Ask any person between the ages of 5 and 17 what they want when they grow up, and you'll hear pretty much the same things: "I want to be rich," "I want a sports car," or "I want a great job."
The response will generally incorporate money and things.
Ask someone over the age of 60, and you're almost sure to get very different answers: "I want my health back," "I want more time with family and friends," or, "I wish I hadn't worked so hard."
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to explain that we place value on the wrong things. So why is it that we ignore the older generation's laments and strive for money, fame and a career? There are other areas of our lives that are just as important, if not more, and bring long-lasting happiness.
Joshua Rosenthal, founder of the largest nutrition school in the world, the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, has trademarked an exercise called the Circle of Life in which you grade yourself on 12 life skills areas, such as finances, physical activity and spirituality.
The idea is that you need to have all 12 areas in balance, and by visually seeing the ebbs and tides, you can become aware and then work on them until your life compass is pointed in the right (and happy) direction. Borrowing just five of those 12 from Rosenthal is a great way to get started on the road to a healthier and nonmaterialistic life:
Joy: When was the last time you felt true bliss? If you have to stop and think hard, that should be your first sign that something is amiss. Life should be joyful. All work and no play truly does make Jack a dull boy. Find your joy and do whatever it is often if not daily. Is it baking? Cleaning? Running? It really doesn't matter what brings you happiness. What matters most is that you make it a daily priority.
Home cooking: This might at first sound like extra work, but in reality, preparing and sharing a home-cooked meal is a wonderful event that should be happening in your household as often as possible. Food made with love and attention and then shared around a table amid good conversation is one of life's greatest pleasures. Fast food eaten in a car while driving to and from sports practice and school is simply not quality time.
Creativity: How are you expressing your creative side? Are you exercising it at all? You should find daily outlets allowing your more whimsical persona to shine. Maybe it's painting your living room in blackboard paint and doodling every night after work. Perhaps it's converting that spare bedroom into an artist's studio and setting up still life art. Or maybe it's gardening or joining the Boy Scouts as a den leader and helping others be creative as well.
Relationships: There are many different forms of relationships, and you need to evaluate all of yours: from co-workers and bosses to kids and your neighbor. Take a moment to think of these relationships' statuses and figure out what you can do today and every day after that to work on one or more just a little. Maybe you can send a quick email or instant message to ask how your friend's day went. Or send a card you pick up at the store or a book from Amazon that you purchase the next time you're shopping online.
Education: Even if you just celebrated your 25th college reunion, you're never too old to learn something. Our brains thrive on new information, and synapses fire, which is a good thing for your body and mind. Consider signing up for a night class or an online course. Maybe just start visiting your local library with the goal of reading one genre at a time. You also can borrow library books on your Kindle. Take a weekend cooking class or join a monthly book club. It doesn't matter what you learn or study; it just matters that you keep learning.
Money doesn't buy happiness. We've all heard that a million times. By focusing on just these five easy areas, you might just find that everything you need for a more fulfilling life is easy as a (home-cooked) pie to attain.
Paula Sirois is a Florida-based writer who specializes in family life and frugal living for www.RetailMeNot.com, the No. 1 online coupon site in the world.