When giving personal finance keynote speeches around the country, I love to ask audience members this question:

“If you received $10 million (after-tax!) and immediately after were told you’d be dead in 10 years, what would you start… and what would you quit?”

Over the years, I’ve heard thousands of answers. The most common responses by a wide margin are: “I would quit work or quit worrying.”  And, “I would start to travel and volunteer more.” If my informal straw poll has any merit, it appears as if Thoreau was right: many men and women are leading lives of quiet desperation!

What if you experienced a drastic shift in circumstances like this, what would you begin? What would you relinquish? And most importantly – would the changes make you meaningfully happier?

Photo credit: Louis Leray

These tough economic times have forced so many of us to cut back.  And that can feel depressing. But as a delightful New York Times op-ed piece entitled, Don’t Indulge, Be Happy, points out, “our ideas about the relationship between money and happiness are misguided.” Over time, I’ve come to view the current economic climate as a golden opportunity to reset our attitudes about money, happiness, living, and life.

So today I invite you to focus on the power of spending to enhance your life joy. What makes us feel most alive, of course, varies from person to person. That said, there are some general questions that can apply to us all. As my writing muse, Brooke Axtell asks,

“What spiritual and material gifts do you give – to others and to yourself – that make life worth living?”

On the surface, this is clearly is not your typical personal finance question. But don’t be fooled. A simple query like this can lead to dramatic shifts in your spending and your joy.  Here are two powerful steps you can take today to do just that.

  1. Make sure you are not wasting energy on things that aren’t you to begin with. It is easy to become distracted by social expectations, maintaining status, or acquiring things you are socialized to believe you need, but aren’t in alignment with your values. So today, ask yourself if any areas of excess that demand your time, energy and money, but don’t serve your authentic sense of purpose have crept into your life.
  2. Commit to spending your money in a way that is congruent with what you feel is important in your life. Our relationship with money is symbolic of our relationship with ourselves. So today, establish a spending plan to prioritize how you want to spend your time, money and energy. Take a moment to consider whether your current use of money is in alignment with what you value most. Then in one sentence, write out your core spending philosophy. 

For further inspiration on this topic of aligning your personal finances with your authentic self, I highly recommend reading the cult book amongst the conscious money expert set, Your Money Or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominquez.