La Joie de Vivre

worklifebalanceThis week’s post is a bit different from previous posts because I want to talk not about a specific trip, or experience, but about conversations and perspectives. Let me preface this post by clarifying that I’m not saying one type of lifestyle is better than the other. This is just my take on the subject.

Often friends have mentioned to me that things in Europe are much smaller and tighter than in the US. That is true, and I’m not arguing with it. The lifestyle in Europe is generally smaller than the US. People also talk about the better work-life balance in Europe. This got me thinking, and I realized that these two things go hand in hand, and to look at each of these separately gives an incomplete perspective.

Living in Europe has given us the chance to do and experience things at a frequency and on a level that would be hard to imitate just about anywhere else. Weekend trips (by road, air, or rail) to nearby countries, cities, medieval towns or quaint villages; hikes and excursions to natural reserves and sanctuaries; visits to the beach, neighborhood festivals, or simply picnicking in open outdoor spaces. All these are experiences that significantly add to the quality of life, without necessarily burning a hole in your pocket.

Compared to the US where everything tends to be spread out, houses tend to be multi-storied, cars tend to be extra-large and meals tend to be super sized, European homes tend to be cozier, cars tend to be small hatchbacks and meals tend to be in small-normal portions (like Spain’s tapas). No wonder then that Europeans tend to experience more of la joie de vivre. Let me explain…

While both sides of the Atlantic are consumerist societies, normal everyday Europeans (I’m not referring to the super rich) tend to consume or spend less, on a lot of goods compared to their American counterparts. Earlier this week I was reading a blog where the European writer was explaining that while he is living a content life on a reasonable income, his single female friend in the US who makes 50% more (early six figures) than him, was still chasing more money and having trouble living within her means. This brings out a key difference in lifestyles. The consumerist attitude has resulted in large parts of the American population having to turn to credit not just for the comforts of life, but also the necessities.

The blog I referred to earlier went on to list some of the friend’s expenses. Most of the numbers are my own annual estimates based on a quick internet search:

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Obviously, not all these things may be applicable to everyone. But if you think truthfully to yourself, I’m sure you can substitute the items that don’t apply to you, with something that is applicable. If not, then kudos to you for being able to fight the urge to splurge. 😉

Nonetheless, the lesson to take away from all this is it’s fairly easy to spend US$ 15,924/ year (yikes!) on things you don’t need and not even realize it. Just imagine how much more awesome it would be to be able to save a part of that, and still have enough left over to spend on something that really matters to you…like that family vacation to the Maldives you’ve been thinking about.

It’s a vicious circle, that drives us back to my earlier point- consumerism. I’m sure a lot of you must be saying: Wait a minute! Is Vive Mas saying it’s bad to make a lot of money, or be ambitious and successful?! No. I’m not saying any of those things. All I’m saying is that if people didn’t spend money on frivolous things, and enjoyed life at a more basic human level, they wouldn’t spend their lives chasing more money.

Consequently, they could spend more quality time with the people they love, doing the things they love… which brings us back to where this whole blog post started and where it will end: Live smaller, spend more on what is important to you, and you and your loved ones will come out happier in the long run. Live More!

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