It's easy to find articles on the web about the psychology and stress of depriving ourselves. It's almost as easy to find other articles about how we only have so much willpower, so it's easy to weaken and lose track of our big goals.
But you know what? I think they're full of it. Oh, I'm sure the basic premise is correct. We only have so much willpower, we can only take deprivation for so long, etc. But what do you consider deprivation? Have you ever given something up and later realized you never needed it in the first place? I've been "poor" for a while now. (Not living in poverty, mind you, just poor.) The fact that I have people I could depend on and ask for help if things, for some reason, went beyond control just makes me more determined to stand on my own two feet.
And you know what? It feels pretty good. For the most part, I don't feel deprived. I don't feel stressed out by what I don't have. It's so much easier to see what I do have, and be thankful for it, than to pity myself. Even things that shock other people ("You didn't turn on the heat until when?") become more like a personal challenge and a game. At the very least, I end up telling myself what a great story it will be later. (Remind me to tell you about not turning on the heat in the cabin until it snowed, only to discover that the heater wasn't working and it was a weekend so no one could fix it until Monday....) Why does everything surrounding frugality and saving money have to be couched in terms of what we're giving up and depriving ourselves of? A little attitude shift is all it takes to remind yourself that you have it pretty good.
Conversely, I don't pat myself on the back for enjoying free things. I think that that only emphasizes the fact that there are many fun things you could be doing which aren't free. I'd rather just enjoy the moment. I've never made lists for myself (and I do love me a good list) of free activities that I enjoy. I think that detracts a little bit. Why does an activity have to be about money? Can't it just be for the sheer joy of it? One of my favorite quotes I've heard recently asked, "When did we stop being a society and just become an economy?" In the same vein, when did a fun thing to do become about the money you're either spending or you're not? People lament that they wish they could get back the joy they felt in childhood, but it's really easy. Stop counting. Stop guessing how many calories you're burning with each activity. Stop congratulating yourself on finding something free to do. Stop telling yourself there's something better, more worthwhile, that you could be doing. Just enjoy what you're doing in that moment.
On Facebook recently, a lot of my friends have started some project about thankfulness, where every day they post something they're thankful for. I really like this. Who among us doesn't have something to be thankful for? For those of us with homes, the ability to heat them and feed our families, I think we have the most to be thankful for. Today, I'm thankful for the sun. I know I won't get to see it much over the next few months and I think it's important that I not take it for granted when I do.
I'm also thankful for the ability and resources to feed my little brother hot, brothy chicken soup and rolls when he's sick, just as our mother would. I'm equally thankful that he knows he's always welcome at my house and isn't afraid to ask to be invited.
I'm thankful for hot apple cider fresh from the stove, snuggles with the pets in warm blankets and pajamas from my mother, betting against Shane whodunit in some of our favorite shows. ("Bones", "Castle".) Life is pretty good.