A Moment of Clarity

*please forgive me for this post. But Emma and I created this blog not because we HAD to have everything we wrote about, but because it’s a creative endeavor that makes up happy. And, frankly, happiness is important.

I saw a documentary yesterday called Inside Job. It was an expose on what exactly led to the economic crisis we find ourselves in, but there were three things that really stood out:

  1. a graph that showed the rise in hours worked over the last 50 years
  2. almost everything was measured in dollars ($ earned/lost, fines, bonuses)
  3. the underlying message was that greater government regulation of the financial services industry can stave off future disasters.

But thinking about it, I disagree. And because of points 1 and 2: if our society has decided that our end goal is money, and more of it, I don’t think there is anything any government can do to save us from ourselves: we got ourselves into the mess we’re in and as long our our priorities remain the same, nothing will change. It’s on us to get ourselves out of it.

(1) Hours worked. The graph was startling. Basically, we spend twice as much time at work than we did 50 years ago. Why? Because we need to earn more money. And why is that? Because money will buy us all of the stuff that shows that we’ve made it. Nice cars, large homes, a full complement of electronic gadgets, all of it: our external signs of status. You want to know why our nuclear family is falling apart and why our education system is failing? We spend more time at work – and that means less time supporting our friends, reading with our children, spending quality time with our significant others. You talk to any teacher out there and they will tell you it starts with parents. Of course it does. But if those parents are spending more time at work to make money to buy their child a new iPhone 4, that doesn’t leave them as much time to actually spend with that child.

(2) Measuring in Dollars. Why do we do all of this? And why did the film measure everything in dollars? Because that’s how we measure ourselves. That is what we respect and understand. More money equals success and less equals failure (or foolishness). We decided, collectively, that money would make our lives better. Everyone knows the old saying that money can’t buy happiness… so how on earth did it become our most central belief as a society? And here’s the kicker – what is the answer to ‘how much money will make our lives better?’ MORE. More than what we’ve got. Because according to how we behave as a society, more money will always make our lives better, so we strive to make (and have) more. And then we use that money to buy things that display our successes and make our lives easier, more efficient, so that we can spend more time making money. There is a beauty to the cycle that you have to admire.

(3) Government Intervention. The line of thinking goes like this: if the government would step in and place limits on the products that the financial industry can offer us as consumers, we will be saved from this vicious cycle. Not a chance. As long as there is demand for something, people will sell it. And what we demand is money, whether it’s real (earned money in the bank) or false (paper loans that increase our spending ability in the short term). Anything that will lead us to believe we are succesfull. That will allow us to buy that elusive happiness.

Which brings me back to my note up top. Emma and I started this blog because writing it makes us happy. I quit my day job and became my own boss so I could spend more time doing things that I enjoyed. Our household income is now smaller. But I spend more time with my husband. And my cats. And cooking. And taking care of myself. And doing things that make me happy. So maybe I don’t get a new iPhone next year. That’s not going to make or break me and I could care less if people think I’m successful or not. What’s important is what I think. The government can’t give me a life I love, and neither can a credit card company. It’s not that easy. There is no one else to blame for the decisions you make throughout your life – it’s all on you. And sometimes that’s awesome and liberating, and sometimes that’s pretty damn scary. But at the end of the day, it’s your call to make. You, and no one else. That has nothing to do with money. And neither does happiness.

Okay, getting off my high horse now….

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