The New ‘Good Life’: Redefining Our Relationship With Money
June 14th, 2010

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I have a dear friend with whom I’ve become very close in recent years. He and I talk about almost everything. We confide in each other to such an extent that we even know details of each other’s sexual history and experiences. But I’ve noticed something. Even with all that we have shared, even with all the comfort we’ve created together, he isn’t able to talk freely and openly about money.

Recently, when I asked him why, he said it’s because talking about money makes him feel uncomfortable and vulnerable. In this, I don’t think my friend is at all unique. Money issues seem uniquely capable of triggering our attachments, hopes and aversions, and of bringing up feelings we are uncomfortable with, such as fear, envy and shame. When it comes to money, otherwise kind and sensible people sometimes become fearful and crazy.

Here’s what I hope to convey in The New Good Life: Living Better Than Ever in an Age of Less, my latest book, which was just published.

However much money you have or don’t have, your relationship to the money in your life can be transformational. It can be a doorway into greater consciousness, into greater integrity and into greater freedom.

And one more thing. I do not say this glibly. I say this in all humility and in all seriousness. It’s obvious that there are limitations and restrictions that come with having financial challenges. What is not so obvious, and what is crucial to realize, is that there are also opportunities, openings and possibilities.

The New Good Life is about finding a new freedom, a new truth and a new joy in your relationship to money. It is a guide to developing a relationship to money that is fulfilling, that is sane and wise, that enables you to thrive and that connects you to your powers of renewal and creativity.

As I’ve realized how hard it is for most of us to talk openly and freely about money, I’ve come to understand that there is profound human treasure hidden in the darkness. By shedding light on an area of our lives that has so much importance and yet can be so delicate and sensitive, we can find new possibilities for healing. We can become more able to make conscious and fulfilling choices around money. We can become better able to align our money decisions with our deepest core values and our highest commitments.

The goal, and it’s a far more reachable one than most of us realize, is financial freedom. We tend to think that only if we have vast sums of money can we be financially free. But becoming financially free, it turns out, is not determined by the amount of money you make. Part of accomplishing financial freedom is what I call “the new frugality.” This isn’t your grandmother’s frugality. This isn’t about deprivation. It’s about choice and self- determination. Have you noticed that when you feel deprived, you don’t stay on track? That’s true about budgets, diets and anywhere else we want to make changes. This book isn’t about self-denial. You don’t have to move into an apartment the size of a prison cell, clip coupons and eat nothing but canned beans for every meal. Quite to the contrary, the new frugality can be an adventure and a great deal of fun.

It’s a game, really. The object of the game is to see how much you can lower your spending while raising your quality of life.

It turns out, it can be radical and energizing to play this game, instead of playing the game most people play. Our consumer society wants you to play the “you are what you buy” game. Our consumer society tells you it is your patriotic duty to go to the mall even if you have to go into credit card debt. Remarkably, this was President George W. Bush’s advice to the country after the devastating terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001: “Go shopping.” Deep down, we all knew that this advice was wrong and would ultimately not address our needs for healing or for community.

We’ve all seen bumper stickers that say “He who dies with the most toys wins.” That’s the old game; that’s the old way of defining success; that’s the old “good life.” In the new good life, the point is not to have the most toys, but the most joys.

The new way of defining success is liberating. Now you’re playing a game that lowers your cost of living and protects you from being exploited. Now you’re playing a game that is good for your spirit, that is healthy for your relationships, that is in service to the wider earth community–and that is crucial for your financial sanity.

This game isn’t about denying your pleasures. It’s about plugging the money leaks that you may have been only dimly aware of, but which have been draining you.

Some of us buy rich and expensive foods and then pay for costly health care to deal with the problems that come from overeating. Some of us buy things we don’t need and then pay for larger residences or storage space to house the things we have accumulated. As we step into the new good life, we identify where our spending patterns are inconsistent with our life’s greater fulfillment.

It’s about the joy of living with a purpose larger than consumption. It’s about living less from image and more from the creative spark of your own spirit. It’s about expanding the love and laughter in your home rather than increasing the square footage of your home.

The point of this game is to achieve an overflowing life, a generous life, an exciting life, a joyful life, while spending less. The rationale behind the new frugality is not to become a miser (the word “miser” comes from the same root as the word “miserable”). The goal is to live better for less. The point is to have less stress in your life and more true wealth.

This isn’t achieved by depriving yourself. It’s accomplished by spending your money with a clarity of purpose. When you eliminate wasteful spending in every area of your financial life, you can focus your spending on what you really care about. Your spending can become more intelligent and more productive. And when you stop scrambling to earn money to pay for stuff that doesn’t really make your life better, you have more time for the things that matter most to you.

I believe there is a hidden blessing in the economic crisis, in the necessary return to reality from a make-waste society. Many of us know, at some level, that we have become caught up in something deeply out of balance, that we are going way too fast, that we are speeding past too many of the things and moments that could really matter. Many of us sense that life is too precious and too precarious to live the way we are living.

The New Good Life can help you to prosper in times of economic distress, and also to appreciate the sometimes bitter medicine that our society needs in order to regain its soul.

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