What’s the Cost of Happiness?

I received an Athleta catalog in the mail a few days ago. After barely making through a day at school while sick, I drew myself a warm bath and made a mug of hot tea as soon as I walked into the house. I settled into the soothing tub and began to flip through the catalog of quality active wear. Without even realizing it, I began to dogear corners and picture myself in many of the new fall fashions. I escaped into the fantasy provided by the catalog, seeing myself smiling and relaxed like the women in the photos rather than tired and wheezy and pale like I was in reality.

Luckily, I am not an impulse buyer. A quick tally of the total was enough for me to set the catalog aside.

But still, I felt a longing. A need that wasn’t there hours before. I checked my email before heading to bed and I found messages from my two favorite clothing stores at a nearby outlet mall. Each store was running a 50% off everything sale and included an additional 20% off coupon in the email. I weighed my options. I haven’t bought much in the way of clothing lately. I have enough clothes for work but some are starting to show signs of wear and others have never fit right again since the divorce. I would like to freshen up the wardrobe. But, if I’m honest with myself, it isn’t really needed.

I closed the emails.

I could take $200 or so and buy a few key pieces from Athleta that would probably become my go-to items for several years. Or, I could take that same money and walk away with several bulging bags from the outlet mall that would update my work wardrobe for many years. But would either of those purchases bring me any happiness?

Temporarily, sure.

I would enjoy the hunt for a bargain at the mall or the perusal of the perfect pictures in the catalog. I would revel in the look and feel of new fabric that is sized to fit my post-divorce frame. But soon, they would simply become heaps of cotton and spandex in the hamper. Something else to fold or hang. Another item who fails to impress after an all-to-brief honeymoon period.

I’ve learned that when I feel that longing for something new it is because I feel some void in my life at the moment. Right now, that void is because I cannot be as active as I wish while my lungs are healing. I feel stuck and frustrated. Some part of me seems to think that covering my body with new clothing will make it feel better inside. I know that is a fallacy. But, damn, it sure is a persistent one.

Instead of spending that money on clothing that would bring a temporary smile, I would rather spend it on a plane ticket to visit freinds or family. Or a couple of nights in a cabin in the mountains with loved ones. If I spend the money on an experience, I may not be left with anything more tangible than pictures, but the joy in the memories will last far beyond the trip itself.

I know for sure what I do not want. I don’t want to lose the money in dribs and drabs, small mindless purchases that barely cause a ripple in my consciousness. It’s all too easy for money to flow out without us demanding anything in return.

I still feel the pull of the stores even though I know they won’t make my coughing go away or bring back my strength. While I wait to heal, I will instead spend time dreaming of upcoming trips. Even if I have to wear pants that don’t quite fit:)

Happiness isn’t found in money, but how we choose to allocate it can pay out large dividends if we make mindful choices.

When do you feel a pull to spend money? Do you give in or fight the urge? How do you choose to spend money to maximize your happiness return?


10 thoughts on “What’s the Cost of Happiness?

    1. That makes sense. All of these companies play on our fears and insecurities. It is insidious (!) and our culture deems it acceptable. It is so easy to be tempted by what seems to be an easy “fix.”

  1. I always feel the need for “back to school” clothes! I was a teacher off and on for about 20 years. I have not been out shopping for Fall clothes yet, but I want one or two little purchases. I have become a resale shopper, which helps my budget. I then force myself to put twice as much stuff into the shopping bag to give to Sal. Army or Goodwill. Still want to get to the place in my life that I am plain satisfied with what I have. Good resisting, girlfriend!

    1. I am a teacher and usually do the “back to school” (small) binge too:) It just seems to go along with that whole fresh start thing at the beginning of the year. Good idea with reselling – I used to do that with books but I haven’t gotten into that groove with clothes.

      1. Good to know that is part of who you are. What grade do you teach?

        My fellow teachers were supportive of my divorce and then, really encouraged me to share my funny dating situations. Hope you have some of that where you work, too.

        I can now understand better why you want new clothes. Just look at those ads and find something more reasonably priced and then you will feel righteous not spending too much money!

        1. I teach 8th grade. The teachers where I worked during The Year of the Divorce were super supportive. I’m in a new school now and most of them don’t even know about my past. It’s kinda nice not to be known as the bigamist’s wife for a change:) I think I’m going to resist the urge for clothes. We have some trips coming up this fall and I’m going to focus on those:) Besides, since I have new students, at least my wardrobe is new to them!

          1. Thank you for sharing what grade you are teaching. Good idea to have a fresh start. I used to love teaching “middle school” specifically sixth grade but the last 9 years I taught were of preschool with integrated classroom with both special needs and typically developing children. I loved it and if the NCLB Act had not come along, I may have finished my career there. But as luck would (not) have it, my ex lost his job the last 3 yrs. of working at the preschool and my Master’s was not met in a timely fashion. I am completely used to my past four year’s work so not complaining, just sharing. I am most happy that you are doing better.

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