The difference between a life of joy and one of misery

The longer I live the more convinced I become that it’s not the amount of money a person has but what he or she does with it that makes the difference between a life of joy and one of misery.

Years ago, a friend of mine won the New York Lottery, with guaranteed annual checks of $200,000 for 10 years. $2 million seemed too good to be true. Brett was over the moon with joy because he knew his days of financial misery were over. He could pay off all of his debts and buy the car he needed so badly for his young family and a new home, too. Just like that, he was a millionaire. And boy, was he happy. He couldn’t write those checks fast enough. He bought a new car the following weekend, and they bought their dream home, as well.

Here’s the problem: Brett had no idea how to manage the money. He didn’t think about state and federal taxes, which turned $200,000 a year into about $150,000. He didn’t understand that financing that new top-of-the-line luxury automobile over six years to preserve his cash meant gigantic new monthly payments. It didn’t dawn on him that going into a huge 30-year mortgage (qualified by those big lottery payout checks to come) with the smallest down payment allowed would turn his $800-a-month rent into a five-figure mortgage payment.

Of course, Brett felt more than able to shower his wife and kids with new clothes and trips to Disney World, but his happiness was short-lived because his sudden wealth was something that happened to him, not an attitude that he chose. He let his emotions get the better of him and failed to make the right choices.

Kay Warren, in her book “Choose Joy,” says that joy is something we choose in spite of our circumstances. Happiness, she contends, is what happens to you, and it can come and go. But, says Warren, “if you’re going to experience joy, you must choose it — in spite of, even if, and in the middle of everything else.”

Brett found happiness, but he didn’t know how to choose joy. When his small financial problems were replaced with huge ones, his happiness vanished. In attempting to pay off all his debts, he managed to convert the problems into much bigger debts, both personally and for his struggling business.

In the end, his misery escalated far beyond what he knew before his moment of happiness. Because he’d pledged all of his future lottery payout checks to secure his outrageous new lifestyle, he lost his business, filed for bankruptcy and ended up paying alimony and child support after his marriage failed.

Today, no matter what situation you’re facing — be it something that makes you happy or a situation that has you down in the dumps — you have a choice: You can continue to live under that emotion or rise above your circumstances and choose joy.

If I could talk with Brett today, I am certain he would affirm wholeheartedly the message of Warren’s book: Choose joy, because happiness will never be enough.


I wish you could see the giant stack of mail I have from readers who have taken me up on my offer to answer anything! Honestly, I couldn’t be any happier about that. Enjoy this batch of answered questions, and then keep ’em coming!

Dear Mary: How do you remove the splash guard on your mechanical garbage disposer, where odors hide, for regular cleaning? — Sheila

Dear Sheila: The easiest way to clean in that odor hideaway is to not remove that rubber splash guard at all. Once a week or so, dip a sturdy brush, such as a toothbrush, in antibacterial grease-cutting kitchen cleaner. (Clorox antibacterial degreaser is a good choice; other antibacterial products will work, too.) Then lift up one flap of the splash guard. Scrub off the crud, and rinse with cold water. Repeat with each flap until that area underneath is totally clean. It takes only a couple of minutes but can make all the difference in the world when it comes to stickiness.

Q: I grew up in Hawaii, and your recipe for Asian stir-fry sauce (thank you, Nagi) is very similar to what I like to put in stir-fry. However, we have an additional wrinkle. Many of us cannot eat MSG, a main flavor ingredient in every oyster sauce I have ever seen. Do you know of one that does not have MSG (monosodium glutamate) in the list of ingredients?

A: Kikkoman green-label oyster sauce has no added MSG. Look for it in your local supermarket. If it’s not available locally, you can get it on

Dear Mary: Now that I bought my new black-and-white computer printer, I need to know where the best (cheapest) place is to buy replacement toner. — Cate

Dear Cate: Warehouse clubs have perhaps the best prices out there on computer printer replacement cartridges and toner. Costco also refills toner cartridges — which cuts down on the price, as well. Next time you’re there, check with the service counter to see whether someone will refill your particular cartridges. If you are not a warehouse club member, my next best suggestion would be to look into Amazon Dash service, with which you could select exactly the type of toner your printer uses and then, whenever you are low, just push one button to instantly order it. It’s a pretty amazing service.

Q: Thanks so much for your columns in my email every morning! I need a new refrigerator/freezer with a drawer for the freezer. Your thoughts on the best inexpensive one?

A: It’s difficult to give you a specific make and model, but I can help steer you to finding the right refrigerator for you. First, decide exactly the features you want and those you do not want. Identify several models and brands that fit your requirements. Then start watching for sales. Stores such as Home Depot and Lowe’s run sales on major appliances very frequently. As for brands, I would run, not walk, away from any Samsung appliance because of the brand’s terrible reputation among appliance repair professionals. This is my personal opinion based on the fact that many highly rated repair companies won’t even touch a Samsung appliance, which makes it nearly impossible to get that brand of refrigerator serviced. The two brands of refrigerator I am most fond of for their reputation and service, as well as price points, are Whirlpool and General Electric. If you stick to those suggestions and then exercise patience in waiting for the model you want to come on sale, you’ll be nicely rewarded. Hope that helps!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Mary Hunt is the founder of www.DebtProofLiving. com and author of 18 books, including her latest, “Can I Pay My Credit Card Bill With a Credit Card?” You can email her at mary@everydaycheapskate. com.