For my birthday this weekend my husband and I went to a fancy French restaurant in a nearby historic town. We noshed on decadent food and pretended to live an indulgent life. It was a blast. However, nothing could be further from the truth. We are both graduate students living off University stipends. We rent a small apartment near campus, have hot pockets in our freezer, and wear thrift store finds– quintessential signs of eternal students. In fact, we live such an inexpensive life that I am often embarrassed when a birthday, anniversary, Valentine’s Day, or graduation day rolls around and we have to tell others about the elaborate things we do because most people I know do not invest very much into these holidays.
You see, my theory is to invest more in the things I can’t live without than in the things I can. For example, if my education, career, car, housing, or possessions were suddenly gone it would be difficult, but I would get by. However, if all of a sudden my health, spouse, friends, family, or sex life were gone it would be devastating. It would fundamentally change me. Awhile ago I realized that I was spending most of my time, money, energy, and empathy on the former things rather than the latter. Why was it easier to justify investing in an academic conference rather than an anniversary? Cutting back on presents for each other in order to get that new gadget? Taking the time to listen to experts in my field but being impatient with my kids? Budgeting time for church but not for sex? Focusing on others but not myself?
Real investment is my family’s approach to spending time, money energy, and empathy on the things that matter most. Some basic approaches to this plan are:
- Viewing birthdays as a time to test your connection with another person, i.e. Do you really know what they want? Have you been listening? Watching? What are you willing to invest into that relationship? Usually investing more time, energy, and empathy on a birthday makes a bigger impact than just investing more money.
- Seeing Valentine’s Day as a time to show other’s how much they mean to you. Often real investment isn’t so much about what you do, but rather how the other person feels. It feels nice to be doted on, taken care of, and shown concern. It feels special to take precedence over work, budget, kids, and church duties. It feels fantastic to take the time to focus on the people you love and figure out ways to communicate that.
- Using anniversaries as a time to evaluate and work on your sex life. How often do you have open and honest communication and make needed changes to your sex life? Is one day out of 365 too much to ask for such an important part of your lives?
- Looking at graduations or promotions as a time to celebrate all of the hard work and sacrifice this accomplishment has meant. Rewards are not just kid stuff.
- Realizing that your health and self-perspective influence every aspect of your life and relationships with others. Are you investing enough time and energy on yourself? It is important to figure out what you need to feel good and then asking for those things. Most of the time people are willing to invest the real things but they just don’t know how or they need to be asked.
I’ve found that during the lowest points in my life or the times when we argue the most I have failed to invest in the real things. Real investment has been a really great way for our family to show that we cherish each other above everything else. That French restaurant was a big portion of our budget this month. Sure it could have gone toward something more practical, but it made me feel like I was important and worth the sacrifice it would take to stay on track for the rest of the month.
What do you invest in? Where does most of your time, money, energy, and empathy go? Have you ever tried to invest in the more important things? What was your experience?