We get conflicting messages. We read about people who quit their day job and began a writing career or moved to some exotic locale and they are happier than they have ever been.
Then we read about how you must save and invest for the future. Continue slogging away at a job you may not really like and put money away for retirement so you can live the life you want then.
When driving to the grocery store the other day, I heard a voice float out of the radio interrupting my thoughts that said, “Save money now for the life you want when you retire.”
My first thought was, “Why wait?”
Perhaps I am completely enamored with the idea of living a happy life now, of not merely existing but living. Of having adventures and spending time with people I love. Of making money doing something I love. Of not wasting time until the day I retire and can finally be free to do all the things I always wanted.
We are not guaranteed tomorrow. Heck, we aren’t guaranteed the rest of today. I don’t want to spend my time doing something that I don’t really hate, but don’t really love either.
A dose of reality
These words are flowing from the fingers of someone who spent too many years in banking (another job I didn’t hate, but didn’t really like either). I know the importance of money and I know that not everyone can afford the luxury of pursuing happiness in the same way. We aren’t guaranteed the right to happiness, only the pursuit of happiness (at least in the US). Though even the pursuit is not a privilege for too many people.
I am lucky enough to have support which allows me time to pursue happiness, and I choose to pursue it now rather than wait until I am retired. I have seen too many people not make it to retirement, or finally reach that magic time only to have it taken away. We all only get this one life and I want to do as much good as I can while also squeezing in a bunch of happy.
How I do happy
In an attempt to squeeze in happy, here are a few things I ask myself before making decisions.
- Is this something I really need?
- Is this something I will use?
- Will doing this put me closer to living my dream life?
- Will doing this / buying this make me happy?
Now, I don’t ask all those questions all the time. When I fail to ask them that’s when I end up making decisions I regret. If I am always mindful of my goals and what I want to do, I tend to make much better choices.
Listen to the universe (or whatever you call it). It will guide you. I thought a lot about cutting back my hours at my day job, but what stopped me from requesting it was the cut in money. One day, while really meditating on the idea of cutting my hours, I received a paid writing gig – something I really wanted. It was like the universe was telling me that if I worked fewer hours at the traditional job, it will all work out.
Do your happy
Sometimes it doesn’t take grand sweeping gestures like leaving your day job to live the nomad life to make you happy. It could be as simple as going part-time or starting a hobby, or both. Maybe it can be a cup of coffee at sunrise, even once a week or once a month.
There is a happy medium between leave-your-job-and-live-on-the-beach-and-write-all-day and working-day-in-and-day-out-at-a-job-you-don’t-like. Just figure out what it is that makes you happy and start pursuing it. Start small or go big. Whatever is manageable with your life and your situation.
First published in The Ascent, December 2019