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Sorry, this post isn’t an instruction manual. Although I have a few thoughts on the topic and most of them revolve around surrounding yourself with people who share your values.

I recently returned home from a vacation in Denver. My husband and I drove out to see my sister’s family and we were gone about 10 days. Usually when I return from a vacation, I feel listless and unexcitable. I feel run down, a bit sad, and sometimes engulfed in self-pity, of the sort that involves jealousy toward what others have. So I was a caught a bit off guard when after four days back at work I was still in good spirits.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a pretty upbeat person. I don’t believe a cloud of doom follows me around. I eat well, sleep well, and workout regularly. (My mom believes these are the tenets of keeping depression at bay and I’ve come to sort of agree with her.) However, I am very susceptible to self-pity when it comes to money, what people earn, the material possessions they can afford, how they can decorate their house, etc. I’m good at eventually finding the balance and talking myself out of my wallowing but it usually has a way of smacking me upside the head now and then. (Needless to say, I hate going to the mall.)

That’s the small picture you have of me: a smart, feisty, frugal, dog-adoring, travel-loving vegetarian who’s prone to bouts of horrible envy that often unfortunately lead her to marginalizing the best parts of her own life. Acceptance is the first step to self help. I’m a work in progress.

Anyways, after being back at work, still feeling energized, nonjudgmental, and generally optimistic, I started to think about where these feelings came from. Sure, I was drinking a lot more green tea. Could that be it? Could it be such a simplistic Zen explanation? I wasn’t having worlds more sex and I hadn’t recently received a bonus. (Those two are predictable triggers for me and increased happiness.) So what was it?

My sister. I think it was the result of spending time with someone whom not only do I love but whom I also view as happy and reasonable. When it comes to money, she never has as much as she wants but she has enough — a very important distinction. She doesn’t decorate her house with items from fancy stores. She doesn’t have top of the line frying pans. She walked around in an adorable pair of jeans she bought at Goodwill, where she also happens to buy plenty of her baby’s clothes. They hosted a large Thanksgiving dinner party for two dozen adults, a smattering of babies, many dogs and it was incredibly casual. They needed more plates, so they found some at a thrift store. She and her husband didn’t buy gifts for Christmas; she made him three candle holders out of cut-down tree branches.

But on top of all of this, she doesn’t brag about these facts. I really don’t even think she notices them in much the same way that maybe we don’t even know the street names when we drive to work because we’re just so used to our routine. I don’t need to rehash how easy it is to get caught up in wanting what the Jones family has. We all know the rat race. That’s why it’s incredibly refreshing and peaceful to hang out with someone where this doesn’t even matter, where the want for more isn’t even a conversation piece.

I think spending time with her helped me center myself. It was a chance to slow down and appreciate the little things. Her baby boy doesn’t care about riding around in a pink car seat that was a hand-me-down. He doesn’t know if she makes $30 grand a year or $100,000.  He doesn’t know if there was a better choice for dinner that he’s missing. He’s healthy and chubby and smiley and proud and in love with his mom. He’s a ball of adorableness and sweetness and tenderness that makes your heart swell and just crush everything else in your thoughts. He’s as beautiful in used clothes as he is in brand-new duds. He’s happy if his highchair has cheerios or peaches and strands of dog hair sticking to it. He doesn’t care about hair styling products and duvets and more expensive curtain rods. He doesn’t know that there might be a more expensive day care center; he’s just happy being doted on and squealing with all the other kids and being spoiled where he is.

Truly, isn’t that what life is all about? Isn’t that the secret that everyone knows and always forgets? Maybelline’s new nail polish color isn’t going to make your Friday night any better. A pair of jeans that costs $125 isn’t going to change the quality of your life. I’m not saying that happiness is borne from not spending money. If you’re lucky to have disposable income, good for you. You probably worked hard. I’m saying that you’re more likely to be happy when you know what enough looks like.

Enough isn’t always a raise, a bigger house, a status symbol of a car. Enough is having a brother-in-law you love, a sister that is one of your best friends, and the world’s most perfect human as a nephew. Enough is actually wanting to spend your time off from work with your family. Enough is just time. It’s being alive and being able to enjoy having a breakfast together, walking around the dog park together, feeding your dogs together, finishing another bottle of wine, looking into a baby’s big eyes. It’s being able to afford new tires so you can drive 1,400 miles to make that visit happen.

The days are long but the years are short. Who knows what the future will bring and if we’ll ever have that much time for the extended vacation out west. Who knows how much bigger my nephew will be or when I’ll even see him again. I’m thankful for having a husband who wants to have that vacation with me. I’m thankful that I even get vacation time at my job. I’m thankful for my family. That’s what enough is.

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