Lately, I’ve been realizing how strange it is that we begin the year in the dead of winter. You’d think that spring would usher in a new year, not the harshness and barrenness of January and February. In these months, people regiment what they eat. They renew their relationships with treadmills and rowing machines. They make amends for the excesses of December. Sometimes, the coldness of these commitments can make our lives less enjoyable, rather than help us grow.
I’d like to suggest that we show ourselves more warmth and kindness by discovering what makes us happy and keeping ourselves in that place. Let’s talk about the best way I’ve found to do that: The lifestyle cap.
During our series on generosity, we looked at the circuit breakers that determined whether or not we’ll experience the natural joy of sharing with people in need. Once our circuit breakers are in the right position, we can establish a lifestyle cap to help keep the happiness in our lives, including the rewards of generosity. Meanwhile, it will also keep out two of the most paralyzing forces in our economy, the lure of more possessions and the lie that we are irreplaceable in our places of employment. We establish our lifestyle caps by answering two questions.
First, what do we need to live the lives we really want?
This question requires some searching. If you’re married, you’ll want to dig up these answers with your husband or wife. If you have kids, they’ll get a lot out of this conversation. See, the best stories feature heros who go after what they deeply desire. So what do you and your loved ones want? What are the things that you will labor to keep in your life, the non-negotiables?
For some, this list will include a beautiful backyard. Others insist on private school, or perhaps a single income and homeschooling. Many crave adventurous vacations and find they fuel the rest of their lives. Everyone’s list will be different. I believe the key is that we discover what warms us, makes us healthy, and makes us grow — and we do not apologize for these desires.
If we don’t work to uncover what we love, our culture has no shortage of advertisers and marketers who need to sell us more and more. We will drift wherever their siren songs call us next and pursuing more of everything will leave us with nothing. The emptiness of not knowing what we want is its own kind of poverty. We don’t need to know every detail; we simply need to insist on the key features of our journey.
Second, how much do we need to live this way?
We establish our lifestyle cap by calculating how much money we need to live the way we love. How much will we spend today and how much will we save so that we can also live how we really want through retirement? This part of the conversation spotlights the consequences of our non-negotiable decisions. Living a rich life carries a cost, so our children get to see the value of sacrifice and work.
Meanwhile, the lifestyle cap protects us from the lie of being irreplaceable at work. Please take this in, even though it’s hard to hear: No matter where we work or the title we carry, there is a line of people outside that are waiting to take our spot. Sure, when we retire we’ll get a card saying the office will never be the same without us, but the reality is, it won’t take long before someone steps in to do exactly what we used to. I only say this to keep work where it belongs. The lifestyle cap keeps us grounded and protects us from believing the lie that no one else can do what we do at work. Then, we begin to focus our attention on our deepest relationships and invest in those roles in which we really are irreplaceable — being a father, mother, spouse, or friend.
If we know what we want and what cost we have agreed to pay to pursue it, we can also keep our generosity flowing. When we make more than we need to spend and save, we give it away. This protects us from the lure of purchases that will never satisfy us and we will experience the rewards of connecting and growing with more people in our communities.
I hope you get to establish your lifestyle cap this winter, as a way to protect and enrich your family’s happiness. If the ideas in this blog are adding value to your life, be sure to check out my new book, Living a Rich Life, which you can now find on Amazon.
James Lenhoff is the president of Wealthquest, a Cincinnati-based financial planning and wealth management firm that offers a full range of financial services under one roof, for one simple fee.