How to Overcome the Big Lie that Keeps You Trapped
Maybe you don't feel like it. Your life is fine. Sure, you're busy, maybe too busy. You live paycheck to paycheck, but doesn't everyone? Maybe your house payment, car payment, and credit card bills are a little high, but it costs so much to live nowadays. You feel a lot of pressure at work, and you're not really happy there, but it could be worse.
The reality is you can't see any way to change things. It is what it is, and all that. You need the unsatisfactory job to pay your bills. Why would you give up your great salary and benefits, after all? What's a little stress? And what if you are wasting your energy and talents on something you don't care about? You don't really have a choice.
Ah. There it is. The big lie that keeps you trapped. Can you see it?
You think you have no choice. But you do. You just need to recognize that you're inside the trap of lifestyle inflation.
Lifestyle inflation is the norm in our culture. It's the phenomenon by which we spend more as we earn more. What used to be a luxury becomes a perceived need, and stepping back from that new lifestyle becomes increasingly difficult. We can become trapped in the status quo, even if we're unhappy there.
- It's hard to believe that a 1,200 square foot home is comfortable and sufficient once you've lived in a place that's twice as big.
- It's hard to believe that a few days sampling the art galleries and restaurants in a small seaside town two hours away can be as enjoyable as a trip to Paris or a Caribbean cruise.
- It's hard to believe that a 2018 Kia Forte can get you places just as well as a 2023 Lexus.
- And it's hard to believe that a $50 leather purse can function just as well as a $300 designer bag.
As our lifestyle inflates, so do our expectations. Walking away becomes unimaginable. And there's the trap.
We don't think we're rich. "Rich" always describes someone else – the person with more. So we don't think we need to examine the choices we're making.
We tell ourselves,
- I'm not rich – I'm just comfortably middle class.
- My house isn't too big – it's just the size my family needs.
- My car isn't too expensive – I work hard and I deserve it. Besides, so-and-so drives something much fancier.
- I don't buy things I don't need – I need everything I own. You don't want me to live in a bare white room, do you?
When we let ourselves think that lifestyle inflation has only affected "that other guy," and when we believe that any reduction in what we own or buy represents a ridiculous amount of boredom and deprivation, we've fallen into the trap. What used to be a luxury has become a necessity, and we're so accustomed to our current standard of living that we can't see any other way to be.
More of us are in this trap than we realize.
There's always a way out.
You're spending more than ever for less satisfaction, but you can change that. You can bring back the joy.
The answer is called creative deprivation. Instead of buying whatever you want whenever you want it, you go back to what you did years ago, when you were just starting out and barely getting by. You anticipate and savor a special treat instead of letting it become commonplace. Whether your treat is going out to dinner, buying a cute pair of shoes, or getting tickets to see your favorite band play, you make it rare.
That occasional splurge becomes something really special. You've placed space around it so it stands out as an event, the same way you might highlight a favorite plant or piece of art by pruning away the lesser items that crowd it.
And if you think that means your life will be boring because you have fewer highlights, you aren't paying attention.
attention to the small things that could be bringing us joy. We don't really notice birdsong, or the first bud on our favorite rose bush, the scent of fresh-mown grass, or the taste of a crisp, juicy apple. We rush through meals and conversations, and believe that multi-tasking is smart and efficient instead of unfocused and stressful.
We ignore a lot of simple everyday pleasures when we start acting like happiness can be bought, so if we stop buying as much, we're suddenly going to feel "bored." That failure of attention and imagination could keep us trapped.
Letting the occasional treat remain exactly that will not only help us gain self-control, it will increase our gratitude and enjoyment of the treats we get.
Get out of the trap. Life is better when we enjoy the simple things.
What's your favorite simple pleasure?