Quality of Life

One of the things the character Tyler Durden said in Fight Club that resonated with me was:

Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.

We aspire to make more money and be more successful so we can buy more stuff we don’t need to impress people we don’t care about. We have been made to believe from advertising (a culture of consumerism) that if we buy these products, our life will be better. We can spend eternity trying to keep up with the Joneses, but is that what we truly want? Eventually, we’ll hit a wall. Sooner or later, we’ll find out that despite having those things, we have a void in our lives and this notion of “success” was wrong from the beginning.

Here’s the thing. Making more money sure makes a higher standard of living possible (such as moving to a nicer neighborhood, spending time with “successful” people, taking fancy vacations, etc.), but it usually comes at the cost of time. Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with doing any of those things, but to think that doing those things leads to a higher quality of life would be misguided.

Granted, you need enough money to pay your bills (and then some) so you’re not living hand to mouth, but blindly pursuing more money hoping that it’s the be-all and end-all solution for resolving your woes is not the answer.

I quoted Jim Carrey in an earlier draft:

I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.

I have found that some of my friends who make more money than they will ever spend in their lifetime have no peace at home. Their personal lives and relationships suffer, not at the expense of their (work) results per se, but for a variety of reasons. The bigger their business, the more time they spend on it (when it should be the opposite); in other words, they are enslaved to it. It’s just a way to live in denial in order to avoid facing the real problems in their lives (like their relationships, for instance). Unfortunately, problems don’t go away on their own. The obstacle is the way forward. You have to either accept the status quo (and move on) or change it, but most of us get stuck in the middle.

Here are some reasons why a higher standard of living does not lead to a better life:

First and foremost, there is no greater success in the world than rightful living. Here’s what I wrote in that draft:

Success is inseparable from true living. Would we call ourselves successful while living to society’s expectations and ignoring those of our own and our family? Would we call ourselves successful if we go to the temple/church religiously every week but fail to do good karma toward others? What if we earn lots of money but neglect to take care of our health?

Most people focus on being financially successful hoping that that would make them happy, but that is never the case (besides, happiness is not the end goal). They suffer from the “I’ll be happy when…” syndrome. Getting a higher-paying job often comes up with more responsibilities, which takes more of your time, thereby making you a slave (to your work). This ultimately cuts into your time for self and your relationships.

The work you do is a gift you give yourself. You don’t work to make money — you make money so you can do good work (paraphrasing Walt Disney).

Sure, it’s nice to get promoted from a creative role to a managerial role in an organization. You’re making more money than before, but is that what you were hired to do in the first place? Do you enjoy managing people or would you rather be making stuff, which is the thing you were hired to do when you joined the organization?

We focus on making a living rather than making a life. We forget that time is true wealth. The money we make in our work is just a means to an end. That is not to say that you shouldn’t enjoy your work. If you don’t like what you do, then you’re probably in the wrong line of work. One who has more of that time is far wealthier than someone who makes more money but is a slave to their work.

We forget that what matters when all is said and done is who we are becoming (in terms of character) and how we are making a difference in the lives of others (through our contributions).

Buying more stuff won’t make you happy. There is no limit to buying more stuff to fill that void in your life. You’re playing a losing battle. There will always be someone who will have a bigger boat than you. It’s a fool’s errand.

Here’s the thing. If you’re not happy with what you have now, you’ll never be happy with what you get in the future. Be grateful for what you have now rather than complain about what you don’t.

Be mindful about using things in your life. Be content with what you have. Remember, you have everything you need, and nothing you don’t.

When it comes down to making a choice between making more money (and taking on more responsibilities at work) or having more time (and taking a cut), the choice should be obvious, but isn’t for most. You’re better off making less money than before while having more flexibility and control over how you spend your time. I know of a few friends who have taken a significant cut in their paycheck by sticking it to the Man and having more control over their time in order to do things of interest and to spend more time with their families. They couldn’t be happier. Their only regret was not doing it sooner.

How you spend your day is how you spend your life, quoting Annie Dillard. Self-discipline is freedom. Here is what I wrote in that draft:

Only when we have discipline can we create more freedom, creativity, courage, etc. Discipline is the virtue that makes all other virtues (such as industry) possible. It is the price we must pay to become our best selves and to reach our goals. Without it we are simply fooling (and undermining) ourselves.

Life is about doing fewer things better — having a few, deeper relationships, fewer quality experiences, and making fewer (but significant) contributions in the world through your work. When you try to be everything everywhere, you’ll spread yourself thin and do things poorly.

You may have all the money in the world, but it won’t help you lose weight to live a healthier life. Ultimately, you’re the one who has to do the work.

Accept yourself the way you are now while you work toward becoming the person you want to be. Focus on who you’re becoming as a person through the work you do and the relationships you have. Stop comparing yourself to others. Don’t follow their success metrics. Don’t live your life based on their expectations. Figure out what success means for yourself. And above all, make a life, not a living.

Sign up to get my best advice on improving your personal effectiveness via my weekly Newsflash: