76: Happiness Is Raising a Roof

76: Happiness Is Raising a Roof

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less

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Happiness Is Raising a Roof

Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.

~Margaret Mead

The picture of my self-indulgent lifestyle sickened me. The speaker’s words pierced my heart; I was horrified to discover that I was a middle age, successful and pampered woman. I needed more clarification so I leaned forward with interest as the conference speaker continued: “Many women in other parts of the world cannot get into their SUV and drive to the nearest medical walk-in clinic. They cannot run to the corner store or shopping centre to pick up fresh vegetables, toothpaste or a new outfit for their next social function. These women have time and no stuff. People in North America have stuff but no time.”

I sat back in my comfortable chair and was jolted back to reality. I looked around at my beautiful conference room, the women in their exquisite outfits, and I knew in the next few minutes I was going to a local restaurant to enjoy a splendid meal with friends. I cringed when I realized I was one of those self-indulgent women.

Over the years I saw videos and heard numerous pleas for impoverished countries, children dying from AIDS, grandmothers raising their children and grandchildren. I have always done my part by adopting children in Africa and Haiti and sending money when I saw the need. But that part is easy for me. Pull out my chequebook and write a cheque to ease my guilty conscience. I’ve done my part; what more can I do?

This time I knew it wasn’t enough. At the end of the day, as I drove across the bridge to my home in West Kelowna, British Columbia an outrageous idea hit me: Heidi, until you see your own lifestyle as self-indulgent, you will never understand and experience the plight of these impoverished women. For the next four months don’t buy anything for yourself or indulge in any luxury and see how this makes you feel.

This was the middle of August, so that meant I had to do without any shopping, restaurants and any other indulgences until the middle of December. By the time I arrived at my home I was determined to do it and excited by the prospect. In fact, I was going to take it one step further. Whatever money I would have spent in those four months I would contribute to a worthwhile project.

Over the next two days, as the conference continued, I shared my story with my closest friends and asked if they wanted to join me. I was amazed at their excitement and eagerness to jump on board. Word spread and soon we had twenty-three women ready to sacrifice everything for the next four months and donate the money they saved to a worthy fund. It was interesting for me to hear what other women indulged in and what they had to give up:

“I’m not much of a shopper Heidi, but I do spend about $150 each month on specialty coffees.”

“I don’t spend money on clothes, but I sure do love to shop for kitchen gadgets.”

“Gardening supplies, flowers and tools are my weakness.”

“I watch too much TV, I am going to cut off my cable for the next four months.”

“I spend way too much money on magazines each month.”

We all indulge ourselves in different ways. I have the luxury of buying new outfits for my speaking engagements, and I love the challenge of finding just the right attire for each event. I was just going into my busiest months for speaking engagements and I would have to “make do” with what I already had. For the first time I was shocked and yet very grateful that my closet was already filled with beautiful clothes, scarves and shoes and all I had to do was get creative.

The next few months were a revelation. I discovered I had so much more time to spend on coffee dates with friends instead of stopping off at a mall or a favourite store. And I was able to go right home after work. I also found that I had shampoos, toothpastes and soaps tucked away that I had never used. Eventually when I did go into the mall with a friend, I found the atmosphere to be loud and confusing. I was quite disgusted with the frenzy of people searching for their next purse, shoes or unnecessary trinket. I saw the obsession of our culture with stuff and it saddened me. Finally I was able to “feel” and experience a smidgen of what women from an impoverished country might be feeling.

At the end of four months the twenty-three women handed me the money they would have spent. Some of the women had tears in their eyes when they gave me a cheque and said things like: “Heidi, this experiment has changed me forever, thank you for allowing us to experience it. I don’t know when I have experienced such joy.” When all the money was deposited I was amazed and delighted with the final amount. After some research, and by placing this money into trusted hands, we were all delighted to be able to put a roof on a church in Hermosillo, Mexico.

These four months of walking in someone else’s shoes taught me truths that will affect me forever and have changed me. Here’s what I learned:

1. Stuff does not bring me happiness.

2. Before I buy anything I re-evaluate the cost and need.

3. Nothing will change until my heart really wants it to change.

4. We are all on this earth to help one another and we all have to do our part.

5. When we pour out our lives for others, we are the ones who experience the happiness and feel fulfilled.

I am so grateful that a speaker had the courage to tackle some tough issues about the overindulgence of my lifestyle. Those words changed my behavior and put new happiness into my heart.

~Heidi McLaughlin

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