|Tax Credits, Flickr|
How much should one work, and how much should one earn? Reading on that topic I have learned that:
- the minimum wage is usually not enough to afford a salubrious shelter, reasonably healthy food, medical expenses and an education - especially if you have kids
- happiness increases as you make your way up to $75,000 a year - after that, additional increases in income will not make you any happier
- the American Dream costs $130,000 per year
Of course each of those statements has been questioned on various grounds.
I have lived on incomes all along that continuum, which makes me look like I'm qualified to draw my own conclusions.
However, I'm afraid I cannot comment on the lower income end since in my case, when I lived on very little it was 1) by choice (I refused to borrow any money at all while I was in college) 2) temporary (I knew my situation would improve as soon as I got out of school and got a "real" job) and 3) complemented by my parents' contribution to both my tuition and groceries - plus I could enjoy their property on the weekend. In the end, I did spend a few years living very frugally (1-room apartment, no TV, no microwave, very few possessions in general and not going out much), but it never felt like actual poverty. (It might help that despite my low income, I was treated with respect, which doesn't seem to be the case in many low-income realities.)
I can, however, comment on the fact that the American Dream as described by USA Today is not an infallible recipe for happiness. There are many reasons behind that. First and obvious is the fact that safety and material comfort are only one factor of happiness. From what I have either witnessed or experienced personally, pleasant relationships, meaningful activities, good mental health and such count just as much in the well-being equation. I would rather live in a shack with people I love than live in a castle with people I despise. I would rather have a job I love that pays okay than have a job I hate that pays well. I would also rather have less stuff to look after. I could list examples of well-off people I have known that were not happy, but I will trust that you have your own examples.
This is where an honest appraisal of the reasons we work the way we do and of the costs and benefits of work comes into play. You might have landed the prestigious, well-paid job you had dreamed about. Or you might simply be working really hard at a regular-Joe job. But is it filling you with contentment or with misery? How do you truly feel? Is all that hard work really worth it?
If you really love what you do, and if the time and energy commitment doesn't get in the way of other life goals (like spending time with loved ones, engaging in hobbies or simply relaxing), then by all means keep at it.
But if you feel like the trade-off might not be worth it... time to reconsider. In my field, I have met many colleagues who left secure jobs as physicians, lawyers, engineers, financiers, senior managers and the like to become freelance translators, editors and writers. I have yet to hear one of them say they regret it at all. Despite the initial uncertainty, precarity and fluctuations of income (it does get better as you gain experience), more than one has told me they would "never go back".
Within one's ideal field itself, one must also be weary of crossing the line of "too much". There have been times in my freelance career when things were going so well for me that I started feeling they were going a little bit too well: the money was good, but I was working so much that I could never use said money - there simply was no time for anything else but work! Life was made of hours worked and checks deposited, with very little in-between. I had to cut back.
Doing so has had less negative impact than I imagined. I realized that having the time to watch life go by is a luxury I enjoy way more than most material possessions. I also realized that if I cut down on certain paid tasks I like (translation in fields I am not passionate about), I have more time to indulge in paid tasks I love (teaching, writing, and translation in the fields that I am passionate about). Interestingly, my income did not significantly decrease as I changed how I invest my time: it simply comes from different sources now. I certainly feel like I don't work as hard as I used to, but it's simply because I love what I do.
Everything is relative of course: there are fields and cities where working less than 50 hours is considered slacking, and there are people who cannot fathom working more than part-time. Each of us has to ponder our need for stimulation as much as our need for rest as we tackle the $ numbers.
I have to be completely honest: I am not ready yet to fully indulge in hardcore minimalism. There are "luxuries" I still enjoy. Plus, I am not even handy. But I am more than ready to mindfully assess the use of each and every minute and dollar to make sure that it truly serves the purpose of maximizing my well-being.
What is your relationship to your job and the money you make from it? Do you think any changes in that area could make you happier?
WEEK 15 IN REVIEW
They say it takes a few weeks to form a new habit. After 15 weeks of not buying, I think the habit has been formed. I can walk into a store and get the one thing I need without even considering anything else. It's a wonderful feeling.
Donations (good riddance)
I am stuck in the book department. Really stuck. I know as long as I live in an English-speaking environment I will keep my French classics since they are so hard to come by, and I want my kids to have access to them (plus, I teach French). But any other book seems like it could go. Which doesn't mean I feel ready to let them go. Any advice?
Observations and cogitations
I have had that conversation with a few friends and family members: what should one do about things that s/he doesn't use but feels s/he will use in the future? For example, I am keeping some pairs of jeans for when the ones I currently wear the most have to be discarded. It seems logical in such a case. But such a logic also opens the door to accumulating things "for later", which can certainly go too far. I have seen more than one older person move to a nursing home or pass away with enough hand towels and Javex to last 3 generations. What do you think?