I am so lonely and down. Most of my friends are using this summer for leisure. They are traveling or staying in a vacation home, or taking a cruise (or two!) or taking cool road trips. I am not at all in their league and can’t afford any of that stuff. I am working, as usual, and can afford to take off a few days but can’t afford to actually do anything cool with those days.
And the worst is constantly seeing all their posts online. I am inside working and I get barrages of white sand, palm trees, green oceans, etc. They all look so bright and happy and I am just here by myself.
-Cruisin’ to work
Dear Cruisin’ to Work,
What better way to make you feel like the odd man out than to be the only one who can’t afford the luxe?
I want to take your problem and improve it by tweaking a few minor things. We can keep you in the same tax-bracket that you are in while watching the happiness factor soar.
Let’s start with all of those posts. Social media is a great way to stay connected to your friends. But you have to remember the disclaimer of it being only a myopic glimpse into what they are doing. If you see a sunny vacation pic, you are not feeling how achy your friend’s feet are from walking or how jet lagged he is. Social media has a real danger of feeding “the grass is greener.”
Look at your old posts of your own where you look like you are super happy or having fun. Now think back to the reality. Remember how that picture was only a micro-second of that day. Did you actually feel that happy the whole time? Or were you tired, hungry, annoyed, disappointed? We live in two different worlds—the screen world and the real world. The real world is never as pleasant as the screen world. We don’t get to edit which feeling to have, but we do flip through our pics to find our happiest one. And then we share it. Few share how grumpy or disappointed we are. So when you see the next post, start imaging how thirsty that friend must be, or how that friend is lonely too because she went travelling by herself. Another thing that I want to point out is that sometimes vacationers get a down feeling when they are on too much vacation. If someone is not productive, or if they are not contributing, a tinge of worthlessness or depression can come upon them. Typically, if you are on vacation and you feel this, you can just numb it by distraction. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not there.
You too are reporting feeling a bit depressed or worthless. I think it’s ironic because you are working and contributing. So I guess your feelings are around not making enough money. Somewhere in there, you are equating your worth with your paycheck (a common attribution that people make for themselves.) Well, the truth is that if you are a human being, you have infinite worth. It’s time to tap into your true value and the best way to do that is to give.
A colleague of mine gives emotional awareness classes to preschoolers. They spend weeks going over all different feelings, and at the end she asks the toddlers what feeling was their favorite. Time and time again, they do not report excitement, curious, or happy. Instead, they continually share that the best one was the feeling of caring for others.
My seven-year old daughter recently told me how her bunkmate requested to trade bracelets with her since my daughter had a purple one and her friend received a yellow one. My daughter thought to herself, “No way, I love purple and don’t like yellow.” But the friend persisted, and my daughter gave in to the heartstring-pull. She surprised me when she said, “Mommy, you know what? When I gave Kayla the purple bracelet, I actually felt better making her happy than making myself happy!”
So I suggest getting back to basics and finding some cause that you can donate some time to. You will tap into infinite value that’s in there. Even so, I don’t want to ignore the things that are triggering you. So I suggest that you do take a day or two off, and find something to do that is local and inexpensive, but still very different than you would normally do.
I also suggest setting a financial goal for yourself. Research shows that when we have a goal in mind (like saving up for a specific purchase), we save better and spend less. That will be a minor help for your finances, and it will be a great feeling being able to purchase something big (and hopefully useful) after a few months of holding back.
So explore your backyard and go volunteer. Your friends will be pleasantly surprised to find you so content when they land back home.