On Materialism.

I’ve always had a interest in Eastern philosophy (at the risk of sounding eye-rollingly New-Agey) because what it teaches really resonates with my beliefs. One of those particular beliefs is that the attachment to material things (well, attachment in general, but that’s another post) brings unhappiness.

Now, I love a new pair of heels as much as the next girl. I obsessively buy lip gloss and I do own a car. I’m not a monk and I don’t preach trying out homelessness or renouncing everything you own. However I do have something to say about attachment to these items. I also have something to say about always needing more and more in order to be “happy” and impress others. I am writing about this as a person who just gave away roughly 95% of everything I own, sublet my apartment, and moved to another country with only what small amount I had in savings. So there’s my credentials. Really you could call me an expert… I’m kidding. Sort of.

Cue the scientific part of my discussion:

A Harvard study asked people if they would rather make 50,000 a year if everyone around them was making 25,000 (option A), or if they would rather make 100,000 a year if everyone around them was making 250,000 (option B). Same living conditions, same neighborhood, same prices for goods in both scenarios. The majority of participants actually chose option A. It was more important to be the one making more income than everyone else, even at the expense of 50,000 a year. That’s 50,000 dollars less a year to spend on anything you want, just to be top dog.

We’re some greedy assholes, us humans. But we aren’t the only ones.

Take another study from Emory University. This one is almost comical. Capuchin monkeys were all given cucumber slices as a reward for performing an action. All the monkeys were more than happy to accept and chow down on these. But when grapes were thrown into the mix, a much tastier item, the cucumber-rewarded monkeys would no longer accept their prize. They threw them on the ground or turned their backs on the researchers.

Lets think about this.

As people we are so concerned about status that we would take a 50% cut to our income in order to attain it. Also, evolutionary it seems that we are hard-wired to be unhappy if those around us have bigger & better (even if that comes in the form of a grape). So I do understand the idea behind materialism. I understand the people that get lost in debt to own a house bigger than their neighbors. I understand the guy at the club with the fancy sports car that makes him so broke he lives with his parents. I get it. Status.

But are these people really happy? Does attaining what you want settle the matter and then you are satisfied? Or do people end up wanting the next model, the biggest house on the street, the even more expensive car? Most often they do. Its a vicious cycle. There’s only a small amount of time in which that thing you bought will bring you happiness and then you return to whatever baseline you were at before. This has been researched and documented time and again.

There is a reason why Denmark and Switzerland rank as the happiest countries on the world happiness report index (and the US at number 15, coming in behind Mexico). These countries live a more egalitarian lifestyle. The income discrepancy between the rich and the poor is not as vast a canyon as it is in the United States. Their monkeys are all eating cucumbers. They’re content. (They also offer excellent medical care to their citizens and people tend to live in expanded social structures that offer support and companionship… but that’s a point for another day).

The fact of the matter is, beyond the basics, you do not need stuff to be happy. In fact it’s the very stuff you obsess about that is bringing you unhappiness. You have no idea the relief I felt when I liquidated all of my things. I didn’t sell them. I gave them away to people that really needed them. Couches, tables, shoes, cookware, appliances, whatever… and it felt great. All I really kept wondering is “WHY and HOW in the hell did I accumulate so much stuff?” I can now fit everything I own into a couple suitcases. It’s fantastic.

I now have the freedom to go where I want to go. I spend my money not on accumulating things but on seeing the world. It’s sad to me when people tell me that they can’t travel because they have to work so much. And they only work so much in order to pay for the stupid shit they have that they can’t take with them when they die. And they live an entire life like that. Work, bills, work, bills. Higher bills, more work. We get so wrapped up in these things. Maybe your goal is not to see the world. That’s fine. Work less – by owing less – and just spend your time with your friends and family because it’s also been documented time and again that that is what really brings happiness to the human mind.

Materialism is not an easy thing to overcome. Minimalism is not an easy thing to wrap your head around. Like I said before, it’s programmed into our very nature. But as long as you (and your family) have a roof over your head, food to eat and some clothes to wear I’d say you are doing better than millions of other people. Everything else is just a bonus. How about thinking of that next time you need to feel a status boost? Not so fun right?

Stop spending so much time on buying and start spending time on living. Have stuff but don’t become attached to it and for the love of God do not become a slave to it. If you’re willing to work yourself into the ground for a new car, maybe you should consider readjusting your priorities. If you spend so many hours in the office that you become an asshole and your family hates you, ask yourself if it’s really worth it. Don’t put off enjoying yourself in the future because the future is not guaranteed. You have one beautiful and fleeting life. Nothing else matters than fully living it.

Why I’m Quitting my Job (and what is wrong with America in general)

At today’s meeting I learned that we are raising the prices of our “employee meals” from 2$ to 3$ (I manage a restaurant located inside a fairly nice hotel to put this post into context). These meals consist of food we do not offer for our customers; mainly chicken strips, cheeseburgers (the tiny kind), cheese quesadillas, french fries. Cheap food. Bar food. Food I myself won’t even eat. In the restaurant we serve overpriced steaks, crab cakes, and salmon. So overpriced, in fact, that business is steadily decreasing – a change that was made by our insightful upper management. Which means that my servers can no longer afford to pay their bills, let alone eat our food, and we are quickly losing great employees, some of which have been with us for years.

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But to return to my original complaint… The 2$ employee meal is quite literally the only benefit to working at the hotel. We used to be a branded (franchised) well-known name hotel, and this used to be an excellent place to work. Since we lost that brand and were taken over by a management company, everything has gone to shit. The increase in this meal price comes on the heels of cut hours, increased per-person workload (in housekeeping), a switch to lousy insurance policies, a revocation of our travel discount,  a one-year suspension in the earning and taking of paid vacation (since we were bought by a new owner), a paltry restaurant discount, a laughable wage for our restaurant servers (who, on a extremely slow lunch shift really do only make 2.13 per hour, thank you outdated and unfair Indiana laws), the hiring of a food and beverage manager that does nothing but criticize, blame, and fluster his staff (myself included), a ban on employees using the facilities of the hotel in any way, shape, or form, and a “company policy” dispute between myself and our accounting department over their refusal to cut a check to my hostess who’s paycheck was 19 dollars when it should have been well over 150 dollars (this was no fault of her own, it was the accounting department who messed up her pay). She got paid on her next check, two weeks later. Speaking of wages, the housekeeping girls mostly make minimum wage, and those who have been “lucky” enough to see a raise haven’t seen one in four years.

In case you are thinking to yourself, “geez, well, maybe the hotel isn’t doing so well and so cutbacks are necessary”, let me clear this up. As I said, our hotel is currently managed by a management company. They manage hundreds of hotels across the country. The general manager they sent to us lives in the hotel for free. Eats for free… breakfast, lunch and dinner. Last night he had a ribeye steak delivered to his room, along with sides, a salad and cheesecake. We did a quick estimate of just how much free food he has eaten in the two years he has been residing in the hotel and it was around 20 thousand dollars. He never leaves his office to find out what is going on in the hotel or the restaurant (except to come eat of course) and easily makes three to four times the salary that I do. And at least five to six times that of our minimum wage employees. All while doing five times less work.

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I recently discovered that after nearly eight months of working full-time for this company, I am still classified as a part-time employee. Apparently you have to work full time for a full two “periods” before they will switch you and I “just missed” a full time average in my first period since I was part time for a fraction of it. The kicker is that if I had walked in off the street and began my same job with them without having been a part time employee before, I would have been eligible for the “benefits” of full time after 90 days. Namely, paid holidays. Not vacation, no, since that is on hold. It’s just one more way to dick their employees and save them money.

But to be honest, the biggest issue I take with all of this is the demoralization of the employees I care about and the complete disregard of their happiness and welfare. I’m a manager, so I’m paid slightly more. I also don’t have children so the only person I have to worry about feeding after the bills are paid is myself. Many of the girls that work for us are single moms. Many of the girls in housekeeping are single moms. These are hardworking people trying to make a living on laughable wages and the company they work for is doing everything they can to squeeze even more money out of them all while paying them less.

Why does this sound familiar? Oh, maybe it is because this is happening all over America. The income discrepancy between the rich and poor grows larger each year and it’s scenarios like this that are feeding it. Our nearly worthless general manger who (when you add in free food and rent) probably makes a six figure salary, eats his steak for free while looming over expense reports and deciding that two dollars for a cheap non-nutritional meal (for the employees that work hard to clean the rooms in the hotel that earns him his inflated paycheck) is NOT ENOUGH. Nope, three dollars should do. Maybe they should just gently place those extra dollars into his hotel room toilet so he can flush them down while laughing and punching them in the face.

cbpp income inequality 2011

My last day at my job is August 31st. I’m going to miss the people I work with on a day-to-day basis. But I can no longer work for a company who I do not believe in. Starbucks, for example, provides healthcare to even it’s part-time employees. Google donates $50 for every five hours an employee volunteers. Quicken Loans, located in Detroit, partnered with area businesses to offer incentives to employees willing to move to the city, including $20,000 in forgivable home loans. These are the types of companies I want to work for. This is what I believe in. An employer should take care of it’s employees because without them the business doesn’t run. And even from a financial standpoint it makes sense… happy employees will go above and beyond to create happy customers. You save the costs associated with a high turnover rate. And you retain a great, well-trained staff. Yes, I will miss my coworkers, but my time with this company is done. I refuse to feed any longer into a construct I disagree with on every level. In fact, I am actively rooting for the demise of this this management company and each and every one that shares in it’s outlook and policies. I know that corporate greed is being discussed more often in the media and elsewhere and I feel (hopefully not too optimistically) that the winds of change are blowing in. I hope they blow this company right off the map.