A few nights ago, my wife had to work late, so I was charged with an evening at home alone with my three year old and one year old.
We did the usual things. We ate dinner together (spaghetti – my son’s favorite food). We played with his train set. I read several books, mostly selections based on my daughter’s whims since she’s just discovered the fun of having books read to her.
Eventually, we decided to watch a nature show. The three of us cuddled up on the couch. All three of us were tired – I could have easily nodded off right there. My son leaned in close to me on the right, and my daughter nodded off in the crook of my left arm.
It was easily the best evening I’ve spent in a very long time.
Before my children were born, I used to obsess a lot over the things I could accumulate. I’d buy video games and DVDs and gadgets. I surrounded myself by tons of things – and they were a source of personal pride to me.
At some point, though, I realized something about all of that stuff I had accumulated: I loved it, but it didn’t love me back. It never can and it never will. I can’t build a healthy, happy, mutual relationship with the things I had purchased. All it could really do is rub a bit of salve on an emotional or psychological wound, but at the end of the day, I was left empty.
There is no material item on earth that can compare to being cared for by others – and caring for them, too, in a mutually healthy relationship. The feeling I get when my wife cuddles up next to me in bed just as we’re drifting off to sleep. The happiness I felt when those kids snuggled in with me on the couch. Even simple things, like a nice phone conversation with my mom or a note sent by a close friend.
Realizing this brings about a sea change in how you spend your money. Instead of spending your money on gadgets and cars and other things that serve as a salve on your feelings, you want to instead use your money to protect the ones that you love the most and provide them with happy experiences. Instead of spending my checking account down to the minimum in order to acquire a new gadget or program, you want to keep some in reserve to protect those that you love.
Many single people will read this and assume that I’m talking mostly about married people and people with children. I’m not. Single people without children have opportunities to be involved with as many or more powerful relationships with others than married people or parents do. One of my closest friends spends most of her waking hours working with the mentally handicapped and their families. Another close friend of mine is a hospice volunteer. In both cases, they’ve had the opportunity to build strong relationships with others – and in both cases, the people involved have come to find that accumulating stuff really doesn’t matter that much.
In the end, things cannot love you back. They can’t provide you with the sustaining, loving relationships that we all need. Instead of chasing that sweet new car or that amazing home electronic setup, why not consider shoring up those relationships that bring love into your life? The best first step you can take is getting your own financial house in order – and opening yourself up to those simple moments with the people you care about, like my evening cuddling with my kids on the couch.