There are a variety of different ways in which downshifters define their success. Here are 10 examples:
1. Plucking up the courage to leave a long-term career that didn’t suit.
2. Starting up a small business doing something that inspires .
3. Finding a new vocation in which to re-train that feels joyful and interesting.
4. Recovering from a stress-induced illness.
5. Cutting up some credit cards and reducing debt.
6. Moving to a smaller home in order to reduce or eliminate a mortgage.
7. Accepting redundancy and coming to view it as a gift and an opportunity.
8. Being brave enough to leave an unhappy relationship and set out on a new life.
9. Finding a spiritual path that resonates and re-aligning a lifestyle to give spiritual practice a higher priority.
10. Negotiating with an employer to reduce working hours so as to spend more time with loved ones or to leave more time for volunteer work.
We might normally think of ‘living within our means’ as being all to do with money. Actually, it isn’t necessarily and let me explain why. What all of the examples above have in common is that they represent a movement from living over and above one’s means – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually – to living within it. As you can see, this might well involve a decrease in status, affluent living and other ‘trappings’ of material wealth, but what it’s not about is taking a nose-dive into a life of poverty or relinquishing opportunities to shine in the world or even of reluctantly accepting austerity measures.
‘Living within our means’ might sound limiting to some, like something that curtails our freedom. However, when we examine closely what ‘living outside our means ’ entails, we can see the delusion of this apparent limitation. ‘Living outside our means’ involves borrowing from the future. We do this by:
• Over-working now, which often leads to stress-related illness, premature ageing and broken relationships later.
• Over-indulging in (or abusing) food and alcohol now which often leads to illness, premature ageing and broken relationships later.
• Over -borrowing money now, which often leads to bankruptcy, poverty and broken relationships later.
Successfully borrowing from the future is a complete fantasy. It is based on the mistaken belief that we can get away with over stretching and misusing our current personal resources in the present and have everything just as we like it at some point in the future. Whilst we observe stress-induced illness, financial hardship and relationship breakdown happening time and again to other people and we know the risks we’re taking, somehow we assume that an exception to these natural laws will be made in our case!
We know that happiness is not linearly related to material wealth. Above a certain level, the point where we personally feel we have ‘enough’, an increase in material wealth does not bring us more happiness. The pivotal point is this place where we have ‘enough’, whatever that might mean for each of us personally. Beyond that, joie de vivre seems to come about more readily from focusing our efforts more on the non-material aspects of our lives, for example our mental, emotional spiritual and physical wellbeing.
So, what ‘living within our means’ is actually about is attending with honesty to what’s happening with us right now with our wellbeing. Put simply, it’s about:
• enjoying the present
• being honest with ourselves about what our personal means are
• Including all of our personal means in our lives now
What are our ‘personal means’?
For me , it’s my capacityto:
Physical means – manage my money, health, material items (e.g. home, clothes, car or bike, furniture, food, immediate environment), acquire and maintain useful physical skills.
Emotional means – relate to myself and others, be self-aware, handle stress and conflict, make decisions.
Mental means – learn from experience, understand, acquire knowledge, manage mental skills, make decisions.
Spiritual means – be a witness to my actions, behave ethically, live in the present, be conscious of what drives me, commit to a spiritual practice, be in touch with spiritual intelligence, be insightful, accept the impermanent ever-changing nature of life, use my intuitive wisdom.
The good news about ‘living within our means‘ is that when we have a determination, a real commitment to put ‘living within our means’ above everything else, then this calls us to be profoundly honest about where we are now. This degree of acceptance can result in a deep sense of peace: a relief from stress, anxiety and striving. Then there is the personal freedom that springs from this. We are free to reclaim our energy to enjoy each day as it happens, to speak our truth in the moment, to care for ourselves and others.
Whilst we are perpetually caught up in the future, we are not free to do any of these things.
The time to act and to enjoy our best life is not during some fantasy time in the future. It is now and it is achieved, I believe, by ‘living within our means.’