Why Living In Debt Makes Us Happy

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living in debt

It seems to be a prerequisite of modern life: debt.  That beautiful four letter word that haunts us throughout our lives on this earth.

If you're like most people - you're probably in debt, and a hell of a lot of it.  Unfortunately, I've also wandered naively into the jaws of the debt monster, who jabbed a massive $10,000+ student debt loan into my derrière.

But after some reflection, analysis and a bit of light reading, I realize something interesting about debt.  Debt is really brought about by a mindset more than anything.

This mindset determines what you choose to do with your money, and consequently how you will live your life for the next 50 years.

So what exactly is this shockingly mysterious yet amazingly obvious mindset ...?

Debt Called Me A Sheeple

Deep down, what motivates our desire to get diploma's, cars, houses, pets, gadget's, gizmo's and extra bells and whistles to what we own?

Our desire to be normal.

We want to be like everyone else deep down - naturally, it's the best way to feel accepted in society and fit in.  So why not do what everyone else does?  Why not buy, spend, purchase and own constantly?  If everyone else does it, it must be the best way to go, right?

Wrong.  Although it may seem reasonable to buy a car, purchase a house, and get a massive student loan to live a practical and purposeful life, in essence, we're condemning ourselves to a life of slavery.  A life of debt paying.  A life of 9-5 work.  A life of constant repayments.

So much for retiring when we're 40.  The word "retirement" is now synonymous with "start working at 18, retire at 65 and drop off the perch a few years later".

So why do we fill our lives with so much crap?  If you've ever read up on minimalism, the art of living with less, you realize that most of the stuff we own is superfluous.  We don't need 20 shirts, 7 pairs of jeans, 15 pairs of shoes, 2 dogs, 2 cars, 150 nick knacks, or 31 different colognes.

When we get a paycheck, we don't need to go out and purchase the latest iPod, use it on fancy meals or spend it on lavish clothing.

Have you noticed how tempting it is to spend a nice juicy paycheck?  If you're like most people, the temptation to buy is too much to bear.  Simply walking through a shopping mall is enough to make our fingers fiddle and our eyes twitch.  We want that set of silver plated potato peelers.  We want that set of Tweety bed linen.  We want that family of Swedish garden gnomes on special for $9.95.

We want, we want, we want.

We're rather like obese chocolate fanatic Augustus Gloop from the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory story.  We need more and more things to fill up our proverbial bellies.

"Things" seem to act as existential gap-fillers in that they make us happy.  They momentarily appease our thirst for wholeness.

So we end up buying and draining our bank accounts, and living off the next paycheck, and living for the thrill of the "purchase".  No wonder we're all in so much debt.  Not only is it common, and accepted in society, but it gives our lives a meaning and direction when there was none.

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Debt Is My Meaning In Life

With all the work we do, to get more money, to buy more things - it's no wonder that many of us lack any real meaning, direction or passion in life.  We simply have no time!

We're too busy working.

We have no time to discover what we really want, who we really are, and what will really make us happy.  So obtaining "stuff" and "things" becomes our passion, and paying off debt becomes our meaning and direction.

After all, we need a meaning to get out of bed, no matter how superficial.

Debt Regret

I'm a firm believer in the curative properties of deeply felt regret.

True regret makes you change.  True regret makes you fight to not make the same mistakes as you once did.

That's why one of the best things that I ever did in my life was to look at my total salary earnings for the past year, and see how much I saved.  Oh boy.

The next step I found helpful in the "debt regret" stage was to look at all the stuff I had, and see how much of it was actually needed or necessary.  For me?  Not very much at all.  Oh dear.

And the third step was to reflect on how much I could have saved towards financial freedom, but didn't.  This was perhaps the hardest stage because upon reflection, you realize just how many extra days, months and years of work you've added to your life due to your frivolous spending.  Not nice.  But necessary.

At this point in time, being jobless, I'm learning the hard way.

Living Differently

Living debt free is a trial and error practice.

I encourage you to be eccentric and think about how you can live differently from other people.

Could you do without a car, and catch public transport instead?  (Apparently owning a car costs the average American around $9,000 a year).  Could you do without a lot of the clothing you have stashed away?  Or without certain types of expensive food?  Could you even do without a house, living in a small apartment or caravan instead?

What ways can you downsize your exterior life, and upsize your interior life?

I'd love to hear any stories, opinions or recommendations that you have!

Photo by: R00dy


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  1. Shelly says

    I have to have a car. There is no public transportation in many places here in the USA. However, I have very little of anything else! It’s crazy the amount of stuff people have and stuff, perfectly good stuff ,people throw away to buy more stuff! We live in an apartment complex have been dumpster diving for a couple of years now. We have found and given away numerous vacuum cleaners, clothes,shoes,pots and pans, comforters and on and on.

  2. Dan says

    I think buying a small cheaper end motorbike was one of the best choices I’ve ever made, not just financially but overall lifestyle as well.

    4 years ago I picked up 250CC bike in relatively good condition for $3000 $AU. Gets me everywere I need to go and I spend all of $15 a fortnight on fuel – 12 litre tank, get ~400km of travel distance out of it. Just about everyone else I know who owns a car spends more than $60 a week on fuel. Insurance and rego costs me less than half that of most cars too.

    Hunted around for people selling 2nd hand parts and managed to get a good condition rear luggage rack and small storage box for $90 (buying them new was close to $500). Can usually carry around all the gear i need each day with space left over, enough to carry a decent amount of food when I go shopping, though small enough that it also limits me from buying too much (further encouragement to only buy what I need).

    It’s a solitary form of transport and one is a little more exposed to natural elements, but as an Introvert I find these qualities rather appealing. One of the most enjoyable experiences I have these days is a nice relaxing cruise along the country roads where there is very little traffic.

    I’ve also got a few plans for my own home at some point down the track. I intend to be as self sufficient as possible. I will definitely have solar power, and wind power too if the location is suitable enough for it. A rain water tank is mandatory too – I have lived off tank water for several years at my parents house and it is always fresh and pure (I can no longer stand city/piped water, even when filtered). Having my own power and water suplly will eliminate many of the expensive bills that are hitting people hard these days. Also have plans for a big garden for herbs and vegies plus an orchard too.

  3. AndyAE says

    I just wanted to say thank you for everything you do. I managed to find this site months ago and then forgot about it, but that is the best part because I got to find it all again. I also wanted to say that using some of the tips you gave on the article called “Living on Cloud 9″ and they’ve be a really great help because I was bullied to the point of developing ptsd throughout most of school and I have bad social anxiety, visual hallucinations, and a bunch of other stuff making even opening the front door to let my dog out terrifying. So I noticed while reading this article and listening to music that I can open the door and even not freak out all the time and constantly look behind me, so I wanted to take that time to deeply thank you for everything you and Mateo write on here because (without sounding too dramatic) it’s really giving me a chance to live without fear. Of way too much. So again I wanted to say thank you because your site has just helped me so much. Thank you.

    • says

      AndyAE — thank YOU! It is such a pleasure to know that the hard work we both put into the articles we write helps to make ripples of change in the lives of others, such as yourself. I hope our work can continue to help you heal. I know what constantly suffering from anxiety is like (as a once chronic sufferer myself), so it is wonderful to know that my lessons can help you.

      Warm wishes!