problem and the need to always have a good sized savings set aside for emergency repairs could be replaced with a more modest sized savings that I could use to help others. Leasing a car isn’t considered a waste of money or any of the other things people spend their money on. I see leasing a car to be throwing away money but not renting. We don’t realize that it has only been a few generations since home ownership for the masses was even possible.

    • I was raised with the same expectations Lois. My dad had a very successful career and earned good money, but with that came long working hours and stress, and he had a massive heart attack in his fifties and subsequent health problems. I guess that taught me that working that hard at the expense of your health wasn’t worth it. It definitely shaped my world view.

      That said, there was the expectation that because I had a degree, career progression would be simple, quick and painless. Actually that’s not true (of course!), you still have to work hard… and I just can’t work that hard for something I don’t believe in.

      We debated whether to buy the flat for months! Like you say, renting is great when stuff breaks – not having the financial burden of having to fix it is a relief. We’ve had a few maintenance emergencies whilst renting and we’ve appreciated this!

      I’m with you Lois – I’d never lease a car. Now that is a waste of money!

  4. A great piece, Lindsay – beautiful summary of what life really should be! I remember reading about Clint Ober (he wrote the book “Earthing” about the health benefits of getting your bare feet onto the ground) – he made his fortune in the cable tv world in USA. One day he realised he was spending all his time looking after all the assets he owned and not actually living. So he gave away most of it, bought himself a motorhome and set off travelling. It was then he had time to develop his thoughts on the health benefits of Earthing and really start living!

    So this is a timely reminder of what to focus on this year.

    Must also share a comment made by Joseph Heller (he wrote ‘Catch 22’ all those years ago!) in response to an incredibly wealthy friend’s claim “I make more in a day than you made in your whole career” – Joseph responded with “Yes, but I have something you will never have”. The guy was aghast and said “What?” And Joseph said “Enough.”

    Cheers & thanks, Caroline (Urban Tucker Woman)

    • Thanks Caroline! I haven’t heard of Clint (but I have heard of earthing!) so I’ll look him up. There are a lot of people who’ve “had it all” and realised they weren’t happy and sold it all / became minimalists – and there are doubters who think until you’ve had it all you can’t know if it will make you happy. I’m pretty sure that if you always chase external rewards you’ll never be happy – there’s research showing this is the case! Finding “enough” is far more attainable, and rewarding : )

      Love Joseph’s quote! Perfect! Thanks so much for sharing!

  5. Wonderful post! I’m less than two years into full-time work and I’m already disenchanted with it. Like you said, it just takes away time and energy from all the other good things in life. But there is so much pressure to work long hours and move up the ladder. How long did it take you to realise/decide you wanted to reduce your hours?

    • That is a very good question Rachel! I would say there was a big lag in realising I wanted to reduce my hours and realising that it was actually an option for me. Not because my work wouldn’t support it – when I eventually asked they were great and gave me better hours than I could ever have imagined – but because I didn’t know anyone that worked part-time that wasn’t a mother or semi-retired. I felt like it was socially unacceptable. What changed my mindset was getting an internship for a charity (paid for by my original workplace) which opened my eyes to different ways of doing things – there plenty of people worked part-time so they had time to do other fun stuff! When I went back I asked and they said yes. I must have been with the company almost 6 years by then (you had to be there for 5 to qualify for the internship).

      • Thanks for the answer, Lindsay. I guess a lot of social pressure to conform (in this case, to work full-time) is actually internal rather than external. In my own workplace there is one person who works a 32 hour week, but so many of my other colleagues regularly work long days and weekends to get things done, which helps build an expectation that others will do the same.

        • Although my company was supportive and allowed flexible hours, most people couldn’t understand my choice. I lost count of the number of comments made about how I was a “kept woman” meaning they assumed I couldn’t possibly afford to live on my salary and my partner must be supplementing my income – not true at all! I am very good at budgeting and sticking to it, and I knew that failing would mean going back to full-time work – no thanks!

          Interestingly a friend asked her boss if she could go to 4 days a week recently (after hearing my case for how great it is many times!) and her boss pretty much asked her if it was because she had mental health problems! Not in a rude way – he just couldn’t understand why someone in their thirties didn’t want to work full-time and assumed she wasn’t coping! In the end though, your own happiness is the most important thing and it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Remember that!

          • Yes, it does seem to be difficult for many people to understand. When I mused aloud to family about cutting back to 4 days a week at work, I was told I can’t afford to do that at my age because I *need* to save, save, save for a mortgage, children, retirement. So thank you for talking about your own experience and helping to normalise it!

  6. Beautifully written as always! Have you heard the story about the Fisherman and the Executive? It is just so true – http://www.lifeedited.com/the-fisherman-and-the-executive/ We live in a small house and in a country where the average sized house is 243m2, people always seem to think bigger is better but there are definitely more interesting things to do in life than clean 3 bathrooms, 5 bedrooms and a massive kitchen! Good Luck with your new home.

    • Ah thank you! Yes I have heard that story before but I had forgotten it, so thank you for reminding me! I think I will share it in the course I’m running – it’s such a great way to explain simple living.

      Haha, I could not agree more! As a kid I used to look in the property pages at all the huge houses and wish I lived in one when I was a grown up – now I look at houses in terms of tidying and cleaning and the thought of even 2 bathrooms fills me with dread! I wouldn’t know what to do with all the space!

      I can’t remember what our new flat will be in size but I think it is 70m2, and both my husband and I are overwhelmed at the thought! Our current place is 50m2-60m2, and more than big enough. The previous place was 45m2, which was a bit small partly because it wasn’t designed that well. We’ll feel like kings!

  7. Just come here from your IG. This post is really good and I hope to see more people to know the idea. May I share this in my facebook?

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