Our most popular posts so far have been gentle reminders not to take work and savings etc. too far. To be good solid people but not crazy with the optimizing. Satisfice. To remember to sit back, relax, and enjoy life from time to time… be good 80% and relax 20%. Be 5-10lb overweight… that sort of thing.
These posts seem to strike a chord in ways that our other posts (except the ones on how cool octopodes are) don’t.
Are people just looking for justification for their own laziness? I tend to doubt it. Was everyone raised Catholic and needing absolution for never achieving perfection? Possibly.
Maybe The Daily Show is right and we’ve become too polarized as a country. You’re either with us or against us. You watch Fox News or you read the Huffington Post. You’re one of the saved frugalists making laundry detergent or you’re a profligate spender. It’s so easy to tell a narrative where someone is right or someone is wrong.
A book called Culture Wars and Enduring American Dilemmas talks about how (in surveys) as Americans, we believe in individual freedom. We’re religious but strongly believe that people have the right to choose their own religion (even non-Christian religions!). We don’t favor abortion but think women should have that option in some cases… “it depends.” We’re individualistic but value community. We’re anti-elitist but respect achievement. These aren’t contradictions, but evidence of the great moderation in being American. We see things in their true shades of gray.
Of course, that’s not what the media narrative is selling. The media seem to think that the world needs to be divided into stark blacks and whites. Or at least that we have to sell things as black and white. Pro-life, pro-choice, rich vs. poor, Christian vs. Muslim. It doesn’t have to be that way, and in reality, it isn’t. Life is a lot more complicated than the binary options we’re given in newscasts outside of NPR or Comedy Central. It’s the same way with personal finance. We feel uncomfortable with people at either extreme– the spenders (or folks who enjoy life to its fullest, in another view of the world) and the freegan.
Recently there’s even been a backlash– calls for a return to rationality in politics and the media. “I disagree with you, but I’m pretty sure you’re not Hitler.“
Similarly, we admire the super-frugal (or, if we’re not pf readers, the Joneses) and maybe think we ought to be them on some level, but in reality we really crave balance. There’s a place in the middle we want to be. We want fun and security. We want secure retirements and we want to enjoy life before then too. Deep down we realize that there’s a number of ways to get where we want to be and a number of choices on where we want to be is anyway… even if the surface is telling us that there’s only one right way to financial security. We support extreme choices, but do not want them as our own. It’s not just black and white or even shades of gray. There’s a rainbow of lives to live out there, and who is to say that blue is better than green or purple better than red?
So I think that’s why these kinds of posts are so popular. There’s so much call to be perfect– to cut spending to nothing, raise income, spend time maximizing money (or on another personal finance extreme, to get rid of stuff and travel the world, since the non-externally-valid research says you’ll be happier that way). People like being given permission to feel how they really feel, to be given a moderate voice in the face of extremism. It’s American… and possibly human.
What do you think? Why do you like these kinds of posts?