[Editor's Note: Today's guest post was submitted by Dr. Dimitrios Tsatiris, a psychiatrist that writes on the interface of anxiety and achievement. In this article, he discusses the value of resisting lifestyle creep in matters of cars. We have no financial relationship.]
I am a physician and drive the same car 10 years out of medical school. Here’s why.
Logistical Reasons to Keep a Rusty Car
It is Monday morning and I am on my way out the door with my coffee mug in one hand and briefcase in the other. I walk up to my car and examine the streak of rust on the door as I fumble for the keys.
I may be a physician but I still drive the same car since medical school—a 2010 Honda CRV with approximately 195,000 miles.
When I was a pre-med college student, I never imagined I would be an attending physician driving a worn-out vehicle. I had fantasies of driving a luxury car that screamed “I made it!”. Such fantasies no longer exist as I have come to terms with reality.
The financial reasons for staying pat are apparent. It takes a great deal of time and money to become a physician. Upon completing college, my studies included four years of medical school followed by four years of residency training. In 2016, the median debt burden for medical school graduates was $190,000, which I have painstakingly paid off. Couple this with raising a young family, and there is no way to hide the late start in my financial life.
Psychological Reasons to Keep a Rusty Car
More importantly, there are psychological reasons that compel me to keep my rusty car. As a psychiatrist, I would like to share these insights with you.
Will a New Car Make Me Happier?
First of all, I question how much happier I would be after purchasing a new car. I am sure I would initially be happier. Who would not pick driving a Tesla or an Audi over a rusty Honda? However, would the increase in happiness be transient or sustained?
We have a tendency to look into the future and predict how we will feel. This is known as affect forecasting. Naturally, we pursue endeavors we believe will make us happier and avoid those that make us feel worse. Moreover, the better we think something will make us feel, the more we want it.
Unfortunately, we fall for a trap. In general, we are good at predicting whether something will initially make us happy. However, we are not good at predicting how much happier something will make us. We tend to overestimate the enduring impact that future events have on our emotions, a phenomenon termed impact bias.
In other words, we overestimate how much happier a future purchase will make us. There is a hedonistic adaptation where the initial satisfaction from the purchase fades and we eventually return to a set level of happiness.
I am sure purchasing a new car would initially make me happier as I played with all its bells and whistles. It would be nice not to be greeted every morning by a streak of rust. However, my initial joy will fade away along with the new car shine and smell. It won’t be long before I notice others driving the same model vehicle or I obsess over newfound scratches. Give it a year before envy rears its ugly head as the newest model hits the streets.
Driven by Social Motives?
If a new car only leads to short-term happiness, then I have to question my motives behind such a purchase. Am I purchasing a new car for me or to impress others? Could such a purchase represent an attempt to project a successful image?
Most people do not care about the car that you drive. They are too busy dealing with their own life stressors. However, if someone wants to judge you for the car that you drive, then is their judgment not a poor reflection on them rather than you?
Sustained happiness is not found in material possessions. This realization keeps me grounded. As a practicing psychiatrist, I have worked with many affluent people who drive luxury cars. Yet, they are suffering. You are more likely to find true happiness by fostering healthy relationships, engaging in meaningful work, and making positive contributions in the life of others.
Pursuit of Humility
The pursuit of humility is an additional psychological reason I hold onto my old, rusty car. Like many traits, humility can be developed with intentional and consistent effort.
In our fiercely competitive society, where the quest for achievement and material possessions has become the top priority, humility has taken a back seat. The growth of social media has further exacerbated this pattern. This is an arena where people glamorize their lives as they boast about their achievements and possessions. This is a shame, because we need more humility in our lives.
Humility comes with many benefits. It has a positive effect on self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Humble individuals have a constant desire to improve and avoid the trap of overconfidence which clouds judgment and decision making
Perhaps my humble upbringing gravitates me to this trait. I am the son of immigrants who came from Greece with a high school diploma in their pockets. My father is a cook and my mother is a cashier at a grocery store. Money might have been tight growing up as we pinched pennies to make ends meet, but love was plentiful. The key to raising a family is not an abundance of material possessions but rather providing a loving and nurturing environment in which the child can thrive.
Influence on My Children
This leads me to the final reason I refuse to let go of my old car. I am mindful of how my actions and lifestyle choices could influence my children. None of us live in a bubble. Any action that we take has ripple effects on others.
If I drive a luxury car and live in a mansion, what message am I sending to my children? Is there a possibility that my children will become accustomed to the lavish lifestyle and expect more of the same when they are adults? Could they feel inadequate if they fail to sustain such a lifestyle in their adulthood?
I draw inner strength when I reflect on challenges that I have previously faced. They remind me that I am resilient and will find a way to overcome current obstacles. I do not want to deprive my children of this gift by making their lives too comfortable.
There is nothing inherently wrong with purchasing the car or house of your dreams. Such purchases do not preclude you from being an outstanding parent, raising a wonderful family, and making positive contributions in the lives of others. However, it is important to be mindful of any potential traps that come with lifestyle inflation.
Have you chosen to drive a “rusty car”? How has fighting lifestyle inflation helped you psychologically? Are you happier because of it? Comment below!