Guiding Financial Principles: Getting Intentional About Your Money

When I was a kid, my family was quite poor. My parents had seven kids and one, meager salary. My father ran his own construction business and worked really hard at it. He started with nothing and worked his way towards something.

But, every time that he began to approach financial stability or the point where he could begin accumulating wealth, something catastrophic and completely out of his control would derail his efforts.

Growing up poor had a significant impact on me. It made me really care about money. It made me think about every penny I spent. To this day, it can be quite stress-inducing for me to make even simple purchases.

Because of my background, I have become intentional about my financial situation.

All this concern about money has given me a perspective on finances that I’ve always felt is unique from the perspective of others. Whether I’m actually unique or not, I’m not sure, but I’ve made some financial decisions, which at the time I was strongly encouraged not to make, that have helped me get further with my finances than I would have, had I listened to my detractors.

Now, I understand that finances are a tough topic, because everyone is in a different financial position with different assets, debts, and incomes. I also know that all of our own personal goals strongly affect the way we think about and use our money.

But, I believe that the principles I’m about to share are applicable to almost everyone. For those of you who are looking for ways to be live more intentionally when it comes to your money, hopefully, this is helpful.

As a disclaimer, I am not a financial planner or advisor, nor do I claim to be the definitive source of financial information.

Intentional Living Money Planning

The Long Road

For most people, accumulating wealth is not something that will happen today, or tomorrow, or in the next ten years. The path to financial success is a long road.

Like anything that takes a long time to achieve, there will be detours and doubts. There will be setbacks and surprises.

How do we keep our wits about us for the long haul? Discipline and re-indoctrination.


Setting goals and laying out our plan to achieve those goals is the first step. The second step is to keep at it, don’t panic when markets go up and down, and they will, remember that you’re playing the long game.


Anything you want to continue to believe and practice (eg., religion, healthy eating, child-rearing strategies) requires constant re-indoctrination.

What I mean by this, is that you need to keep telling yourself why you’re doing something. We can make ourselves believe anything we want, as long as we keep at it.

So, talk about your financial plans with your spouse or partner, review your progress, read financial books and blogs, and stay on top of your learning. Remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing, and don’t give up.

The Standard Finance Answers

Before I dive into the principle that really guides my financial perspective, I wanted to share a few of the more traditional pieces of financial advice that are often given – after all, we should be indoctrinating ourselves, right?

  1. Buy low, sell high: This one is so simple that it is often looked over entirely. The truth is that you will almost never make a good return on something that you bought at the wrong price. A common saying in the real estate industry is, “You make money when you buy, not when you sell.” This idea rings true in the stock market as well. The worst time to buy a stock is when the price is going up, but that’s when people get excited about it and can’t resist. This is why Bitcoin is super risky right now.
  2. Don’t take one step forward, then another step back: What do I mean by this? Well, how often do people get their tax refund, then use it for a large purchase, or as the down payment on something they’ve financed. It is so tempting, when we get a raise or an inheritance, to take that money and use it to get into more debt or spend it on something that won’t return any value. When you have an increase in cash, either from your job or another event, don’t squander it by spending it today.
  3. Compound Earnings: The idea of compound earnings or compound interest is fairly ubiquitous. It means that growth on your investment does not just come from the money you put in, but also from the money that you’ve made in previous periods. Take advantage of this mechanism as much as possible. If your employer offers a 401(k) match, then max it out. If they don’t then you should still be putting money into an investment tool that will provide you with the potential for compounding interest.

Intentional Living Piggy Bank

My Guiding Principle

Alright, now for the number one guiding principle in my financial decisions making. Everything that you and I purchase is either going to make money or evaporate money.

Every purchase is either an investment or an expense.


An investment is something that has the potential to make money for you. It is something that has the potential for holding its value and creating additional income for you.

Investments include a 401(k) or IRA, mutual funds, annuities, real estate and business investments, side projects that produce income, businesses we found, and potentially even life insurance.

These are the places we should be putting our money, if we’re intent on creating financial wealth. Of course, diversification is wise, so don’t put all of your eggs in one financial basket. Find wise investments where you can have some level of assurance that your money will come back to you with a surplus.

If you are unsure of where to start or are uncertain about the risk vs. reward factor of an investment, seek our professional help.


Expenses include anything that will cost you money, will not hold its value, and will never produce any income. Expenses make money evaporate. Once your money is spent on an expense, it will never be back. So, spend wisely.

Examples of expenses include homes (when not bought properly), cars (always), clothing, groceries and household goods, furniture, boats, RVs, etc…

Now, as you can obviously tell, many of these expenses are necessities of life. We can’t avoid expenses entirely. I believe that some expenses, such as family vacations, are not financial investments but investments in our health, happiness, and relationships.

Investments vs Expenses

I’m always flabbergasted when I speak with someone, who seems so willing to spend money on an expense, but gets cold sweats when I mention investments.

For some reason, people feel more comfortable financing a car, which will never be anything more than a money pit, than they do buying a rental property.

A rental property has the potential to hold its value and provide monthly cash flows. In a few years, you may even be able to sell it for a significant gain.

Buying real estate can be daunting to some, especially if your income won’t allow it today. Not to worry, even if you can only invest $25 a month, there are investment tools that are accessible to you, such as an index fund.

Whatever your financial position, simply thinking of the things you put your money into as either investments or expenses, will help you make more informed decisions.


The financial principles I’ve shared here have helped me in my life, and I hope they help you as well. Remember, it is a long game, so figure out a plan and stick with it.

If you liked this post, please leave a comment below and share with your social network or family/friends. Thanks!

Pacific Swells is a collection of short stories and helpful articles about finding happiness through intentional living.

The Wisdom of Charles Dickens

I’ve always loved Charles Dicken’s holiday classic A Christmas Carol. The dual message that kindness, love, and friendship are the only true source of happiness and that anyone and everyone can change and be redeemed, are heartwarming and inspiring.

Until this year I had never read the full text of the story. Instead, I watched the Disney’ version, where Mickey Mouse plays the role of Bob Cratchit and Scrooge McDuck stars as Ebenezer Scrooge. It’s really well done, and I enjoy watching it each year with my kids.

The version I read this year was the original text, as written by Charles Dickens, and included illustrations by P.J. Lynch. The artwork was well done, and I’ve included some of it here.

Now, having read the full text as Dicken’s wrote it, I can say that it is definitely worth reading. A good number of Dicken’s scenes and lines are unfortunately not included in either the Disney version nor the Muppets movie adaptation (also a good one).

I believe that the messages we glean from A Christmas Carol are the types of principles we should be intentionally trying to live.

As the holiday season can be very busy, and I’m sure you have enough on your plate, I’ve decided to share with you some of my favorite lines from the book. I hope that these will help inspire you to love and serve others and put first things first.


Intentional Living A Christmas Carol 7
Image by P.J. Lynch


Jacob Marley’s First Visit

“It is required of every man,” the Ghost returned, “that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow men, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world – Oh, woe is me! – and witness what it cannot share, but might shared on earth, and turned to happiness!”

Again, the spectre raised a cry, and shook its chain and wrung its shadowy hands.

“You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why.”

I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”

It’s funny how we truly do create our own versions of bondage. The things we make most important in life are the things that we carry with us always – most often in our minds, but at times also in our physical lives.

Imagine if we always put relationships first, the ones that are most important. We would always be tethered with love and chained down with friendship. What a burden to bear.


Intentional Living A Christmas Carol 10
Image by P.J. Lynch


“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.

“Business!” cried the Ghost, “wringing his hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

Once again, where do we put our life’s work? Do we focus too much on our education, careers, prestige, wealth, and power?

What we should really be concerned with is those around us. How do we help others? How can we serve? How can we lighten someone else’s burdens?

“Oh! Captive, bound, and double-ironed,” cried the phantom, “not to know that ages of incessant labour by immortal creatures for this earth must pass into eternity before the good of which it is susceptible is all developed. Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness. Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused! Yet, such was I! Oh! Such was I!”

Life is too short to spend it on the things you weren’t sent here to do. Find the things you’re passionate about, the things that will give you fulfillment, and spend your time there. That’s the whole point of living intentionally after all.

“The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power forever.”

If we’re not careful, if we neglect the relationships we do have, the day may come when we no longer have a meaningful influence on them. We should cherish the relationships we have and be there for the people who need us.

The Ghost of Christmas Past

“It isn’t that, Spirit. He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count ‘em up: what then? The happiness he gives is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”

Are we aware of how much power we have to bring happiness to others? A kind word or deed goes a long way to making someone’s day that much brighter.

In like manner, we have the ability to ruin a perfectly good day. Being intentional about our words and actions includes being careful of the effect they have on others.


Intentional Living A Christmas Carol 8
Image by P.J. Lynch


“This is the evil-handed dealing of the world!” he said. “There is nothing on which it is so hard as poverty, and there is nothing it professes to condemn with such severity as the pursuit of wealth!”

“You fear the world too much,” she answered, gently. “All your other hopes have merged into the hope of being beyond chance of its sordid reproach. I have seen your noble aspirations fall off one by one, until the master passion, Gain, engrosses you. Have I not?”

Scrooge actually makes a valid point here, but he’s missing part of the story. It’s noble to provide for yourself and your family, but those who take this responsibility to the extreme often suffer a great loss of happiness in their lives.

Doing enough and having enough are in themselves enough. The World’s expectations of us are a poor target to aim for, as it will always be moving and will never provide satisfaction.

The Ghost of Christmas Present

“But the didn’t devote the whole evening to music. After a while, they played forfeits; for it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child himself.”

It’s good to have a little fun every now and then.

“Spirit, are they yours?” Scrooge could say no more.

“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degrees, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!” cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. “Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And bide the end!”

In a way, the purpose of living intentionally is to drive out ignorance from your thoughts and actions. To live with the full knowledge of the decisions you make, and to accept the consequences.

Ignorance can be a comfortable place to be, but it’s seldom the path to enduring satisfaction.


Intentional Living A Christmas Carol 3
Image by P.J. Lynch


The Ghost of Christmas Future

“Ghost of the Future!” he exclaimed, “I fear you more than any spectre I have seen. But as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart. Will you not speak to me?”

It gave him no reply. The hand was pointed straight before them.

“Lead on!” said Scrooge. “Lead on! The night is waning fast, and it is a precious time to me, I know. Lead on, Spirit!”

By this point in the story, Scrooge has already become a different man. He demonstrated courage here, the courage to see and hear things that are hard for him to take.

Being willing to accept feedback with an open mind is critical to self-development and growth. It’s not easy, but its worth it.

“Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point,” said Scrooge, “answer me one question. Are these shadows of things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?”

Still, the Ghost pointed downward to the grave by which it stood.

“Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,” said Scrooge. “But if the course be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me!”

Scrooge is beginning to see that he must change and change drastically if he is to experience a happy life for the remainder of his days. He makes a good point though – the outcome of our lives depends on the course we take.

What course are we on? What changes do we need to make to arrive at our desired destination?


Intentional Living A Christmas Carol 2
Image by P.J. Lynch


Christmas Day

“He went to church, and walked about the streets, and watched the people hurrying to and from, and patted children on the head, and questioned beggars, and looked down into the kitchens of houses, and up to the windows, and found that everything could yield him pleasure. He had never dreamed that any walk – that anything – could give him so much happiness.”

It’s funny how much joy we can experience when we see the value in the things around us. The things we have. The friends and family we have. The experiences we go through.

All things can bring us happiness if we let them.

“He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that us these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed, and that was quite enough for him.”

Often times, when we make changes for the good, others will be doubtful of our change or uncomfortable with it all together. These are poor reasons for us to fear change.

Anyone who is willing to make disparaging remarks about your improvement is someone who deserves much less of your time or mental attention.

Seek out those who will be happy for your improved state, and be happy for theirs in return.

The laughter of others is far less important than the laughter in our own hearts.

Intentional Living A Christmas Carol


Again, I think that it is worth reading the full text of A Christmas Carol, but if you don’t have the time, I hope this was enjoyable for you. If it was, please comment below and share with your friends and family.

Pacific Swells is a collection of short stories and helpful articles about finding happiness through intentional living.

The Importance of Suspending Judgement

I once had a manager who, to be honest, was a bit full of himself. The work we did was challenging. It was sales which, as we know, involves performance goals that are not always within our ability to control.

The company paid salespeople strictly on commissions. There was no base pay, so as a salesperson if you did not perform well, you didn’t make much. The high-pressure environment and commission based income led to high turnover.

My manager worked hard, and he did very well for himself. There were plenty of reasons for him to be confident in his role and with his success. But he was more than confident, he was cocky.

I remember distinctly something he said when a fellow salesperson decided to quit. This salesperson had swum competitively in high school and had then been asked to coach a competitive swim team.

He loved swimming and had always dreamed of coaching. As he was returning to school in the fall to study law, he was forced to decide between coaching the swim team and continuing his sales job at the company.

In the end, he decided to follow his passion and become a coach. Of this decision, my manager said, “Some people just can’t hack it, so they look for an excuse to quit.”

The quick reaction of my manager to judge this man as weak, simply for deciding that he no longer wanted to be a salesperson, has stuck with me for a long time.

In our culture, this type of judgment is common. People assume that others aren’t as good as them, because they don’t excel at the same things or because they choose a different path.

I don’t think it’s fair to judge someone as weak, incapable or ‘not cut from the right clothe’ simply because they choose to pursue other interests.

In an attempt to live intentionally, I want to suspend judgment of others and give them the benefit of the doubt. I want to be happy for others in the paths they take for themselves, even if they are different than my own.

Below, I’ve shared some thoughts on how to appraise the strengths and weaknesses of ourselves and others, and how that appraisal can help us suspend judgment.

Intentional Living swimmer

What is a Skill

Years ago, I read a Gallup book called Strengths Finder that described an intense study of the key strengths of successful people. It also provided a test for the reader to determine what their own strengths.

One of the main principles of the book was that in order to succeed in life, you should focus the majority of your time doing things that are your strengths, rather than focusing on your weaknesses.

It was an interesting approach. What I found most useful from the book, was the guidance it provided in determining your own strengths.

It listed two key characteristics that must exist in order for a skill to be considered a strength: (1) your ability to do the skill and (2) whether performing the skill energized you or drained you.

Are You Good at It?

This is a fairly simple question, with a fairly simple answer. The risk we run is in thinking that we must be good at a skill the first time we try it if it is to be considered a strength.

I don’t believe that is the case. If you are not naturally inclined to perform a skill well, you can spend time improving upon that skill, until you are good at it.

The effort you are willing to put into mastering a skill is derived, in part, by the second characteristic of a strength.

Does It Give You Energy?

It is certainly possible to be good at a skill, while simultaneously abhorring the performance of it. If a skill doesn’t give you energy, then its probably not a strength, and you probably don’t want to spend your life working at it.

Rather, you should focus your time and energy on things that do bring you energy. When I write, I feel good. It takes a lot of mental energy and some determination to keep writing, but when I do it, I am always glad I did.

I also feel good when I speak in public. This might sound crazy to some people, but it gives me a bit of a high. Whether I’m teaching a small class or presenting in front of an audience of a thousand people, it makes me feel good.

In fact, to some extent, I think I’m more comfortable talking to a thousand people than I am talking to one person. I know I’m crazy.

At the same time, there are things I’m probably good at but hate doing; such as sales, interviewing, and crucial conversations.

Choosing to focus on our strengths rather than our weaknesses can help us be confident and find success. We should also allow others to focus on their strengths, and forgive them for their weaknesses.

Suspend Judgement

The other thing I’ve taken from Strengths Finder’s definition of a strength is the ability to look at others and realize that it’s alright for them to have their own strengths – which is the reason I’ve shared the definition here.

If we can look inside ourselves and see that there are things we’re good at and things we’re bad at, it makes it easier for us to see that others also have their own strengths and weaknesses.

Judging others based on our own context of the situation is not only damaging to others, its damaging to us. Surely, the stories we tell about others and their decisions, are the same stories we inevitably tell about ourselves.

We should grant others the right to decide what their strengths are and cheer them on as they pursue them.

So, the next time we encounter any of the example situations listed below, maybe we can for the moment suspend judgment.

Intentional Living weights


You know someone who has recently quit or been fired from their job, and you wonder why it is that they can’t maintain steady employment.

You see someone in the gym who is clearly wasting their time because they don’t push themselves in any of the workouts they are doing. Or, you see someone who you believe is just trying to get others to notice them, rather than focusing on their workout.

You have a friend or family member who is always talking about their goals and what they hope to accomplish, but you can see that they aren’t taking any steps towards making them happen.

Our duty is to believe that for which we have sufficient evidence, and to suspend our judgment when we have not. – John Lubbock

Intentional Living law books


The colleague from my earlier story, the one who quit to become a swim coach, turned out just fine. In fact, he coached throughout the remainder of his time in school and is now an attorney.

I guarantee that he is happier now as an attorney, than he would have been had he continued as a salesperson. I don’t know if he still coaches swimming, but I’m sure his experience as a coach was fulfilling for him.

We spend far too much time thinking about the weaknesses of others, rather than seeing their strengths. Wouldn’t it be better if we all acknowledged that everyone has their own strengths and encouraged them to find and pursues those strengths?

When faced with an opportunity to judge someone, let’s suspend that judgment and see them for who they truly are.

I hope this was helpful for you in some way. If so, please comment below. Thanks.

Pacific Swells is a collection of short stories and helpful articles about finding happiness through intentional living.

The Argument For Owning Less and Doing More

A few posts back I shared some experiences I had while selling alarm systems door-to-door in Indianapolis. During that summer I certainly learned a lot about sales, at least alarm system sales, but that wasn’t the biggest takeaway for me.

What I found is that when you are on the streets all day long, going out of your way to speak with as many people as possible, you see some strange things and you meet some interesting people.

One day, I met a man at his doorstep. Right away, I knew that he was an interesting person because rather than calling me simply Josh, he was intent on calling me by my full name. To him I was Joshua.

It wasn’t just that he used my full name, it was the way he put emphasis on the syllables. He pronounced my name Josh-u-ah.

He made me laugh, so I engaged him in a conversation. During our conversation, I peeked passed him in the doorway and looked into the interior of his home.

I saw nothing.

Nothing at all. His entire living and dining room area was empty. I asked if he had just moved in, and is his response surprised me.

Very confidently, he told me that he was a minimalist. I had never heard this term before, so I immediately took it to mean that he owned as little as possible. Or perhaps nothing at all.

He told me that possessions were a burden. That without them he was free to live his life as he pleased. To an extent, I agreed with him, but I still thought he was strange.

I couldn’t help but correlate his desire to own very little, to the peculiar way in which he said my name. Josh-u-ah.

My curiosity for this man and his way of living only increased hours later, when I again passed by his house. This time I could see directly into his bedroom, which of course had no curtains. I noticed that he did have a bed, and he was laying on top it, staring straight at the ceiling.

I thought that this must be how minimalists spent their time. They didn’t have televisions, so they stared at the ceiling.

Little did I know at the time that I would one day become a minimalist of sorts myself. My brand of minimalism is a bit different than the nice man I met in Indianapolis, but like that man, I have found that I don’t need many possessions and that having fewer possessions has given me a sense of freedom.

I don’t think I’m perfect at being minimalist, in fact, I don’t think there is a proper definition of what is perfect. What I have found is that decluttering and only keeping things that add utility to my life, the things that are truly valuable, makes life simpler and my home a bit more peaceful.

Below is some research about why minimalism makes sense and some thoughts to consider for why you might try it yourself.

Intentional Living Minimalism Empty Room

Arguments for Owning Less


Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to study at the library, as opposed to your house or apartment? It’s quieter, and even though there are people there, it’s less distracting.

The same goes for working in a Starbucks. Despite people moving all around you, some of them even shouting, it’s easier to get your work done there.

Why is this the case?

I would argue that one of the reasons it’s easier, is because there is so much less stuff around.

And if there is stuff, it’s not your stuff. It creates a much less distracting and much more productive work environment.

Walk into any Silicon Valley office building and you will find a sleek, minimalist design. This is intentional, and it’s based on actual research.

Having a home cluttered with possessions can make it harder for you to focus on tasks. It can cause anxiety; especially when you’re thinking about adding more to your home.

Clearing the possessions off your counters and shelves can free up your physical space and your mental space.

“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.” – Henry David Thoreau

 Intentional Living Minimalism Clutter

Not Tied Down by Possessions

I once worked with a woman who complained that she had not been on vacation for almost a decade. While her husband would travel, she would stay home all by herself. I was flabbergasted.

I couldn’t believe that she could be telling the truth, so I pressed her for more information. I wanted to know why she had not traveled. She clearly had a well-paying job. She clearly had a desire.

The reason she gave was even more flabbergasting. She told me that she hadn’t traveled because of her dogs. At some point, she had begun acquiring husky puppies, and now she had six full-grown huskies living in her home.

Finding someone to watch them or somewhere for them to go when she traveled was just too difficult. So, she never left town.

This may sound crazy, it did for me when I heard it myself, but in some regard, we all have possessions that keep us tied down. It may be our mortgage, car payments, yard work, or some other material object that makes it difficult for us to do other things.

Even the need to water the flowers can be a hindrance to other experiences we may want to enjoy. It’s not always easy to sneak away when you’ve got something you must do, it’s even harder.

Owning less can make life feel less burdensome.

We won’t have to clean and organize as much. We won’t have as many chores or responsibilities. We won’t have to worry as much when people ask to borrow our possessions. We won’t live in constant fear of losing our possessions.

“Our life is frittered away by detail… simplify, simplify.” – Henry David Thoreau

Shifting Priorities

Shifting your mindset to want fewer possessions will free you up to focus on what really matters. Rather than spending your time thinking about what to do with your house, car, boat, or RV you can spend your time thinking about others.

If the love of money is the root of all evil, the love of people is the root of all good.

Relationships are key to a life well lived, and putting people ahead of possessions is a solid reason to explore owning less.

The guys now commonly known as The Minimalists often share a great quote, “Love people. Use things. The opposite never works.”

People are the key to happiness, so why wouldn’t we want to shift our priorities to them.

Goodness is the only investment that never fails. – Henry David Thoreau

How we Perceive Our Identity

When we think about celebrities, we’re usually pretty aware of why they are celebrities – it’s because they do something that most other people can’t do. Kevin Durant is an amazing basketball player. Coldplay is a very talented group of musicians. Jimmy Fallon is a skilled comedian and late night host.

We don’t identify any of these people based on the things that they possess. Rather, we associate all of them with the things that they do.

However, in our lives, we often associate ourselves with our possessions. Our big screen TVs, our style of dress, or our car or truck.

Why do we do this? These things don’t accurately reflect who we are. When we spend less time thinking about what we could have, we spend more time thinking about what we could do or who we could become.

People who identify with a passion for doing something often throw their entire lives into that thing. And what’s ironic about their willingness to embrace their passion is that it often leads to outsized success.

Having less and doing more is fundamental in creating our true identities.

There is no value in life except what you choose to place upon it and no happiness in any place except what you bring to it yourself. – Henry David Thoreau

 Financial Benefits

In a previous post, which you can read here, I wrote about all the reasons why I don’t own a television. Some of these reasons were financial. And just as there are scores of financial reasons for not owning a TV, there are many financial reasons for owning less stuff.

Imagine if you could reduce your monthly expenses by $100 per month. That might not sound like a lot. But if you were to cut out miscellaneous spending on things such as clothing, knickknacks, decorations, and subscriptions that you don’t need most people could probably save at least $100 per month.

Do you know how much money you would have if you invested $100 per month, with 5% compound interest, for the next 40 years? $152,602.

What if it was $500 per month? $763,010

What if it was $1,000 per month? $1,526,020

My point here is simple – if you invest money, rather than spending money, then it will pay off in a big way. The ability to invest rather than consume is a huge benefit to a life dedicated to owning less.

The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it. – Henry David Thoreau

Intentional Living Minimalism Clean Table

Research Shows that Possessions don’t Make us Happier

There is plenty of research to show that owning things not only doesn’t make us happier but over time it also makes us less happy. Like here and here.

Our Identity

Possessions are subject to a biological phenomenon known as adaptation. In an article on FAST Company, Dr. Thomas Gilovish, a psychology professor at Cornell University who has studied the connections between money and happiness for over two decades, said, “One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation. We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed. But only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them.”

Based on Gilovish’s research, we do experience a sense of happiness when we purchase something, but over time, our satisfaction with our purchase decreases.

In contrast, when we spend money on experiences, the happiness we felt from that experience stays with us.

Why is this the case? While we adapt to our physical possession and become bored with them, our experiences become part of our who we are. What we do becomes our identity.

“Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods,” says Gilovich. “You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless, they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences.”


Another reason for the increased happiness that comes from experiences, is the shared connection experiences can provide. When you experience something with someone else, you remember it together.

Even when you’ve experienced something difficult with another person or group of people, a bond is formed. When I was in high school I played basketball and water polo. Neither team was ever that great and we didn’t win in all that much, but the members of the team became best friends.

We worked hard together through a difficult experience and it connected us. It became part of our identity.

The natural result of spending less time focusing on things and more time focusing on people is deeper, more fulfilling connections.


An interesting piece of research published in Sage Journals by Amit Jumar and Thomas Gilovich at Cornell University and Matthew Killingsworth at UC Berkeley demonstrates that waiting for experiences is more enjoyable than waiting for material purchases.

While you might be excited to buy the next Apple product, that experience of waiting does not induce as much joy as waiting for a special event in your life, say a trip or a reunion with a loved one.

Focusing on experiences rather than possessions, can actually make you happier, before you even do the thing your anticipating.  There’s more joy through the entire life of the experience, from concept to memory.

Buyers Remorse and Comparisons

We also experience less buyer’s remorse for money spent on experiences. This makes sense, right? People are more likely to be unsatisfied with the new material possession they purchased than the vacation they just took.

Even if the experience was a poor one, the remorse is weaker than when we make a bad purchase decision. This goes back to the idea I shared earlier that people begin to associate their experiences with the story of their lives.

Also, we tend to think of experiences more on their own terms, rather than in comparison with other things. Learning that someone got a better deal on a sweater is probably more annoying than learning that someone had a lot of fun in Mexico, while you were in Hawaii.

Today We Don’t Even Need to Own Things

My final argument for owning less is that in the modern age, we actually don’t even need to own things. This may be truer for some people than for others, but intentional living is about making the decisions we think are the most reasonable, even if they require some sacrifices.

Especially if you live in a large city, you probably don’t need to own a car. When you need to get around there are plenty of options – public transportation, walking, riding a bike, carpooling, and even Uber or Lyft.

For anything that you want to do outdoors or on the water, you are sure to find rental options (e.g., boating, kayaking, tubing, stand-up-paddle boarding, hiking, skiing, climbing, and camping). If you go fewer than a few times per year, then renting is probably cheaper.

If you are a student, you can most likely rent electronics from your school. Public libraries have all sorts of resources; from computers to of course books. And they make owning books unnecessary unless you really want to mark them up with notes.

Owning DVDs and music CDs is completely unnecessary, as you can have quick access to almost any content you want via your computer or phone. And if you don’t own these things, you don’t need to own a shelf on which to store them.

In any situation, where you own something or are thinking about buying something, you can simply ask yourself, “Will this bring value to my life?” If the answer is no, or even maybe, then the decision of whether to keep it or buy it should be fairly simple.


When my wife and I began practicing minimalism it was exciting. We moved through the house cleaning out one room at a time. We’ve done the same thing multiple times since, and have been able to remove more and more through each sweep of the house.

We still buy new things, and people are always giving us stuff, so we make decluttering a periodic event. It’s also made it easier for us to say no to certain types of purchases of things we don’t really need.

Overall it has brought more cleanliness to the house, and for me at least, a little more sanity and tranquility.

I hope this was helpful in some way. If so, please leave a comment below and share with your family and friends. Thanks.

Pacific Swells is a collection of short stories and helpful articles about finding happiness through intentional living.

Why We Struggle with Self-acutalization and What to do About it

“The story of the human race is the story of men and women selling themselves short.”  ~ Abraham Maslow

Few lessons I learned in high school continue with me to this day, however, I do remember one teacher who took time to delve into real-world topics, such as life and what the hell we were going to do with ours. We’ll call this above-and-beyond teacher Ms. Thurgood because she was thorough and good.

It was the final semester of my senior year of high school. While all of us students were itching for graduation and the different paths that lay ahead of us, Ms. Thurgood was intent on making sure we left school with a decent head on our shoulders.

She was a veteran teacher, which showed in her calm demeanor and the ease with which she interacted with students. She never tried to impress us; rather she dropped subtle hints to let us know that she understood what it was like to be at the crossroads of youth and adulthood.

She taught English, but her lessons often ranged well beyond the common-core curriculum she had been tasked with teaching us. For someone like me, who was constantly bored in class and felt like I was waiting out a prison sentence rather than a school year, she made the days more bearable.

There was one topic that Ms. Thurgood felt so much passion for that she devoted an entire week’s worth of our time to it. The lesson she taught us was about a man named Abraham Maslow and his study of human nature, often known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs.

Maslow was interesting, because, in contrast to the norms of his time, Maslow did not focus on the study of what goes wrong with people, but instead focused on studying the positive side of human behavior. Maslow was interested in human potential, and how people can achieve that potential.

“The science of psychology has been far more successful on the negative than on the positive side… It has revealed to us much about man’s shortcomings, his illnesses, his sins, but little about his potentialities, his virtues, his achievable aspirations, or his psychological health.” Abraham Maslow

Maslow believed that deep down people are good and not evil. I think Mrs. Thurgood believed the same thing, which is why she wanted to share some of Maslow’s theories with us. I think she saw a lot of potential in us, but she also saw the risk we faced of not living up to that potential.

I’m sure she also wanted us to see others in a new light. To recognize that people are to a great extent the product of their environment. She wanted to give us hope. She wanted to provide a roadmap for success and happiness.

The pinnacle of Maslow’s hierarchy is the achievement of self-actualization. The term itself was originally coined by a man named Kurt Goldstein as a definition for the realization of one’s full potential. It means to become who you are meant to be through the expression of creativity, and the achievement of spiritual enlightenment and knowledge.

Maslow made the term popular when he developed a pyramid of human needs, which if satisfied, could help lead a person to self-actualization. In speaking of his research Maslow said, “Human life will never be understood unless its highest aspirations are taken into account. Growth, self-actualization, the striving toward health, the quest for identity and autonomy, the yearning for excellence (and other ways of phrasing the striving “upward”) must by now be accepted beyond question as a widespread and perhaps universal human tendency”

I believe that self-actualization is important because we all have a purpose on this earth and it would be a shame for us and everyone else not to realize that purpose. A nation of self-actualized people is a nation that can accomplish anything and rise above any challenge.

I believe that people have the ability to become self-actualized. But I’m concerned that while people have the opportunity and resources needed, they still may not be reaching the top of their potential. Below I’ve laid out some of my theories of why this is the case, included some research from others, and provided some possible solutions.

Intentional Living Abrham Maslow

Background on Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs and Self-actualization

There are a lot of great online resources for learning more about Maslow, his research, and the self-actualization pyramid. Here is one of them, and here is another.

Pyramid of Human Needs

Based on Maslow’s theory people have certain innate needs, both physical and emotional, which must be met before self-actualization can occur. While these needs are built into a pyramid, Maslow later admitted that the pyramid is not so much a ladder that must be climbed, one rung after another, but instead a general guidebook. As is the case with most things, the outcome is highly dependent on the individual.

The five needs of Maslow’s pyramid include:

  1. Biological and physiological needs (e.g., air, food, water, warmth, sex, sleep)
  2. Safety needs (shelter, security, order, law, stability, freedom from fear)
  3. Love and belongingness needs(friendship, intimacy, trust and acceptance, affection love, belonging)
  4. Esteem needs (esteem for oneself and respect from others)
  5. Self-actualization needs (achieving one’s potential, self-fulfillment, personal growth and peak experiences)


Self-actualization is not about achieving wealth or prestige, but about becoming the person you have the potential to become. A few quotes from Maslow himself sum up the essence of self-actualization.

“The thing to do seems to be to find out what one is really like inside; deep down, as a member of the human species and as a particular individual”

“What a man can be, he must be. This need we call self-actualization.”

“A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself.”

I also think that Thomas Jefferson speaks well to the idea of what self-actualization is and what it is not; said he, “It is neither wealth nor splendor; but tranquility and occupation which give you happiness.” I’ve expounded more on this quote in relation to intentional living in a previous post, which you can find here.

How can you tell if you are a Self-actualized Person?

If you’re wondering how you can tell if you or someone else has reached the self-actualization phase, Maslow actually defined the characteristics he believed to be indicative of someone who is self-actualized.

People who are self-actualized have:

  • Efficient perceptions of reality
  • Acceptance of self, others, and nature
  • A reliance on their own experiences and judgment
  • A task their life is centered around
  • Autonomy
  • Continued freshness of appreciation
  • Profound interpersonal relationships
  • Comfort with solitude
  • Non-hostile sense of humor
  • Peak Experiences
  • Social compassion

 Are We Self-actualized?

The question I feel inclined to ask is, are the majority of people today self-actualized? If we live in a developed country, have access to education and technology, and have all of our basic needs (biological, physiological, and safety) met shouldn’t we be able to reach self-actualization quite efficiently?

The research would suggest that on the whole people who live in developed nations are not self-actualizing.  Here is some of the recent research I have found.

Harris PollBased on the Harris Poll, in 2017 only 33% of Americans surveyed said they were happy and slightly more than half of Millennials said they were frustrated with their career.

Gallop Poll: According to a recent Gallop Poll, the U.S. failed to rank in the top 10 happiest countries. Of the 155 nations included in the 2016 study, the United States ranked 14th.

Quartz Article: In her article, Ruth Whippman leans on research that shows, “The systematic packaging and selling of happiness is an industry estimated to be worth more than $10 billion.” She also describes how happiness has become the ultimate consumer product. She also shared that one-third of all people in the United States is likely to suffer from an anxiety disorder in their lifetime

“Self-actualizing people enjoy life in general and practically all its aspects, while most other people enjoy only stray moments of triumph” – Abraham Maslow

What Are the Roadblocks?

The next question to ask is why are people failing to achieve self-actualization? I have a few of my own theories, which happen to agree with some of the research. The list of items below is certainly not comprehensive, but I believe it represents the most pressing issues that many of us face.

Our Priorities are Out of Whack

In life, there are really roughly five categories of meaningful activities on which you can spend your time, such as activities related to your family, friends, education/career, health (physical and mental), and religion. There may be others (e.g., travel and entertainment) but I think they are perhaps sub-categories rather than life pursuits.

If you were to track the time you spent on each category, you would probably discover that the categories don’t receive an equal distribution of your time. For example, education/career probably receives a lot more of your time than family or friends.

I’m not going to argue here for “work-life-balance”, because I believe that it’s a misnomer, especially for highly driven people. What I would argue for is ensuring we know what our priorities are, and we’re the ones controlling the time we put into different activities.

In the same Harris Poll, I referenced above, it states that nearly 40% of Americans said that they rarely engage in hobbies and pastimes they enjoy. Just like being happy, having fun is a choice. We just have to prioritize it, so that we make that choice.

The Distraction of Technology

Technology is a big distraction for me (Me: Hi, my name is Josh and I’m addicted to Twitter. Group: Hi, Josh). We all know in our heart-of-hearts that the stuff we read on social media is not valuable, is often misleading, and is distracting us from living our real lives. Distraction and a lack of control are cited as one of the reasons Americans are not as happy as they could be.

The constant stream of information we receive from technology provides us with an information overload and also leads to FOMO (the fear of missing out). This causes us to check our phones every few minutes, distracts us from the tasks in which we’re engaged, and makes conversations with people who are actually in front of us difficult.

Social media has been proven to have a negative effect on our moods and happiness. The constant stream of images and hashtags can make it seem like everyone else is so much happier and better off than you. And comparing ourselves others is a sure-fire way to reduce happiness.

And the biggest problem with technology is that it wastes our time – valuable time that could be used in the pursuit of our life’s purpose.

Focusing on a Life of Luxury

The final thought I have about the roadblocks we face on the path to self-actualization is the trap of luxury. I recently opened a fortune cookie and inside found the message, “You will enjoy good health and be surrounded by luxury.”

Intentional Living Fortune Cookie 

The part about good health I certainly appreciated, but the idea of being surrounded by luxury (and thinking it was a good thing) made me uncomfortable. A life of meaning is found in the pursuit of lasting relationships, productivity, and giving service – not in the pursuit of ease and comfort.

Don’t get me wrong, I want my home to be comfortable, but I fear that seeking after luxury flips our priorities around and sends us in the wrong direction. When possessions such as homes, cars, boats, and televisions become our driving motivators we’ve certainly lost our connection with what brings us joy.

How do We Rise Above?

Like most things self-actualization is not an event, rather it is a journey. Life gives us some ups and some downs, and we certainly won’t always be floating on a cloud. Given the self-actualization roadblocks we discussed, here are some things that can be done to improve our chances of becoming self-actualized.


Abraham Maslow said, “What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself.” I believe that what Maslow meant by this, was that understanding our full potential is all the motivation we really need to begin chasing after our dreams.

Becoming aware of who we are and what we want out of life is the foundation for intentional living. I’ve written about this in the past here and here.

Maslow said, “If you plan on being anything less than you are capable of being, you will probably be unhappy all the days of your life.” It’s not the desire to do something that makes you who you are, it’s the actual process of doing something that makes you who you are.

If you play basketball and want to be considered a shooter, you must shoot. Shooters shoot.

If your dream is to be a writer, then you must write. Writers write.

If you want to travel, figure out how to travel. Travelers travel.

If you want to be an entrepreneur and launch your own company, then found it today. Founders found.

Set Limits

A significant challenge to discovering who you are and what you want is the constant distractions in our lives. Earlier we talked about technology and luxury and how they can hinder our progress.

It’s hard to progress personally when you can’t get away from the incessant thoughts of others.  Learn to turn off your computer or phone. Learn to be present in the moment.

Learn to be comfortable with quietness and stillness. Learn to say no to requests.

Maslow also said, “The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.”

I’ll readily admit that this is something I struggle with. Listening to a phone requires much less effort than engaging with a person or accomplishing a task. Consumption is always easier than production, but it can leave you feeling empty inside.

Setting limits on technology will give us more time to focus on what really matters.

Connect with Others

Nobody should travel through this life alone. We know that we need others to be there for us and we need to be there for others.  Across research studies and surveys, one finding that appears consistently is that we need other people in order to be happy.

There is really never a time when I feel more in touch with myself and my spouse than when we spend hours alone just talking with each other. It’s fun, it builds connection, it ensures that we are on the same page.

While personal time is important, making an effort to spend more time with friends and family will lead to better mental and emotional health. It helps us to realize what our priorities should be and gives us the courage to realign our lives with those priorities.

Earlier I wrote that there are five categories of meaningful activities where we can spend our time. Friends and family are separate categories because I believe that one does take precedence over the other (hint: its family). Neglecting these two categories can have serious consequences on our short-term happiness, and our long-term sense of belonging and purpose.

I heard a powerful anecdote once that is very much in-line with my characterization of meaningful activities. I wish that I could remember where I heard it, but I don’t. Just remember that while I think this analogy is spot on, it’s not my original work.

Sometimes life is like juggling with a number of bouncy balls in the air at one time. These balls include such things as work, family, friends, health, church, etc… In life, as in juggling, you may occasionally drop a ball. When performing with bouncy balls, the balls that have fallen simply bounce back to you. In life, some things are bouncy balls and you can recover from dropping them. But other things are not bouncy balls, they’re more like glass balls, and if you drop them they don’t come back.

When prioritizing, just remember that our relationships are typically glass balls. We may not get a chance to pick them up if we drop them.

Intentional Living Broken Glass


Ms. Thurgood never laid out a plan for us to achieved self-actualization. She did a great job of introducing us to the concept, then left the rest in our hands. If I had to summarize a game plane that I believe would help lead a person to self-actualization it would look like this.

  1. Be aware of what you want and don’t be afraid to go after it.
  2. Align your life so that your activities lead you towards your goals.
  3. Avoid distractions.
  4. Stay connected with yourself and your loved ones.

If you found this post helpful or insightful, please let me know by sharing a comment below. Thanks.

Pacific Swells is a collection of short stories and helpful articles about finding happiness through intentional living.