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The Power of Contrast

This past week I attended the funeral of a man who was a really important part of my childhood.  When hearing word of his passing, naturally, I hit an emotional low.  Memories of his mentoring and lessons I learned from him came flooding back, along with feelings of guilt that I hadn't touched base in entirely too long.  Then, upon attending the funeral, I surprisingly hit an emotional high.  The service was carried forth as a celebration instead of a funeral, inclusive of uplifting music and stories shared that had everyone leaving the service with a smile on their face and heart.  Upon driving home from that service, I realized one thing for certain:

Contrast, in all aspects of the world, is necessary for us to truly appreciate the finer moments life can and will deliver.

I likely would have never experienced that level of celebration for my friend's life if I had not experienced that emotional low just days and hours before, and that same power of contrast holds true for all other areas of our being.  Think about some basic examples in which we can all likely relate:

  • Propping your feet up to rest after a challenging day of work
  • That first warm, sunny day of spring after a long, cold and cloudy winter
  • Having that first bite of cake (or insert any other vice, cake is mine!) after having given it up for lent
  • Walking again after an injury that took away your mobility
  • Sharing a laugh with your family at the holidays after not seeing them in entirely too long
  • The first winning season after a prolonged period of losing seasons (right, Pirates fans?)
  • Paying off that car loan after making payments for 4 years

The point here is that our times "without" will always help enhance our times "with".  Knowing that is powerful, because we can then make it a practice to intentionally place ourselves in a period of without if we find ourselves not appreciating where we are and what we have.  This falls in line with the idea and research behind mental contrasting.  Think of this practice as a life hack.

Our 450 sq ft studio apartment during one period when we were saving money

This approach/hack can be particularly useful for assisting with one's financial well-being and satisfaction.  I've noticed this work during periods of time where my wife and I have paired down our household living expenditures to focus on savings.  Going without certain luxuries for a while made us really appreciate the next time we treated ourselves to a nice dinner and movie out.  We again got giddy over the thought of travel after taking some time away from flights and longer road trips.  Our gratitude over what we had and what we did during this period expanded.

A side benefit of going without is that you often find you become re-calibrated, and realize that you don't need all the bells and whistles that you had grown accustomed to having.  These extras likely bring no added happiness; rather, they just silently develop to become the new standard.

Here are just a few things you might try if wanting to go through a re-calibration of your own household finances:

  • Downsize the home
  • House-hack (buy a multi-unit building, living in one unit while renting the others)
  • Reallocate a portion of spending towards savings and/or charity
  • Cut out travel for a certain period of time
  • Remove 1 car from the household
  • Move closer to work (reduce transportation costs)
  • Review all monthly memberships and cancel those not mandatory
  • Cut the cords (ditching cable and/or satellite TV)
  • Have a yard sale
  • Refinance the house

I encourage (and challenge) you to bring contrast in your life if things are feeling stale or a bit out of control.  We all need a re-calibration from time to time.  Without hesitation, we rotate the tires on our vehicle, take medicine and multivitamins, flip the mattress, repot the plants, etc., all in an effort to re-calibrate and bring balance to certain items within our world.  Why not make the effort to bring some contrast and balance into our personal finances as well?


"This cold snow sure did help me appreciate the summer."  Harold

"We are so made that we can derive intense enjoyment only from a contrast."  Sigmund Freund

"It is by disease that health is pleasant; by evil that good is pleasant; by hunger, satiety; by weariness, rest."  Heraclitus

"Happiness ain't a thing in itself - it's only a contrast with something that ain't pleasant... And so, as soon as the novelty is over and the force of the contrast dulled, it ain't happiness any longer, and you have to get something fresh."  Mark Twain

"What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness."  John Steinbeck

"There are dark shadows on the earth, but its lights are stronger in the contrast."  Charles Dickens