Where Happiness Exists and Knowing That Things Are Just Things

2010 September 21
by Grace Boyle

During this Labor Day, the foothills and mountains surrounding Boulder were overcome with a wildfire. Like most Boulder residents, I was on the edge of my seat for friends, evacuees and the town and community we love so much – I wrote about it, tweeted about it and listened to all scanner and news updates.

Thursday (three days past Labor Day) news sources announced that 60 MPH winds (forecasted) were making for a potentially dangerous situation for all residents “west of Broadway” (a main strip through Boulder, which actually, covers a huge area). Panic ensued because this meant “downtown” and the fire had already affected so many homes, families and pets…

After some research, my apartment which is West of Broadway (West is toward the mountains) really wouldn’t be in the danger zone and it was mostly precautionary because officials didn’t want to take any risks. So many people were evacuated and houses lost, that “better safe than sorry” made sense. Nonetheless, it still made me nervous. Being so close to the mountains and imagining in the middle of the night a fire raging…you get the picture (I’m not trying to make light of those who did lose their homes, just retelling an experience).I have a close family friend far away from the mountains who offered for me, my boyfriend and even roommate to stay with her and I thought, why not, a good excuse to see her and the family anyway.

It was suggested to pack important documents and those possessions of sentimental value. I thought to myself as I left work early (for a conference I had to attend in Denver that night), as I began to pack those “important” things, “Wow, I’m actually doing the, what-would-you-pack-if-if you-were-in-a-fire thing.”

I flashed through thinking what could I not live without?

I got my social security card, passport, camera, computer, some important tax information and a few documents. But really, that was it. I couldn’t think of “things” that were important enough. I looked at my closet, chalk full of clothing, my apartment filled with my furniture and favorite kitchenware and my decorated, lived-in bedroom but still…didn’t really need those things.

They are things.

As Plutarch said, “I would rather excel in the knowledge of what is excellent, than in the extent of my power and possessions.”

I have people in my life, love in my life, family and the pieces and intangible bits that aren’t things really are the most important. No one can take away our experiences, either. I also knew everyone here important to me was going to be safe, had evacuated and/or was going to so I felt safe, as they were safe.

Forgive the sappiness here, but it was truly an interesting experience. We are a society driven by material possessions and I even consider myself part of those possessions at times. We all fall victim to those “things” – but when it gets down to it, health, happiness, love and those people that are important to you are really the pieces that are irreplaceable.

Money, Money, Money?

I loved this article and research that shows “after reaching a household income of $75,000, people don’t become more happy with more money.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Wealth Report blog had more information on the study, based on Gallup surveys of 450,000 Americans. The evaluation by economist Angus Deaton and psychologist Daniel Kahnema found that day-to-day happiness rises with income until hitting a plateau of about $75,000. After that, there isn’t a gain in happiness.

So really, have you thought about what is important for you to bring with you if you absolutely had to? What is on your list? What would you bring?

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  • http://twitter.com/StacyShade Stacy Shade

    Grace, Thank you for sharing this experience with us — it really struck a chord with me. It's so easy to worry about what you have, what you're going to get/do next, etc. However, as you said, when I really think about what is important to me, it's my husband, family, friends, and my dog. That's pretty much it. It's really great to get that reminder, though. Thanks again, Stacy

  • http://twentyorsomething.com Susan Pogorzelski


    I was very glad to hear that those I knew in Colorado were safe and sound, and my thoughts and prayers went out to those who weren't so lucky — the people and animals (who are rarely remembered, so I'm so glad that you've included them) that lost their homes. You're absolutely right in that things are just things, but I can also understand that losing all that you have can be devastating — so it's a cross between feeling relief that you and your loved ones are safe and sound and feeling grief for everything that you have lost, the memories that might be tied up in those things.

    While these objects make life easier and sometimes even more aesthetic and beautiful, these are things that can be replaced, things that can be rebuilt. It doesn't make it any easier to deal with such a loss, but the knowledge is there.

    I have a memory box — a small box with things that have become dear to me — letters that my parents wrote me when I went away on a retreat before Confirmation, a Cinderella watch that belonged to my mom, one half of a plastic best friend necklace from when I was a child. These things hold memories, are objects that I cherish. But when it comes down to it, they are just objects, and the memories are locked inside of me permanently. While these are things I'd like to take with me if the situation occurred, that are personally important, in the end, the only thing that matters are the people, the animals…What can never be replaced.

    A great post, Grace. I really appreciate your perspective, it's a topic that really makes you think and gain perspective. Glad all is ok on your end!

  • Laughter-Loving Stacy

    I'm happy to hear are being safe, how scary!

    I have thought about this many times, being 'a worry wart'. I would take my school books/papers, cell phone, lap top, and pictures. Oh, and any important bank information. Yup. :)

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.com Grace Boyle

    @Stacy You're welcome and thank you for reading it.

    It's a funny thought to consider what you would bring with you but it's also a good feeling to KNOW what you would bring with you, and that you have those pieces, those people and those assets (whatever little or big they might be).

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.com Grace Boyle

    @Susan Boulder is a pretty big dog place (doggy bowls outside stores, everyone has a dog, etc.) so I've been hearing just as much about the animals as the people – from humane society's to shelters to barns taking in animals. It's been really touching.

    I like the idea of your memory box. Keeping it all in one place.

    No doubt I would be devastated if I lost everything – that's an experience that no one can quite prepare for…I guess in knowing that love and the intangible are largely the pieces that move us in life versus clothing or TV's…

    Thanks for sharing and for your lovely comment xo

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.com Grace Boyle

    @Laughter-Loving Stacy Thank you for your well wishes. It was scary and my heart and thoughts go to all those that did lose everything. Good list! Thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rebeccathorman Rebecca Thorman

    I think I'd be the same way. In a fire, I'd take my blog. :) Glad everything worked out for you.

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.com Grace Boyle

    @Rebecca Isn't it nice our blog is digital and can go with us wherever we go 😉 Thanks for the support and checking in, I'm glad it worked out too!