Early in life, teachers teach us about the three types of nouns – people, places, and things. Later in life, we gain two forms of currency, time and money, to spend on these three types of nouns. The natural question to ask is…
“Which gives the best return on investment – people, places, or things?”
People Are The Best
People (n): Human beings in general or considered collectively.
fun morbid exercise: imagine yourself on your deathbed. It’s the last day of your life. As you take your final breaths, what do you care about right now? Is your movie collection on your mind? How about your bank account?
Neither. They don’t matter anymore. And they’re not by your bedside. Please tell me your movie collection is not beside you in this scenario.
On your mind will be the people you love and of course, what may come after death. You’ll think about the lives you impacted and those lives which impacted you. Using your imagination for this hypothetical scenario makes it clear. People matter most.
How we spend on people: We spend time with people. We spend money to travel to see them. We sacrifice working hours (i.e. money) to spend more time with them.
Places Are Second Best
Place (n) – A particular position or point in space.
Places are a close second because they are often defined by the culture of the people who live there as well as the people themselves. I love to experience the variety of Earth’s people, and that requires traveling to different places. When you visit another place, you discover that we’re all so different in style and culture, and yet, we’re all the same in terms of human needs.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
~ Mark Twain
As we travel, we expand. Our understanding of humanity increases dramatically. Thankfully, travel is as interesting and fun as it is beneficial.
How we spend on places: Planes, cars, buses lodging, tourist activities, and food are all monetary expenses associated with seeing places. Taking time off of work is a time/money triple whammy (unless it’s paid time off). Not only are you spending time and money at your destination, but you’re not earning more money working! Travel is often expensive for this reason and the cost of transit/lodging, but in my opinion, it’s worth every million! Ok, not that expensive.
Things Are Worst
Thing (n) – A material object without life or consciousness; an inanimate object.
The world is business-centric and competitive on a global scale now. We’re constantly inundated with advertisements that convey “this product will make you happy.” The new car, the new TV, and the new game system all promise to make our life more complete. Unfortunately, it’s all lies. As more people believe the message, it spreads from person to person like a disease.
Minimalist movements are sprouting up as a result of the theory that fewer possessions will increase happiness because the lifestyle allows us to focus on more important nouns. This has been my experience, but it has more backing than just that. Studies continue to show that money (the most commonly desired “thing” that allows you to buy other things) has a negligible impact on happiness and that hard-earned cash is better spent on experiences than stuff.
- Every adventurous movie you buy = a missed opportunity to go on an adventure yourself.
- Every TV you buy = a plane ticket to some place you’ve never been before.
- Every expensive car you buy = a reliable car plus several experiences you’ll remember forever.
Possessions aren’t inherently bad. I don’t eat with my hands because forks are “evil physical objects.” Possessions just aren’t as amazing as we’ve been led to believe by those who sell them and they’re worse in large numbers. When I think of the people and places I could have seen with the money I’ve wasted on non-essential things, I regret ever buying those things. Deeply. But when I first bought them, it felt right and it was exciting.
Possessions seem great at first, but the reality of owning something rarely lives up to the hype.
How we spend on things: First and foremost, we pay to own them. Then we (sometimes) spend time using them. If we want more of them, we have to spend more time at work to make more money. Compared to people and places, things are unique in two ways that might make you want to live as a minimalist…
- Things are the only of the three nouns that allow and encourage more time spent working. People and places require time spent with them, often at the expense of work, but you can own a massive number of things while spending all of your time at work.
- Things are unique in that it is possible to spend time and money to acquire them, without using them much or at all. This is a direct waste of time and money. For most of us, money is earned by spending time at work, so when you waste money, you are also wasting time you spent to get it. With people and places, however, you “use what you spend.”
A Convenient, Lightweight Truth – Not Buying Possessions Will Make You Happier
Possessions provide the least amount of happiness in return for time and money. They are often wasteful to purchase, like when I recently bought a cell phone stand to be useful and have never used it. Minimalist living is the best way because it’s about only having things you need. That means more time, money, and energy to spend on people and places (which leads to better experiences, and a happier life).
If you have extra money to spend, experiences or food are good choices.
Things have a “pay once and use for years” value appeal over an experience’s one-time nature. I get that. But it’s a value trap, as we say in the investing world, because time of usage is not an accurate measure of value. If I licked a rock for 40 years, you wouldn’t call it valuable, would you? Experiences add more value and happiness to your life and they are weightless! Not only that, but it doesn’t cost money to spend time with people.
Why yes, being able to lick a rock for 40 years makes it more appealing.
~ Person who doesn’t get it
Look at your lifestyle to determine your current priorities. People who value things generally spend more and work more to support the habit. People who value places often travel at every chance they get (me!) and make sacrifices in other areas to make it happen. People who value other people often work less and live simpler lives in order to spend more time with family and friends.
You’ll be happiest to value people most. We’re social beings and we need to feel like we belong and are understood by at least a select few. With billions of different people, we can all find other people who “get” us. Focus on meeting and spending time with great people, and you won’t regret it.
You’ll be happy to value places most. There are people in these places, and we can meet a lot of interesting people when we travel! A love of travel can mean that you love people and want to see and experience different cultures and traditions (and foods…mmmm).
You’ll regret valuing things most. Sooner or later in life, you will be disappointed if you pursue things over people and places. No combination of possessions can match the experience of connecting with another human being or discovering another culture. Possessions are tools, not pursuits.
Possessions are tools, not pursuits.
From all of this, there is a clear takeaway. Experiences with other people are the nutmeg, cinnamon, and paprika of life! If you briefly consider the best times of your life, I doubt you were alone in them, and I doubt you were doing nothing. Chances are, it was an experience with another person.
I do my best to live according to this now. I’ve already shed most of my possessions and…
- I went to Kauai, Hawaii with two of my best friends last August.
- I’m going to San Francisco tomorrow (!) with the intent of meeting people there.
- I’m planning a trip to Rome, Italy in May with one of the friends from the Kauai trip (yo Ben D if you’re reading this!).
Oh, and I sold my projector to pay for the San Francisco trip. I’ll let you know if it was worth it, but you know the answer.
Isn’t it interesting that…
In a beautiful world filled with dazzling technology and gasp-worthy natural beauty, which orbits around a huge star (that by volume could fit one million Earths inside of it), which is only the small central dot of a enormous galaxy, which is actually only a miniscule portion of an astronomically large and mysterious universe, the best part of this colossal universe is found in something so small in scope… human life.
Take Action: The next time you want to buy something, ask yourself if you really need it. Then quantify the time cost by thinking about the time it takes you to earn that much money. Next, compare the cost of the item to an experience you could have instead. Lastly, consider the cost of having to carry it around, store it, and manage it for its lifetime. If it passes all of these tests satisfactorily, it’s probably a bagel.