What do four kids, two adults and a dog traveling in an RV across 1600 miles from Miami, Florida to Montreal, Canada not need any more of?
As the summer holidays kicked off, my husband David, four kids and I decided to take on a vacation with a purpose. We rented an RV and spent eight days together in it.
Because I wanted my kids to see how little we actually needed to live and be happy.
Six busy bodies inside a mobile home meant super tight quarters – one drawer per child for unpacking their stuff, one tiny bathroom, and small nook of a kitchen.
We also had our share of ups and downs, including a clogged toilet and broken AC…though we were in it together.
While the adventure wasn’t cheap (despite my prior conviction that renting an RV is a cost-effective family vacation), the investment and time shared together were priceless.
On route, we drove through Amish country, witnessing what it is to live without electricity and churn one’s own butter. We drove through Gettysburg and saw the civil war battlefields. We toured an original slave house in Savannah. We stopped in Washington DC to take in the Capital and of course, we managed to fit a visit to Disney.
We form our habits based in a big part to the connections we have – the people we choose to be around every day and how we relate with them.
Living as a family of six inside a mobile home for eight days reminded us all of what it means to truly connect…and more so, how badly we need that connection time (which was so much more than we knew).
While we all know how easy it is to get caught up in the socially induced art of gathering more stuff (i.e. consumption), the fact of the matter is that the human brain is hard wired for connection.
Brené Brown, Professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, specializes in social connection. In an interview with Emma Seppälä Ph.D., she said, “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irresistible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those
needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.”
In her Psychology Today article, “Connect to Thrive: Social connection improves health, well-being, and longevity,” Emma goes on to say, “We are profoundly social creatures. We may think we want money, power, fame, beauty, eternal youth or a new car, but at the root of most of these desires is a need to belong, to be accepted, to connect with others, to be loved.
“We pride ourselves on our independence, on pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps, having a successful career, and, above all, on not depending on anyone. But, as psychologists from Maslow to Baumeister have repeatedly stressed, the truth of the matter is that a sense of social connection is one of our fundamental human needs.”1
The Assumption on Consumption
The broad assumption we’ve long made is that if we are impressive to others (with all of our stuff), we are less likely to feel rejected by those peers and more likely to connect in our desired social sphere. In other words, we consciously or subconsciously believe that stuff equals acceptance.
We’ve allowed the way people view us to largely determine how we think, feel, and act.
It’s easy to get swept up in societal conditioning and think that we want nice cars, luxury items, fancy vacations, Insta-worthy pictures (with the best filter, of course).
We can catch ourselves believing that this stuff will bring us happiness and fulfillment…though this widespread belief that the wealthier you are the happier you will become is not entirely accurate.
While we do need our basic needs to be met, research supports that $75,000/year is a threshold beyond which more money doesn’t buy more happiness.2
1 Seppälä, Emma Ph.D, 2012, “Connect to Thrive: Social connection improves health, well-being, and longevity”
When we allow the perceived need to consume to lead our lives, we can easily fall prey to thinking that we want the new handbag or dress (the one that costs more than our monthly mortgage), when what we really want is connection.
Be attentive to what we really, truly need to be happy.
A 2017 study by the University of San Francisco’s, Matthew Monnot, states that “Autonomy, developing a skill set to be good at what you do, being affiliative with others, having a sense of connection to your community—these are all things that we as researchers are fairly convinced are innate, evolved human tendencies that bring happiness.”3
We all want to be loved. We all want to connect.
From our eight days in an RV, I can tell you that real connection can be formed over a clogged toilet so much more so than it can over a four-figure handbag.
This isn’t to say that we can’t enjoy the finer items, but think about how much more we would enjoy them if we weren’t in any way relying on them for some level of personal fulfillment or social stature? We actually enjoy the items more, not less.
How then do we teach ourselves and our children to value the things that are important and give themselves permission to enjoy material things without being defined by them? We help ourselves discover ways to connect!
Simple strategies include:
- Reach out
- Ask questions and learn
- Talk about real life
- Take on challenges together
- Fix a clogged toilet
These are the things that will define you and your connections for the better…and you don’t need to fit your family of six in an RV for eight days to discover their value.