What Henry David Thoreau can teach us about calculating costs, profits, benefits and living a life free of “quiet desperation.”
In this episode you’ll learn:
- How Ralph Waldo Emerson helped Thoreau financially.
- Why we need to calculate how much life an activity is taking from us.
- The difference between profits and benefits.
- How to be present and worry less about money.
Henry David Thoreau pursued a life of simplicity, focused on discovering and relishing in the essence of life. In this episode of “Money For The Rest of Us,” host, David Stein, unpacks some themes that pervaded Thoreau’s lifestyle and how we can apply them to the way in which we approach our finances. Many of us waste time worrying about the future of our finances, how to make a profitable decision, and when and where to spend our energy. Even though Thoreau was often poor and in debt, the way he viewed life and the way he endeavored to spend his time can help enhance the quality of our own lives—and the way we manage our finances.
Calculating the cost of how we spend our time
Thoreau prioritized spending time living life that gave back as much as he gave. Thoreau wrote, “The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life, which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.” Thoreau encourages individuals to consider how much life they are willing to spend pursuing a specific object or aim. What is the return? Is it worth your time?
David points out that it can be exhausting trying to calculate how much time you spend on a specific task and trying to decipher if it is worth it. There are practical steps you can take, however, to help prioritize what to spend time on, such as delegating the tasks that someone else can do for you. As Thoreau points out, “When considering a course of action, one should ask, could someone do it in my place? If the answer is yes, abandon the idea, unless it is absolutely essential.” Are there things that are taking up your living space, your time and life, that someone else can accomplish? Take the time to calculate how you are spending your time, and it will save you time and energy that you can put towards what truly matters.
The gift of living in the present
Thoreau observed that many people waste life worrying about the future, reading about what may or may not happen, expending their energy fretting about events and things out of their control. David encourages us to learn from Thoreau’s observation and take back the moment and live life in the present – and enjoy it! Instead of constantly wondering what the future holds concerning your finances and whether you are saving enough, making the right decisions regarding your investments and so forth, take a moment and step back. Regain focus on what is going on currently.
There are many ways to regain the posture of living in the present. Thoreau took long walks in the woods to gain perspective. Some find Buddhist breathing techniques to be helpful with anxiousness and with resetting the brain. Worry gains you nothing.
Pursuing “the walk”
Once needless tasks and worry have been tossed aside, what do you do with the newly-freed time? How do you spend it productively? Thoreau says the answer is, “to walk.” Thoreau encourages us to pursue the enjoyment of what nature has to offer—to walk in nature and shed all the weight that pursuing capital brings. True capital is a life that is spent enjoying life in the moment, taking in what nature—the current moment—can give us. Walking restores our focus and gives us fresh eyes to see and understand how to approach life and the decisions that we need to make. Walking cleanses and rejuvenates the mind so that it can better overcome life’s trials.
Technology can be a blessing, but it can also be a curse. It steals time and distracts our minds from the real and present issues that we should be dealing with. While nature encourages the imagination, technology such as the smartphone disengages the mind. David explains that learning to embrace boredom can expand the mind. Putting away the phone and stepping back into nature can help us approach our financial decisions with greater clarity and a greater imagination to overcome obstacles.
Applying Thoreau’s financial lessons to our daily life
Thoreau scheduled time into his days to go walk. Scheduling uninterrupted time into your day is a practical way to live in the moment, regain focus, and rejuvenate the mind for the tasks and management decisions that you have to deal with. Take time to think. Consider which parts of your life you truly need to be invested in and which parts you can delegate to others or do away with entirely. Thoreau’s simple life is a source of inspiration that can aid the investor and financial manager in not only improving their quality of life but making quality decisions that bring about meaningful impact.
- [0:23] Moving into a new house and considering the simplicity of Thoreau.
- [2:34] Preserving Ralph Waldo Emerson’s woods.
- [5:15] A two-year experiment living in the woods.
- [6:32] Calculating cost in terms of our life.
- [8:37] Distinguishing profit by the benefits.
- [10:59] Living in the present.
- [15:24] Using our extra time to pursue the walk.
- [19:45] The effects of social media and technology on millennials.
- [23:41] The importance of rejuvenating, unstructured time.
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