Joy is not in things, it is in us. - Robert Wagner
It is impossible to turn on the television, pick up a newspaper or have a conversation with anyone these days without the country's economic crisis taking center stage. It's impossible to escape and I think that everyone is feeling very uneasy about their financial situation at the moment. Everything costs more: food, fuel, and especially heating oil as we approach the winter here in the northeast. Paychecks haven't kept up with the rapid rise in inflation, and now on top of the increase in the cost of living, we have the threat of failing banks. Wall Street is a rollercoaster and everyday people who have invested their retirement savings are losing huge sums of money. We're lucky that we're still 20+ years away from retirement- the economy goes up and down and hopefully this trend will work itself out within the next several years. But what about those who don't have that kind of time, and have lost their nest egg?
I hate to say this, but maybe in some ways this crash will be good for our country. Certainly not in the short term, and I do feel for the people who are impacted today by the volatility. But perhaps in the long run this will be a good thing. We are a country of wasters- anyone who has ever traveled outside the United States has seen this. Gas prices rising here? Well they've been higher in Europe for many years. They have had to adapt, you don't see the huge SUVs that so many people here drive. They have been using alternative forms of energy such as wind and solar much longer, its not uncommon to see a wind farm on the horizon or a store selling solar panels for the homeowner. We need to be better about seeking alternative fuels and being more proactive about conservation. I think the economy is going to force us into it, even if our consciences haven't.
Perhaps, also, this crash will be a sort of levelling of the playing field as well. I know that not just the Wall St. bigwigs are being affected, probably the CEOs of the banks and corporations that are being bailed out will never have to worry about how they are going to pay for their oil bill, or decide which is more important: groceries or their medication. But hopefully it will slim down the margain between the haves and the have-nots and force us to look at our spending habits and what is meaningful to us.
J and I have lived frugally for so many years. When we read the tips that are now appearing online, in magazines and newspapers on how to save costs we just shake our heads and say "we already do all that!" We have become masters at conservation and frugality. Can we trim a bit more from our budget? Of course, there is always room for improvement, but over the years we have learned to be very responsible financially- due in large part to my being disabled and not working. Now that J is between jobs we need to be even more cautious. But maybe in proportion we aren't as badly off because everyone else is struggling now as well.
This brings me back to my original quote: that happiness is not in things, but in ourselves. I'm hoping that this difficult economic time will help us, as a country, get away from the consumerism and "he who dies with the most toys wins" mentality and more in touch with our spiritual side. Things can't make you happy. Can they make life more comfortable? You bet! But if you do a bit of soul-searching and make a list of priorities and what is important to you in life, I'll wager that it is the simple things that top the list: family, friends, a crisp, sunny fall day, apple pie baking in the oven. Yes, we need money to pay our bills and put food on the table, but true happiness comes from within, from us doing the things we love and that give us a sense of wholeness. Once our basic needs have been met, everything else is icing on the cake. Here's to the simple life!