Last night a friend and I discussed contentment and how it can accompany affluence or austerity. Right now I am working towards certain financial and material goals: a house, a larger emergency savings cushion, international travel, a decent retirement fund. Make no mistake—I very much want all of these things, with the house at the top of the list. And yet as I told my friend, the great thing is that I know I can be happy without any of them. As much as I want a house of my own, I could have a good life living in an apartment or someone else’s house. As much as I want a larger emergency cushion and the peace of mind that comes with it, I don’t have much of a cushion now, and life feels pretty good. (I do have people I can turn to in an emergency, though, or I might be singing a different tune.) I don’t believe material possessions, including financial savings, are inherently corrupting, but they aren’t essential to my happiness.
Today at the gym I realized these feelings apply to working out as well. I like working out at fitness centers, including fancy ones with lots of specialized equipment and attractive décor. As long as I can afford a gym membership, I will probably have one. I also like exercise DVDs, luxury pools, having an iPod to run with, and other fitness experiences that could be viewed as frills. But I don’t need any of those things to get a good workout or to enjoy exercising. Push-ups and many other body-weight exercises and stretches require no equipment and can be done virtually anywhere. I can swim in public lakes and run on public sidewalks and trails. I can be happy with the high life or a more humble existence, and what a valuable awareness that is.