This is a slightly revised letter we wrote to Sumay after she confided that she would have liked a "bigger house, like some of her friends, preferably with a jacuzzi". She was 7 years old at the time. Basically, we are telling her that what really matters is happiness. Material things beyond our needs can give us brief moments of happiness, but often at the cost of debt and the risk of poor spending habits. We all know these things, but it seems that very few put it into practice. The planet needs us to learn to live more with less...and our happiness and health would benefit as well.
Mommy mentioned that you had asked why we, since we can afford it, why we don't buy a nicer house like some of her friends (with a jacuzzi). Wow that sounds like fun. Who wouldn't want that?
Mommy and I have been talking since before you were born about happiness. We have much to learn, but what we know so far is that happiness is the "ultimate currency". What this means is that when we make decisions we should try to increase happiness and decrease suffering. Sometimes this is easy, like when picking out a movie, we obviously want the movie we think we will like better. Sometimes this is hard, like when we try to balance happiness today from eating candy with happiness tomorrow from being healthy.
The world is full of people that will tell you how to live, what to buy, who to talk to, and how to spend your time. It is tempting to listen. It is tempting to follow the herd and do what everyone else is doing because maybe they know better. Another thing Mommy and I realized is that most people don't really know how to find happiness. They tell other people what they think is right because if they get you to do the same thing it makes them feel better. But most of the time, doing what other people are doing just because they are doing it doesn't lead to happiness. Instead it leads to suffering because you give up control of your own life and make decisions that you later regret because they were not your own decisions.
Your school has a poster that reads, "most people are as happy as they make up their mind to be". We agree. Our favorite movie, "The Peaceful Warrior", says the same thing. What it means is that true happiness comes from the inside. Of course, as the Buddha says, "too much is not good, but neither is too little". If we couldn't eat or get a good education or sleep comfortably at night then that would not be good. This is obvious. What is not so obvious is how having too much can also be harmful. The reason for this is harder to understand, especially when everyone else is doing it.
Splurging can be very good in moderation. Remember the time we stayed at a hotel with a jacuzzi and put soap in the jets and bubbles were everywhere?! That was so much fun. We even talked about getting a Jacuzzi. Mom and I had to work very hard for what we have. Sometimes we get so focused on working hard that we forget to reward ourselves. We understand that having a jacuzzi is no big deal, but might be fun for a while. Same thing goes for buying a fancy car or a huge house. We know we would enjoy it, at least for a while, but we also know that these things do not bring lasting happiness.
Happiness comes from many things...all of which you are doing. Learning to work hard, being kind to others, taking care of your body by eating healthy ... are all ways to find happiness. As you get older you will realize that happiness also comes from accepting yourself. Too often people get jealous of others or mad at themselves for doing something moronic, not being pretty enough, or smart enough, or not having enough money. Paradoxically, accepting yourself is a critical first step to self improvement, but this will be hard for you to understand while you are so young.
Finally, happiness comes from letting go. You can't control the world around you. All you can control are the decisions you make. Sometimes life throws us a bit of bad luck, and we have to make the best of it. You will have bad days. You will experience terrible pain. You may even wish at times for anything to make the pain go away. Just remember that nothing lasts forever. Everyone and everything dies. No one knows why. Anyone who says they do is either lying to you or lying to themselves. We don't need to understand why life is short or why bad things sometimes happen to good people. All we need to do is realize that life is precious precisely because it is short. If we all lived forever there would be no reason to appreciate anything. You could always wait until tomorrow to say you are sorry or I love you. Those who find happiness don't wait until tomorrow.
When we buy things for the wrong reasons it can bring great suffering. As a distraction, buying things can become addictive. Like all addictions, it serves to to hide deeper problems from ourselves. This works for a while, but then the excitement wears off and we have to go shopping for even more stuff. Some people buy things so they can look good to others. Folks call this "keeping up with the Joneses". Again, this can get us in trouble because we may feel we have to keep buying more things to keep up an image of success. At first we can afford it, but what if later on we can't?
"Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken"
- Warren Buffett
Hopefully this has helped you get a better idea of why we don't spend a lot of time talking about buying fancy clothes and big houses. We just don't find it very important or interesting. We have everything we need. We have two wonderful daughters. We have jobs that allow us to contribute to our community, build relationships, and grow and challenge ourselves. We have interests that help us to explore. We have family and friends with which to share our lives.
Keep asking questions. Especially the greatest question "Why?". We are very proud of you.
We Love You - Mom and Dad
Our thoughts on happiness come largely from the field of "positive psychology"; which is the study of what makes people happy. Interestingly, the findings in this field have many parallels with eastern philosophies including Buddhism and Taoism. Books we find helpful on the subject include: The Art of Happiness, 10% Happier, and Happier?. They all boil down to the same basic fact...most of what makes one happy or sad comes from relationships, health and mindfullness.