The Bliss of Ignorance

blissI have a friend who is, shall we say, “crunchy” (in the best sense of the word). She and her family eschew many modern conveniences such as dishwashers, fast food, and big box stores in favor of doing things the old fashioned way. They are environmentally conscious to a fault and very outdoorsy. A few decades ago I guess they would have been borderline hippies. I don’t say this to be derogatory, only to explain. I actually admire their lifestyle for its simplicity and the closeness it generates within their family and I respect many of the choices they’ve made.

This past week I discovered another benefit to their simple life: Ignorance. I don’t mean that these people are stupid. Far from it. They are very well educated and can converse with you on just about any topic, and in three languages. However, in their quest for a simpler life they forego television, the Internet (except for email), and most commercial magazines. They do read a large number of books and academic journals and they get their news from newspapers (but only two per week). They are not oblivious to what is going on the world, they simply choose to get their information in very controlled doses.

The other day she was in her yard gardening while I was out running and I stopped to chat. After a while, the conversation turned to current events and the upcoming election. Being the finance nerd that I am, I asked her if she was concerned about the economy (this was the day that the bailout plan got rejected and the Dow went down almost eight hundred points).

“Not really,” was her response as she plucked another weed.

This stumped me. How could this woman not be worried? How could she not fear the loss of her investments or her kids’ college funds? How could the cost of gas and inflation not worry her?

“Why not?” I finally asked her.

“Because I don’t have anything to worry about,” she said. “My husband and I both have good jobs, we don’t have any debt, we’ve saved a lot for a rainy day, and our investments are diversified enough that the pain is limited.”

“Don’t you worry about the future?” I asked.

“No. I only worry when I have something to worry about. Right now, in this place, there’s nothing for me to worry about. If things change, then I’ll worry. But for now, we’re fine.”

I wondered to myself if this kind of peace could be bottled and sold. I asked her how she managed to be so at peace with the economy when the rest of the world seems to be coming apart at the seams.

“I don’t pay attention to the hype,” she answered simply. “Most of it has nothing to do with my day to day life and I can’t change it anyway. Can I do anything about the fact that companies and individuals chose to act irresponsibly? Nope. Can I stop the bailout plan? No. Can I stop them from raising my taxes in the future to pay for it? No. Yes, these things will affect me or my kids one day, but for right now my daily life is unchanged. I don’t spend hours watching the newscasters gnash their teeth over this stuff. I don’t read every editorial or analysis. If I did I’d probably go bonkers.

“That’s mostly why we got rid of TV,” she added. “When we had it, I was always watching and it was making me sick. I was worrying all the time, thinking the world was going to come crashing down or I was going to die of some dread disease. Without it, I don’t obsess like that anymore. I get the information I need from less biased, hype-based, sources and leave it at that.”

“True enough,” I said. “I watch this stuff because it’s like a train wreck to me. I can’t turn away, even though I know I should because it’s going to get bloody.”

“And I’ll bet you’re worried about it all, aren’t you?” she asked.

“Well, sure,” I said. “I mean, I worry about how my retirement might be affected. I worry about inflation and the price of goods. I worry about my standard of living.”

“Can you change any of it?” my friend asked.


“Then leave it be. Worry about the things you can control. Like saving more money. Living further below your means. Doing a good job at work so you’re valued there. Don’t worry about what may or may not come. Tune out the talking heads. Chances are, they don’t know anything more than you do. They’re just speculating and it’s in their interest to speculate toward the negative side of things. That’s how they get ratings. How many times have you watched the news hype something up and then it turns out to be less than what they made it out to be?”

“Too many times to count,” I said.

“There you go. Just ignore it. Read just enough to stay informed of what’s going on generally and let the rest of it go. The minute by minute reports only make you crazy.”

Her words made sense and reminded me of something I already knew, but had forgotten since the “crisis” started. I weaned myself off of most TV some time ago, but I have to confess that I have found myself watching more lately since this “crisis” has worsened. The finance nerd part of me can’t look away. I’ve also been reading more posts on the Internet and generally falling for the frenzy. I’ve regressed into my former information junkie self and I needed a good slap to get me back on track.

I had the chance this week to put my friend’s advice into action and detox myself. We took a trip to a spot that is pretty far removed from the real world. The news doesn’t really reach there and TV reception is limited at best. The only Internet access available is a very painful dial-up connection. For the first couple of days I was going a bit nuts, not being able to get my daily dose of hearings on Capitol Hill and arguments amongst analysts. But then as the days went by, I felt myself relaxing.

My friend was right. Nothing that was going on in the financial world was affecting my daily life in that moment. Sure, my long term investments are going down hill but with thirty years to retirement it’s not a huge concern. I’m optimistic that I’ll get it all back. Certainly I’ll have a higher tax burden in the future, but I can’t change it so there’s no need to worry about it until it happens. All of my money is still in the bank and all FDIC insured. Even if my bank fails, I am okay. My house is still mine and the mortgage isn’t going to change because I have a fixed mortgage. I don’t need any credit for the foreseeable future, so the unavailability of credit isn’t a concern. All of my belongings are still mine. In other words, everything in my daily life is exactly as it was the day before and the day before that. Things might change, or they might not. But there was no reason, in that moment on my trip, to freak out over “might.” Needles to say, I enjoyed the rest of my trip immensely. My brain was freed up to think about the things that mattered like time with my family.

Since we’ve returned home I’ve only turned on CNBC once. I quickly realized that my “detox” program had worked because I suddenly found all the shouting and angst appalling instead of appealing. I told the talking heads to shut up, turned off the TV, and went about my day in peace.

None of this is to say that you shouldn’t be concerned at all, particularly if you have a lot of adjustable rate debt, are a business owner, have a job that is insecure, or you’re close to or in retirement. But even if you have something to worry about, there is a benefit to tuning out and turning off a lot of the hype and opting to better control the amount and quality of information you receive. You can still be an informed citizen and make responsible financial decisions without being exposed to every little hiccup and frenzy. Freeing yourself of the paralyzing fear generated by the hype means you can take proactive steps to deal with the “crisis,” such as generating more income or creating more savings, if that’s what you need to do. You’ll not only be informed, but probably a little saner, as well. Ignorance is, at times, truly bliss.

Image courtesy of parl

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10 Responses to The Bliss of Ignorance

  1. Zahra says:

    Thanks for the post. It really helped put things in perspective. Sometimes you lose track and get lost in all the hype. My goal for the rest of the year is to stop obsessively check my investments and watch tv to see what’s happening in the market.

  2. Sharman says:

    Great post, and we should all take the attitude of your neighbor. Worrying will not change anything or add another day to your life. Matter of fact, it will probably take days away from your life. This season will pass and be forgotten until the next crisis comes. Such is life!

  3. Jay Gatsby says:

    Reminds me of two stanzas of the serenity prayer:

    God grant me the serenity
    to accept the things I cannot change;
    courage to change the things I can;
    and wisdom to know the difference.

    Living one day at a time;
    Enjoying one moment at a time;
    Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;

  4. ryemikki says:

    what a great life they’ve got! if more Americans are living that way, i believe we wouldn’t be going through this financial crisis crap now.
    And it’s really great that your view towards these people are very respectful. :)

  5. Dave Drew says:

    It’s okay to ignore the media coverage of this current economy as long as you have a good saving ethic and steady income.

    I remember when I didn’t care about the economy and lived through two big economic failures like they never existed. I say avoid the news.

    I’ve been trying to get rid of the TV for years, but my wife wants it. Financial ignorances is not bliss though. Stay on top of your game for saving money.

    Dave Drew

  6. typome says:

    Thanks for this; I really needed it. I tend to worry, and not just about the economy, but my health too, but now I realize that I shouldn’t worry about things that I have no control over. Instead, I made a list of things that I CAN do and am going to focus on those instead. Otherwise I felt like I was burdening myself with issues that I couldn’t solve.

  7. bigtimetopbanana says:

    My wife was at the recent Bioneers conference and called me very motivated about getting rid of our TV because there were way to many important things to focus on and learn about…

    I completely agreed…

    And then the next day, and asked her if removing the TV could wait until November 5th !

    I want it both ways !!!!

  8. Carol says:

    I am really trying to follow this advice, but I am a news junkie too, so it’s hard to stop watching. Sort of like picking at a zit! Anyway, you are right, there is so much fear everywhere and an awful lot of it is over what might happen, not over what is actually happening at the moment.

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  10. Gail says:

    We have a TV only used to wathc vidoes and DVDs as it isn’t connected to the outside. We get no newspaper, so about my only news source is glimpses of headlines via my internet portal and that is more than enough. I think that is why this current crisis seems so bad, is that people are so glued to their TVs and news sources that it feels like a train wreck, yet really like your friend, how does it affect your day to day living? We live in our house and plan to stay here long term so housing prices aren’t an issue for us–and you don’t want to know what I think about a bailout for all those clucks who had to keep up with the Jones and bought more house than they could afford from the first payment on. Stocks prices fluctuate and so I was happy to buy some more shares at half price–think of current stock prices as stocks being on sale–stock up while they are cheap (make sure it is a decent stock in the first place).

    But most of all, go on living. Turn off that TV and take up knitting or wood carving or read a good book. Live your life instead of stressing yourself out with worry.

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