Note: This is a guest post from Lisa Avellan of Simple and Soul

This world is obsessed with measuring up. Research shows we are exposed to thousands of advertising messages every day—and hidden inside each of those ads is a mistruth: “You don’t measure up until you buy our product.”

Ad agencies are good. Real good. They know how to sneak into our psyches and change the story we tell ourselves. Before long our brains begin to believe their lie—that our lives can be measured by what we buy, wear, drive, and live in. And while their bottom line bursts at the seams, the consumer is broke—financially and otherwise.

Measuring up is breaking us up.

This NY Times article from 2008—written during the Great Recession—shows how powerful a slogan like, “Live Richly” can be. It even contributed to the housing bubble that negatively impacted so many lives.

“It’s very difficult for one advertiser to come to you and change your perspective,” said Sendhil Mullainathan, an economist at Harvard who has studied persuasion in financial advertising. “But as it becomes socially acceptable for everyone to accumulate debt, everyone does.”

Everyone does it, so that makes it okay. As a culture, we begin to measure our lives by the things we can buy, because others are buying it too.

The simple life is not immune to these advertisements. And we aren’t immune to the struggle of measuring our life by standards that contradict the way of simplicity. The nature of today’s world, being in constant reach of advertising through screens and print, demands our intentionality of focus on the true measures of life.

Designing a simple life invites us to measure our lives differently. We realize as we pare down that we don’t have to keep up. We don’t have to buy, borrow, upgrade, or upsize to secure our place in the world.

I need reminders often that my worth isn’t found by the world’s measuring stick. I get to define my own success, and live a meaningful and abundant life.

You do too. Try these new measurements for size, and simplify.

5 Better Ways to Measure Your Life

1. Gratitude.

With a measure of gratitude, you gain the world. When you are grateful for what you already have, you don’t need more. Gratitude is always enough.

This perspective is a shield to the thousands of messages of ‘not enough’ we hear every day. Gratitude turns what we have into enough. We don’t need to have those shoes, that device, or and that new car.

2. Generosity.

To measure the man, measure his heart.” Malcolm Forbes once said.

A great gift of simple living is the freedom to give. The infinite freedoms available when we design a life of less allows for infinite ways to be generous. Whether it’s with our time, money, talents, hospitality, donations, or airline miles—when the measuring stick of things ends, generosity keeps growing.

3. Contentment

Advertisers bank on the public’s perpetual discontent. In fact, they create much of our discontent through their stealth word play and product development. It’s evident in the lines outside Apple stores days before the next iPhone is released, which has just enough new capabilities to make the previous model obsolete in the eyes of the consumer.

Contentment is not the satisfaction of want; it’s the pursuit of having enough. And it invites an unmistakable freedom into our lives.

4. Availability

Bob Goff is known for his fun and whimsical personality. He famously put his personal cell phone number in the back of a NYT bestselling book, and he expects and answers calls. He makes himself available.

He also says he plans his calendar nine months and one day in advance, no further, in case he is to be become a grandfather.  His purpose is to be available.

Busyness is no way to measure a life. Busy is a thief. It’s a phantom measure of worth and success and it will never get as much done as availability will. Remain available. Learn to say no, and measure your life by the things you get to say yes to.

5. Purpose

The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” Ralph Waldo Emerson is quoted as once saying.

If we pay too close attention to how the world measures life we will never understand the difference that our life, our one life, can make. Simplicity of home, time, and character magnifies the very things we were designed for—it points us to the significance of who we are.

We are purposed for much more than our net worth and closet size. Simplify and live well.

The Great Recession of 2008 changed us. More and more people are looking for a new way, a simple way to live. As advertisers revamp their messages toward this post-recession culture, we can redefine the measure by which we live. It helps to remember the best things in life can’t be pitched in thirty second ads.


Lisa Avellan blogs at Simple and Soul where she inspires and equips others to live with intention. You can also find her on Facebook.

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