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‘I tried to avoid an unhappy future by creating an unhappy life every day.’ -Robert Spadinger
A short story
I think we can all agree that our ultimate goal is to be happy. Whether that means money, family or winning an Olympic medal, we would all rather be happy than unhappy. However, today I am asking the question: should we focus on being happy now, or happy later? Should we pay for that cruise or save money for retirement? Should we eat that delicious cake or avoid it for future health? Quit the job we hate or stay on for the possibility of a promotion? Let me tell you a little story:
Ruth Soukup, a personal finance blogger describes the reality of achieving a successful life by sacrificing present happiness. If you really want something, you need to work 10x for it, she says. She could feel her goal in every bone of her body, a kind of hunger, internal drive that motivated her to work harder than before.
Her goal was to earn enough money from blogging that her aerospace engineer husband could quit his job and stay at home. It was a huge dream but she had a huge drive to achieve it. So she would wake up at 3 am every morning to work on her blog, to learn about marketing and to make her dream possible, no matter what everyone said. She admits she had ‘no life’; constantly working on her dream. Her friends talked about her, her children watched too much TV and her husband couldn’t understand her.
After 2 years and a half, she achieved her goal.
In her newsletter she describes this in a positive light, encouraging others to work hard towards their goals. Although the story has a nice ending I ask myself: What if her marriage got rocky and the husband wanted to separate? What if someone in her family passed away and she couldn’t cherish the last moments because she was working so hard? In reality, this cycle of working towards huge dreams never ends. She’s now got new goals which she is willing to sacrifice the present on.
I’m not acquainted with Ruth so maybe she is truly happy with what she is doing, but her situation cannot be applied to everyone. Should we really work so hard for the future, even if it’s a huge dream? Should we sacrifice the present for the possibility of a great future? What if, like Robert Spadinger, we spend years being unhappy and working towards our goals only to end up unhappy? If this sounds like your worst nightmare, I researched different ways we can make sure this doesn’t happen.
Identify activities that enhance both present and future happiness
Find something you do that can make you enjoy the now and the future.
- Spending time with family and friends: no matter how much work you have, force yourself to have a social calendar.
- Hobbies: Playing sports, doing art, reading, etc.
- Meeting new people
- Starting a side business
Writing this blog is an example of something that enhances both my present and future. I enjoy asking questions and writing about finance, and I know this will enhance my future by giving me the knowledge about money and maybe even some financial returns.
Invest (time, money, and effort) in these activities.
This could mean spending 30 minutes practicing an instrument everyday. It could mean traveling more often. And it could mean doing an online course about something you are passionate about. Experiment and explore what are activities you enjoy putting time, money and effort in and do a bit everyday. This will create both daily happiness and future happiness.
Nearly everyday I invest time and effort in going to the gym. It’s something I enjoy doing, and I know it will enhance my future health.
A lot of people talk about mindfulness without knowing what it really means. From Psychology Today, mindfulness means ‘bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience-regardless of how enjoyable or un-enjoyable it is’. It means focusing completely on what is happening now, whether you like it or not.
When you are doing an activity you dislike, you’re not enjoying yourself because you keep comparing it to what you could be doing instead, or worrying about the future. By completely focusing on the present, you are shaping the moment to your liking. You are becoming aware of every action. A good way to get started is meditation.
What to do?
I ask this question every day. Should Ruth have allowed for more time with her friends and family? And if she had, would she be where she is now? My job at the restaurant is a sacrifice of the present. I do it for the money only so I can use that money to invest it in my money experiments. Is it really worth going to work for that money, instead of say, spending it with friends?
Just as a little game, identify those activities which you feel are a sacrifice of the present (work, exercise eating healthy), and then identify those which make you enjoy the present (junk food, friends, smoking). Try and find one which does both and comment it below!