They’re right, you know. Money can’t buy you happiness. But, travel can. You learn that the things you need to live are there in your backpack. And all the life experiences you’re yearning for are out there, waiting for you.

I recently spent eight months in living in SE Asia. It completely reshaped my idea of money. I’ve always been one of those people who purchase ‘experiences’, not things.

When I was 21, I bought my first good car. I went to the dealership and signed myself up for a six-year car loan. I had my eyes on the beautiful blue Mazda 2 and I wasn’t even thinking about money. I drove away feeling on top of the world. You know that brand new car smell? Well, I had it.

The problem is I didn’t work for it. I did in the years to come, however. This is one of the issues with our society. We live beyond our means. I was just finishing university. I don’t think I even had a full time job at the time, so why the heck would I need a brand new $25,000 car. But hey, that’s the value of hindsight.

My car lesson came up again recently. I’m going sell that same car because I’m travelling for another year. I simply don’t need it. I’ll just get a car loan when I get home, I think to myself, with my eyes on a cute Rav4.

Again, the same cycle.

But before I get too excited picturing myself in my new SUV, those lessons I’d learned travelling, tap me on the shoulder. My traveller mind whispers, you don’t need another car loan. Don’t fall into the trap of getting into debt.

Make freedom your goal, not things

Freedom has always been the most important thing to me. It’s driven me to quit my job and pursue a career as a travelling writer.

The Western world doesn’t always know best. Life isn’t always better here. My time in Asia has given me the confidence to make my own rules – not only in my career but also in other parts of my life.

The media trains us to want things, not need things. It’s so easy to fall into the debt spiral and we can’t escape it – university loans, car loans, house loans, and personal loans. What this results in is a loss of identity. It cripples us into not being able to make decisions for ourselves. We stay in jobs we hate because we have to. We postpone trips because there are more ‘important’ things.

A valuable lesson for a happy life

We have the ability to accomplish anything.

There’s a video I once watched. The teacher filled a jar with first golf balls, pebbles, sand, and then beer. At each step, he asked whether the jar was full. His students said yes, every time.

The jar was his analogy for our lives.

The golf balls are the important things – your family, your friends, your health and your passion. The pebbles are the other important things. Things like your home and your job. The sand is everything else – the small stuff.

If you put the sand in the jar first, you won’t have room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same is true with life. If you spend all your energy and time on the smaller stuff, you won’t have time for all the really important things that matter to you.

And the beer? It reminds us that no matter how full your life may seem to be, there’s always room for a couple of beers with a friend.

Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Take care of the golf balls (your family, friends, health and passions) first. Set your priorities because everything else is, well just sand.

So, when society constantly tells you that money is happiness, remember it’s not. Happiness looks different for everyone. Discover what fulfils you. Look back into the past. What are the moments that you remember? Look for a theme.

For me, it’s seeing the world, my close relationships with friends and family, and my creativity. These are the things that make my jar full.

Let me ask you this: what is your happy? Tell us in the comments.

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