Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 26 January 2020

Are there 10 things in your life that make you happy and don't cost a dirham?

Finding joy in everyday moments will not only improve your lifestyle but also your career and your finances, says Zach Holz

By only spending on things that bring you joy, you can avoid wasting money on things that don't. Getty Images
By only spending on things that bring you joy, you can avoid wasting money on things that don't. Getty Images

"The unexamined life is not worth living." This is a sentence attributed to Socrates, and one that some find controversial. There are certainly plenty of people out there who live mindlessly and seem pretty content. After all, ignorance is bliss, to quote another aphorism. And what is ignorance but a lack of examination?

Our modern world often seems structurally built to avoid contemplation, examination or critical thinking. We live in a world of reality television, trending videos on TikTok or YouTube, social media on Snapchat, Instagram or Facebook and thousands of channels of content that seems custom tailored to avoid any sort of introspection. At the first hint of boredom, we can (and do) whip out our smartphones, instead of taking the harder road of looking inward.

If you're spending large amounts of money and time on things that don't make you happy, can you stop?

Zach Holz

Today, however, I want you to try something new. This simple exercise could change how you spend your time, money and energy. I want you to list 10 to 15 things that make you truly happy. Not just the sugar-high of buying a new shiny toy that quickly fades, but real, lasting joy, where you know you've done something that lines up with your values.

If you're not sure what your values are, that's OK too. This exercise can help you determine them. Think back to times in your recent memory that you felt energised and fulfilled, where you can look back on those things with pride.

In case you're wondering, here are some of mine:

1. Helping kids get to that "a-ha" moment where they understand something new.

2. Helping people get their financial lives in order.

3. When the whole class is working hard without me having to keep them on task.

4. Playing music with my band.

5. Getting obsessed with things and learning everything I can about it.

6. Going to the beach.

7. Spending time with my girlfriend and family.

8. Cooking and sharing the food with others

9. An evenly matched game of chess.

10. Taking photographs of interesting subjects.

11. The first few days of a holiday, which should be a maximum of two weeks.

12. Getting really into a good book or TV show.

13. Saving money.

Now, here's a second question: how many "joy givers" on your list involve spending money? For me, five to six require no spending at all and many are things I do in my job as a teacher or musician that help me make money and increase my net worth.

This list now helps to guide my future decisions. Will my actions contribute towards my happiness? If not, can I eliminate it? Sometimes you can't, because not everything in life is what you enjoy. But if you're spending large amounts of money and time on things that don't make you happy, can you stop?

Can you stop spending money on things so you don't have to earn as much? Would that allow you to get a less stressful job or retire earlier to be free of the corporate rat race? Can you say no to things in your job that don't bring you joy and just focus on the things that do?

For me, I've been the curriculum leader for English at my school for the last two years. But nothing about that middle management role made my list of happy things. So, next year, I'm stepping back from that role to focus on the things that do: the interactions I have with my students. It's a bit of a pay cut, but it brings me a great deal of joy.

Some people even use this exercise as a way to determine if they're in the right career at all. If nothing you do at your job brings you joy, there's a good chance you're in the wrong role or career. It is easier than ever before to learn new skills to get certified to try out new career paths.

The internet allows us to network with people across the planet to get first hand information about what is required to get hired, and those same contacts can be your "ears on the ground" in case a job is opening up. That's how I found my next role. A former colleague at a school I've dreamt about working at for years helped me freshen up my CV and get it to the top of the pile.

You're not locked in to your current situation. If you determine what makes you feel alive, you then can strategically arrange your life so you're doing those things more often.

Dubai schoolteacher Zach Holz (@HappiestTeach) documents his journey towards financial independence on his personal finance blog The Happiest Teacher

Updated: December 12, 2019 11:08 AM

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