The World is My Oyster

Jan 22, 2015 by

          Two days ago, I saw that I missed a call from an unfamiliar number with an unfamiliar area code. After some procrastinating, I dialed into my voicemail to check for messages.

          “Welcome to Rogers wireless voicemail,” an automated recording said through the phone before repeating itself in French. “Please enter your password.”

          I entered my password and breathed in deeply as I waited out the pause that followed, bracing myself for the possibility of hearing the voice of a potential employer. My job search officially began on January 5. When I got home from Paris, I let myself have what I truly wanted when I quit my job: time off at home. I decided that I could have the last two months of the year to do as I pleased, no job searching required. Now that it’s January, I’m still enjoying unemployment, add some job applications.

          “You have no wireless voice messages,” the automated voice finally said.

          I breathed a sigh of relief. Okay, I’m still unemployed, I assured myself. I’m still unemployed, thank God.

          Clearly, I’m happy with my current job sitch – that is, no job.

          It’s amazing how much your perspective on your financial situation can impact your perspective on your life circumstances. The last time I was unemployed by choice, although it was easily one of the best decisions of my life, I was stressed – not as stressed as I had been at work, but stressed. I put enough time into job searching each week that I felt like I was working full time, minus the paycheque. This time, my job search is much more relaxed. I’m not treating it like a full-time occupation. I don’t dedicate five days per week to it, and I’m not searching for more than a few hours at a time. I’m also not tailoring my resume to each job or writing cover letters. Considering that most employers will forgo reading in favour of keyword searching (I know because I was responsible for hiring at one point), customization is not worth my time.

          The change in my job-search approach can be largely attributed to the significant change in my overall approach to life since the last time I was unemployed. Before The Happiness Experiment, I was all about suffering now for later. Since beginning The Happiness Experiment, I place more emphasis on optimizing my present. True, I have no income, but life is good. No income means no work. Why wouldn’t I take advantage of my time while I’ve got it? Why would I waste whole days job searching when I can reduce the task to hours and focus most of my time on activities I enjoy?

          Of course, an undeniable contributing factor to the difference between the last time I was unemployed and this time is that then money was tight and now it’s not. I’ve been thinking about this lately, about how our bank accounts seep into the rest of our lives. I’ve never believed that “money doesn’t buy happiness.” I don’t think money is the key to happiness, but it is certainly a necessary component. If you’ve ever been a starving university student, you know first-hand that money plays an instrumental role in happiness. If you’ve never been low enough on cash for your stomach to suffer the consequences, let me assure you that money certainly impacts your happiness by impacting your lifestyle and your ability to effectively handle unexpected costs.

          While at the Apple store a couple weeks ago, I witnessed a great example of this. There was a woman in hysterics – I mean she was raising her voice, crying, and throwing her phone. Two Apple technicians were trying to calm her down. From what I could gather, her iPhone needed to be replaced out of warranty. There was another woman in a similar situation, whose iPad needed to be replaced out of warranty, but this one didn’t even flinch at the news. She pleasantly asked the technician helping her to retrieve whatever he could from her current iPad for upload onto a new one. I sat there as my Mac was rebooting, intrigued by the major difference in these women’s reactions to essentially the same issue. I bet the graceful one has the money for the replacement and the hysterical one doesn’t, I thought to myself, while generating a mental reminder to react to financial stressors with poise regardless of my money situation. Like with anything, how you respond to financial obligations affects how you view them, which affects how you manage the aspects of your life that depend on them.

          More so than my bank account balance, the difference in my current and previous approaches to unemployment can be linked to my perspective on my bank account balance. It’s not so much that money is not tight as it is my perspective that money is not tight. To illustrate, ironically, while employed, I felt broke. I had a regular incoming flow of money that covered my expenses and also allowed me to save, but I felt broke because I told myself I was broke. Now, I have the same expenses and the same biweekly spending budget that I did while employed, but my spent money doesn’t replenish and my savings are obviously on the decline. Yet, I feel like the world is my oyster, because now I see it that way. (This may be the point that you assume it’s “easier” for me to live the same lifestyle while unemployed as I did while employed because I live at my parents’ house, making this the point that I reiterate: I am still forcing rent upon my parents. Albeit much less than the rent at my apartment, when you factor in the dramatic increase in my car insurance premium when I moved, I only save about $380 per month by living with my parents.)

          I’m less stressed about spending money, because as much as your perspective on your finances can impact your perspective on your life circumstances, your perspective on your life circumstances can impact your perspective on your finances. Since returning from Paris, I’ve been gradually less stressed overall. Whereas I was in a state of what-do-I-want-to-do-with-my-life panic in the summer, I’ve become increasingly less paranoid about my future in recent months. By prematurely leaving for Europe and then prematurely returning home, I saw how quickly my aspirations can change in a short timespan. It took less than a year and a half to save enough money for a big Euro trip, the same amount of time it took me to lose interest in it. With that realization, I better understand the importance of focusing on maximizing the present with my current resources. The Happiness Experiment already taught me the benefit of that at its onset. However, when Europe un-happened about as fast as it happened, I unintentionally made the strongest statement of my life in favour of the instability of plans. I saw how dramatically different my present – my past’s future – could be, even when I have the means to make my past visions of the future real.

          This recovered easygoingness and present-focused mindset have translated into my perspective on money. I’ve become more laidback about it. In heightened awareness that I am at the mercy of uncertainty no matter how much I plan or save, I stress less about the future because I’ve been forcefully reminded that I don’t know how my life is going to play out, so there’s no point worrying about things that may never happen. As long as I’m financially preparing myself for future curveballs, there is absolutely no reason to live with a sense of financial insecurity. Right now, with no income, my form of preparation is job searching. When I’m employed, it’ll be saving, like I did while working my last job. Admittedly, I was saving money with the purpose of going to Europe and now I’m using it for time off at home, but the point is that I saved enough to deal with my life’s most recent unexpected turn, entitling me to this time. I earned it.

          Evidently, my relationship with money is changing. Growing up in a low-income family, going hungry in university, and being in a low-income earning bracket since graduation led to a fear of money – or, rather, a fear of never having enough money. It’s the reason I’ve always been a saver, which is a good thing. What I was missing was the assurance that should come with being a saver, the confidence that being a saver is exactly why I shouldn’t be afraid of never having enough money. With a saver’s mentality, I am always doing what I need to be doing to back myself up. Storing $12,771.46 in short-term savings in less than a year and a half and having the freedom to use it in a way I didn’t predict but has nonetheless made me happy has given me that confidence, resulting in a healthier, less paranoid view of personal finance. I perceive money as something more fluid than I did before, because I now see from personal experience that spending money does not doom me to the poorhouse and savings can be built quickly. I better understand that money doesn’t have to be something to worry about. It can be something to work with. That, friends, is how the world has become my oyster with less money in the bank.

Happiness Tip: Establish a positive relationship with money.

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