Debt, Personal Finance

Bliss vs. Suffering: A Life Without Debt

I’m a big fan of the yoga program “Inhale” on the Oxygen network. The host, Steve Ross, likes to say (when talking about mental health) that, “Psychology is based on suffering. Yoga is based on bliss.” What he means is that psychology generally assumes some misery is present and tries to rectify it. You’re depressed, anxious, having social problems, or anger issues and you turn to psychology to fix the problem. Psychology forces you to drag all the misery out into the open and wallow in it. Yoga, on the other hand, is focused on bringing and maintaining a feeling of bliss in your life. Even if you have misery in your life, yoga focuses on the good feelings and works to intensify those feelings rather than dwelling on the bad. You still deal with your misery with yoga, just from a more positive place than you do with psychology.

The other day, while hanging out in the downward dog pose, I thought that the same could be said for a debt free life. “A debt laden life is based on suffering. A debt free life is based on bliss.” Many people think that incurring debt is the road to happiness. They think that if they just have the right house, the right car, the right things, or the right clothes, they will achieve happiness. To that end, they spend vast sums of money and go deeply into debt. And it may work, for a while. They may feel great once they have all the right stuff. Yet even if they achieve happiness, that happiness is fleeting. It only lasts until the bills come due, the job is lost, the credit runs out, or the stuff is no longer the greatest. When it comes time to pay up, the suffering begins. Anxiety, depression, fear, and anger all appear. The suffering is usually much longer lasting than the happiness ever was. It’s also psychologically damaging and painful.

A debt free life, however, is based on bliss. When you’re debt free you avoid all of the suffering that comes with a large debt load. You don’t have to worry about repossession, and a job loss is much less threatening. You’re life is likely simpler and calmer. You sleep better knowing you’re creating a secure future. You get to focus on the good feelings in your life. You’re not magically protected from anything bad happening, but when problems arise you don’t have to add financial issues on top of them. You can deal with the bad things from a more positive place when you don’t have to worry about money, too. You also get to chase your own personal bliss. Maybe you want to travel or start your own business. Maybe you want to retire early or take up a special hobby. You’re much freer to pursue whatever it is that makes you happy. When you live debt free you get to enjoy the good things and feelings in your life, rather than having to wallow in self-inflicted misery as you clean up your financial mess.

Given my choices I’ll always choose a blissful life over one filled with suffering. No matter how happy you think you are with a pile of debt looming overhead, there will come a day when that happiness will turn to misery. When you’re debt free you get to live with freedom, security, and the passions and pursuits that make you truly happy. That’s bliss.

9 thoughts on “Bliss vs. Suffering: A Life Without Debt

  1. Great article!

    I think this has been touched on with many of your articles. I know people around us think that being debt free is marked by sacrifice and pain. It is impossible to get across to people how low stress and freeing it is, to be debt free. The possibilities that open up, etc., etc.

    Of course, often the good parts of being debt free are written off to luck, wealth, etc., etc. In reality, that is the result of being debt free. The effect; not the cause.

    I just had a conversation the other day where someone very close to me told me we never really had any setbacks. :rolleyes: I could give a list a mile long, but it’s easier to trudge through the setbacks when you don’t have any debt, indeed.

  2. Sadie,

    Thank you for writing this post–I found your thoughts to be very calming at a time when I am feeling very stressed out!

  3. I have a brother in law who considers himself successful. He has a mortgage on a half million dollar house in a gated community on the golf course, Drives a new Lexus, Pays to have his grass cut and all the other. His 2 children do not go to visit him, they expect him to visit them but only about twice a year. He is 5 years older than me and says he cannot afford to retire because he doesn’t have enough money saved up. He considers me as not very successful. I have no debt. I OWN a 2 bedroom house on an acre of land with no restrictions, drive a ten year old jeep. I cut my own grass. Three of my children bring grandchildren to visit at least monthly – the other one lives over 500 miles away and visits several times a year. I have been partly retired for 3 years. I do work, but at what I want and when I want. If I really want something, I go out and pay cash for it. Which of us is really successful?

  4. Maybe I’m missing something, but how exactly is someone supposed to purchase a house without getting a mortgage? In my 30 years, I have only ever met one person under the age of 50 who owned their house outright, and that’s only because he inherited it from his parents. Not only that, but everyone I know who’s over 50 and does own their home has accomplished that through a mortgage.

    I understand the principal behind saving up for small-ticket items. I own a pretty nice car that I bought with cash by starting with a $3000 car, saving my money, buying a $10,000, saving more money, etc. But there are no $3000 houses (even a $30,000 house would be almost impossible to find), and it’s not like there’s someplace you can live rent-free while you save for 30 years. In most of the places I’ve lived, renting a house or an apartment isn’t significantly cheaper than a monthly mortgage payment. If I can get a mortgage payment for $1000/month and own my home 30 years later, why would I choose to spend $850/month on rent for an apartment that is likely smaller, more restrictive, and not as nice as the house? And saving $150/month will still take 80+ years to buy a $150,000 house without a mortgage, assuming there are still houses for $150,000 in 80 years.

    I’m not trying to be a nay-sayer. The only debt I have at the moment is my mortgage and a very small student loan that’ll be paid off soon. A debt-free life sounds great, but I just don’t know how realistic it is given the cost of housing. It’s probably more realistic to dream of a debt-free retirement. If anyone has any tips on how I can get a house without a mortgage, I’d be happy to hear them.

  5. Eric, we paid 8,000 for our house and have had to put about 10,000 in it. Small town South Dakota might be a place you could buy a house without a mortgage. But there are also drawbacks living in such a small town, so it really depends on location, location, location!!

  6. Sadie, great analogy! I love yoga, too, and comparing a debt free life to bliss was superb. I am happier being out of debt and having savings. Took me a long time to get to where I am but I love it.

  7. I agree with Eric that it’s unrealistic to plan on ever owning your own home without incurring debt through a mortgage. Living completely debt free isn’t the answer. Owning a home is one of the wisest financial decisions a person can make. However, the problem comes when we bite off more than we can chew. Everybody loves to blame the problems of the last two years completely on banks. Though some banks had a big part in it, if people would just be content buying a home they can truly afford to pay back without neglecting other obligations, many of the problems of the last two years could have been avoided. So, I’d say that going into debt for a need, for instance a modest home and a good education, doesn’t have to keep us from a blissful life. However, I totally agree that avoiding unnecessary debt can help us avoid much heartache.

  8. Hi

    Taking on debt in the form of a mortgage is fine as long as you don’t stretch yourself too much. If you leave plenty of space in your budget you can save an emergency fund or pay off your mortgage early.

    As was said above it is all down to location. I live in a region in the UK where an entirely average house for a family costs

  9. It is most certainly possible. Yes, you may have to buy the house with debt – we did. We are a couple, 2 kids, both working. But we did not give into temptation and buy the house that everyone expected us to buy (i.e. we did not give into peer pressure). We bought an old house in an old neighborhood. We don’t have a soaking tub and an “owner’s retreat”. We have three bedrooms and two old fashioned bathrooms. My point is that we were determined to live debt free and paid off a 30 year mortgage in 10 years. That means :cooking dinner as a family rather than dining out, which brings you closer as a family anyway. It means camping trips are our vacation! It means we don’t have the latest and greatest electronics (iwhat?) – we have pay as you go cell phones that we use (choke) to make quick phone calls when necessary. We also have no car payments – we bought our cars and continue to drive them until they won’t drive anymore.

    What you need is determination and an ability to say no to buying the things everyone expects you to have. Is an iphone a need or a want? If it’s a want, and you want to pay off your mortgage more, then you know what to do. It’s all about the choices we make.

    The wonderful thing is that once we paid off our mortgage, our kids went to middle school (that means no more daycare), we started overflowing in cash and with no debt to pay, it all goes in college savings.

    Anything is possible – if you act according to what you want your end goal to be.

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