Recently, on a sunny Saturday morning, we were kayaking out on the river our neighborhood borders.
There were so many reasons to be happy and/or thankful.
- The weather was beautiful.
- We have free water access in our own neighborhood.
- Neighbors let us borrow their kayak so we could both go (we only had one at the time).
- We have bodies that are healthy enough to allow us to go out and kayak.
- Our kids are old enough to mind themselves while we go do things like this.
So, you would have thought that I would have been feeling seriously joyful.
(and I certainly expected to feel joyful!)
But as we paddled along, my heart was filled with discontentment.
What I discovered is that in all the years that we’ve walked around our neighborhood, we’ve basically been seeing the backside of all the waterfront houses.
When you get down in the water, though, you see the really beautiful side of all the homes.
Large decks, lovely walkways down to the water, expansive windows covering the whole water-facing side of the home, beautiful docks, boat after boat after boat…when I look at that, it can be really, really hard not to compare and come up short.
(I live in a 1970s-era split foyer on a land-locked lot and I paddle a kayak. That’s not quite the same as a waterfront, modern home with a boat!)
I couldn’t help but think about what it must be like to wake up in bedroom that overlooks the sparkling water, with a beautifully landscaped yard, in a home cleaned by somebody else.
(Not everyone in our neighborhood lives like that, but we walk enough to see landscapers and cleaners arriving at waterfront homes.)
From the water, it’s easy to gaze at that and think, “The lives of those people must be so much better than mine. If I lived there, I’d be so much happier. If I lived that person’s life, I’d be so much happier.”
The thing is, I cerebrally know this isn’t true.
I’ve heard many stories of dazzlingly rich people who are very unhappy. And there are plenty of rich people whose lives are full of problems.
Still, I look at those riches from the water, and somehow, I think they mean freedom from stress and problems.
(Sometimes often my feelings really do not make any sense.)
I’m not going to tell you that I conquered my unpleasant feelings entirely that morning (just writing this post brought a lot of those same feelings flooding back!), but I’ll list what I try to tell myself when discontent threatens to take over.
1. Happiness is an inside job
No one and no thing outside of me is going to bring me happiness.
We know this is true because people who are rich and famous are not unilaterally happy. And there are plenty of people who are joyful even though their lives are not full of riches and ease.
Happiness and joy have more to do with my own heart than with anything outside of me.
Plus, my heart is gonna come with me wherever I go, wherever I live, and it’ll be there no matter how much money I have.
Wherever I go, there I am. I bring contentment or discontent with me.
2. Where I am is not an accident
This one is explicitly related to my faith, so it may not be applicable for you if you believe everything in life happens by chance.
I believe that God led me to where I am in life for a reason. My home, my income level, and my difficulties…all of that is for my good, for my growth, or to help me help others.
(I mean, I certainly would not be here, typing on a blog about frugality without having lived through lean financial times!)
When I remember that I do trust God to move me where I’m supposed to be, I feel much more contented about where I am.
3. There are lots of people who would love to have my life
Someone who is homeless would dearly love to have a 1970s split foyer.
Someone with a chronic illness would dearly love to have my healthy body.
Someone who is going hungry would be massively grateful to have the food in my home.
And goodness, even my past self would be quite grateful to own the kayak my present self owns.
When I make an effort to see my life through someone else’s eyes (or through my past self’s eyes), I get a much more accurate picture of how much I can be grateful for.
4. No one’s life is problem free
Despite what Instagram feeds tell us, there is not a person on earth whose life is totally smooth sailing.
Everyone faces difficulties of some sort; personal problems, relationship problems, financial problems, parenting problems, health problems…the list of possibilities is endless.
To be jealous of someone’s seemingly problem-free life is to be jealous of something that does. not. exist.
No one in this broken world has the unbroken life we all long for, and adjusting my expectations accordingly is helpful.
Typing the first part of this post dipped me right into those discontented feelings, but typing the last part set me right again.
And that is exactly why I have to keep talking to myself instead of just listening to myself.
Thursday 2nd of July 2020
Ugh this has been a major struggle for me right now, thanks for the reminder!
Saturday 27th of June 2020
When I feel discontent, I ask myself, why am I on Facebook comparing my lives to others when I could be spending my time actually doing what I want? Ever since I cut using Facebook I have been far less discontent. I actually cannot even remember the last time I was sincerely discontent.
Saturday 27th of June 2020
P.S. But I do appreciate the neighborhood thrift stores! My goodness those lazy lumps throw out a name brand shirt when a button goes missing! Buy a card of new buttons and my hsbnd has once found a nearly brand newSaville Row $280 dress shirt for $15.
Saturday 27th of June 2020
I was raised, for a few years in just such a home with my grandparents, their problems were immense they thought. Theft and discontent from servants, cooked, thrown-away food, uncleaned corners, having to attend civic functions. Little privacy. Constant repairs needed...
When I escaped to modest middle class marriage, what a relief! In particular, privacy in living--what a pleasure.
Saturday 27th of June 2020
I've often thought that when I'm watching something like Downton Abbey or The Crown. The lack of privacy would be just awful! And I really would prefer to dress myself rather than have someone dress me.
Thursday 25th of June 2020
I have to admit, house envy is NOT something I've ever, ever felt for large waterfront homes.
When I was a kid, my family moved into a 6 bedroom, 3500sqft house built over 100 years ago with a partially finished basement and a lot of original finishes (trim, built-in buffet, etc.) on the first floor. 1122 Reeves Dr, Grand Forks, ND, close to a park with a sledding hill, warming hut, and golf course that was prepped for cross country skiing in the winter, located in a neighborhood where the streets were lined with stately elm trees arching over the street.
It looks amazing, and the pictures currently up on various real estate websites look pretty much like what I remember when we lived there.
In the 5 years we lived there, that house needed: new furnace, new roof, new siding, new window trim, not to mention a lot of issues related to multiple owners doing seriously weird and sometimes dangerous things to the electrical and plumbing. My mom gave up after 2 years and hired a part-time housekeeper who came every other week to clean the bathrooms and vacuum all the carpet because with both parents working full-time plus trying to get tenure (college professors), and us kids in after-school programs or summer camp (we weren't old enough to stay home alone), that kind of housework just wasn't getting done.
We had ended up in that house partly in response to living in graduate student housing for 5 years that was a 600sqft 2-bedroom apartment with my parents, my sister, me, a cat, a dog, and my brother was born 9 months before we moved out.
My parents have never lived in a house over 2000sqft after that house!
Later, when my own little family lived in an apartment in Seattle, we had a friend who I dog-walked for who has a home on a lake. I've seen the maintenance required for even her tiny beach and dock area, plus the stress of watching a lake rise literally in your backyard.
I'll happily pay my taxes for beach and lake access maintained by my town's park district, and I'll happily wake up to a backyard of mature trees and bird song over the stress of watching a lake rise towards my back door!