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The Best Things in Life are Free



Experts know what research has found:  in lean economic years, and in hard times emotionally, those who know how can discover wealth like they have never known.  And the wealth is not found so much during the hard times as inthe hard times.

Those times hit me in midlife.  I couldn’t pay my bills, and I was stressed out from busting my chops to make ends meet.  My business supported three office workers and ten counselors, but for the last two years our monthly expenses were 25% more than our income, so we went under.  When I had fulfilled all my obligations, I went to solo practice, cut my office rent down 80%, and by letting my website tell people about me, I cut my payroll to zero.

When my nest emptied by the victory of our kids leaving home to start their own lives, and then by the defeat of divorce, the assets of our four-bedroom home in town had to be liquidated.  I purchased a little piece of wilderness I used to go to as a child to commune with nature.  I built a three-roomcabin in the woods, where I don’t see or hear any neighbors or traffic.  When I look around my home for peace and beauty, the main attraction is outside my curtain-free windows.

I had been exhausting my immune system by beating my head against the walls that seemed to keep me from fulfilling my excessive desires.  I believe those years of frustration and exhaustion gave me cancer.  Before I had it cut out of my prostate (and it’s been all gone for ten years, thank God), I let it teach me to live one day at a time.  That’s all we’ve got, really.

My school-teacher bride Stephanie wanted the simple life too.  She embraced the woods with the wonder of a child, and treated it as a classroom for us all.  A few years ago we added a one-room guest cabin for our friends and children to stay in, but we still like three rooms for us just fine.

The key to our newfound wealth has been bringing demand in line with supply, not vice-versa.  And to be satisfied with less, we’ve had to realize that less is more.  More what?

It’s more of the best things in life, which are all free.  We don’t very often pay to go watch professionals play ball, dance to music, laugh at themselves, romance each other, or have adventures out in nature.  We’re old-fashioned—we’d rather do it ourselves.

We have friends and family over often, and go to their houses a lot too.  We play table games with each other.  We play with our grandchildren.  More than giving them stuff from our wallets, we give them and their parents ourselves.

Research keeps finding how much healthier people are when they spend time out in nature.  We eat outside often to expose ourselves to the lower stress and sound levels of natural sights and smells.  If only for a few moments, being outside at sunrise or sunset inspires and relaxes us every time.  A delightful side effect of preserving our little local wilderness has been experiencing how the extended family loves to gather here.

We were visiting the Kentucky History Museum a few years ago, and I was deeply touched by the re-enactment of life in Kentucky during the Great Depression.   As she tended her garden, the lady repeated a catchy little poem that everybody seemed to live by back in the 30’s:

Use it up,  wear it out,

Make it do, or do without.

Makes you appreciate what you have.

Simplifying is hard for anyone to do.  I was lucky enough to be pushed into it by my need to recover from business failure, divorce, cancer, and 35 years ago, from alcoholism and codependency.   Maybe you’ll be wise and fortunate enough to let your hard times trim the fat in your life, so you will have the heart to recognize the good life when you find it, in simplicity.

About Paul Schmidt

Dr. Paul Schmidt, PhD is a psychologist life coach with offices in Louisville and Lexington, KY, 502 633 2860.