See that pic up there? A skull mug and a set of black plastic measuring cups. When I think of personal ROI, these two objects come to mind.
ROI means return on investment, and it measures what you paid for something as compared to what you actually get out of it. In accounting terms, it's something I don't really think about because I don't care. But in my own day to day life, I've been thinking a lot about what really provides a good return on my investment versus what my stupid brain suggests will bring me happiness.
That pirate mug is from The Pirates House in Savannah, GA. It costs about $12 and comes filled with Pirate Punch, which is highly alcoholic. Although my family eats at the Pirates House every time we're in Savannah, I never ordered this drink because it seemed very expensive when I could drink water for free or get a non-skull-encased drink for $8. And then, one day, I just ordered it, and it makes me happy every time I see it. I got to enjoy drinking from a skull at the restaurant featured in my book, Servants of the Storm, and I got an alcohol buzz after a long day, and then I get to drink tea out of the skull mug every day and remember the joy of finally getting the damn thing. Fantastic ROI.
The measuring cups are new and cost $0.99, and they make me stupidly happy. I don't think of myself as someone who enjoys cooking or baking, so I never invest in kitchen stuff. That meant that when I did cook, I had to scrounge together measuring tools from whatever wasn't being used by the kids or to scoop the dog food. We flat out didn't own a 1/3 cup, so I had to guess. And one day, I decided to solve this problem, no matter the cost. Which is under a dollar. All that time, all that frustration, all that casting around the kitchen like the clumsy fool in an informercial, and I solved the problem for under one damn dollar. So worth it.
And then we look at what society in general tells us we need. A bigger television, a newer car, a fancy couch, $500 Jimmy Choos, a Pinterest-worthy headboard from Restoration Hardware. They sell us this story, like if we just get THAT THING, suddenly we will be fulfilled, satiated, as happy and beautiful and carefree as the people in magazines. But really, what's the ROI on these big-ticket items? Would a brand new, super fancy car make me $20,000 happier than my 2010 Nissan that runs just fine? Would $500 shoes make me feel $500 better?
I feel like this is one place where we need to study ROI and decide which objects will truly bring lasting, daily happiness at a price point that we consider not only affordable but also reasonable.
For example, I'm pretty frugal, but I loooooove nice boots. I pay close attention to sales and don't buy boots unless they're super high quality, in my size, and at the right price. Over the past eight years, I've built a collection of beautiful boots, and I've learned that I will get 100x more happiness out of a $100 pair of brand name leather boots than I will out of a $30 pair of faux leather boots. But I won't get much more happiness from a $200 pair of boots and will in fact think about how I paid too much and should've waited until they were cheaper. For me, $75 to $99 is the perfect price for boots, and the high quality insures that they're comfortable, beautiful, and last for years. Every time I walk past my boot shelves, I breathe in the scent of leather and smile. Worth it.
How does ROI apply to depression and anxiety? Well, we're trying to maximize happiness and minimize stress, which means that $1 for new measuring cups is a great deal, while a bigger home with a bigger mortgage and bigger taxes might not be worth the stress on your heart and bank account and probably won't provide the satisfaction and happiness you've imagined. I've learned that when I'm stressed out, I'll get in little loops, latching on to some object to which I attach happiness. If I can escape the loop, I recognize how silly it was, that I was running in circles like an addicted rat in a cage, trying to find a pellet of crack/hope when the real hope involved stepping off the goddamn wheel and connecting to the life and objects I already have.
One day last week, for example, I decided I should get a Himalayan salt lamp because *insert magical woo reasons*. I decided it would be good for me, make me healthier and happier. So I spent several hours online, researching Himalayan salt lamps. And then I realized the dog needed to go out, and I went outside, and I felt the sun on my face and hugged my dog, and I realized that sitting in the sunshine on a beautiful day with a great dog was free and 1000x better than some lamp I bought for $30 on Amazon.
The takeaway here, for me, is that if I find myself obsessively searching for some object to purchase, the thing missing in my life is not actually that object but the story of hope and renewal and satisfaction my brain has built around it. Once I recognize the lie of it, I can often step out of the loop and do something meaningful, like going out in the sun, going for a walk, calling a friend, or just stopping by the kitchen section of Wal-Mart to buy a $1 kitchen appliance that will concretely make every day just a little bit better.
Vive le ROI, y'all.
*Note before someone gets pissed: Sometimes, big ticket items *are* worth it. If your living situation is untenable for whatever reason, moving to a new house/place can change your life for the better. If your car doesn't run, a new car that doesn't break down all the time is worth it. And I'm always supportive of vacations that allow you to destress and reset. I'm talking more about the MORE BIGGER SHINIER MORE KEEP UP WITH THE JONESES instinct here than the "Look, lady, you don't know my situation, so don't tell me what I really need" reality. Sometimes, your gut tells you it's worth it, and it is.