It's great to have money. Money can buy you many of the finest things and experiences in life. Sure, there are some things you can't get for money, but there really aren't that many.
When I was a kid, I used to dream about having a yacht. I could spend hours researching different luxury yacht models, looking at pretty photos of what I thought represented a happy life.
I guess I was spoiled by our materialistic world from an early age. Or maybe I was born that way. But now I've learned that materialistic goods don't add much happiness to our lives.
I used to think that owning a Retina Macbook Pro would make me so much happier than having my two-year-old laptop. So I worked really hard and saved up some money until I could finally afford to buy it. It's by far the most expensive thing I ever bought.
As I'm typing this, I realize that I like my new MacBook Pro a lot. The display is just gorgeous. The design is perfect. The laptop is fast, very light, and easy to use. The battery lasts forever. It really is the finest computer money can buy.
Today, that is.
Three years from now my new MacBook will (hopefully) still be functional, but it will no longer feel as nice and fast. Five years from now it will be old and I'll be using a new laptop.
So was it actually worth it? Well, let me start by saying that what laptop you have has no impact whatsoever on your day-to-day happiness. It's just not something you think about very often.
But to buy this laptop I had to work my ass off for about 130 hours at a mind-dulling call-center job. This time and energy is lost forever. It's a part of my life that I'll never get back.
Five years from now I'll be looking back at my college years, thinking about all the cool things that I could have done. The things that I never did because I was too busy working. Working to buy a computer that was nice and fast. For a couple of years.
Keeping my old fully functional laptop all of a sudden doesn't seem like such a bad idea. Money can buy you really nice stuff, but that stuff probably won't make you much happier. I'm glad I learned this lesson early on, while the stakes are still low.
Most people only figure this out after they've spent their lives slaving away to pay mortgage for a house that they thought would make them happy. Even if they are happy, it probably isn't the house that makes their life worth living.
If materialistic goods can't make your happy, should you spend a lot of money on experiences instead?
In the last few days I've been daydreaming a lot about rafting in Grand Canyon. If I had a few thousand dollars to spare, I could actually do it. I'm sure it would be a trip of a lifetime.
At my current level of income, it would take me up to six months of hard work to save up enough money for a trip like that.
I'd have to give up months of hanging out with friends, reading books, cycling around, hiking in the woods, doing all the things I really love... just to paddle down a pretty river for a week.
If I make a lot more money in the future, it might be a good idea to go on a trip like that. But for now, it makes no sense to give up everything else I love just to go on holiday once.
The next time you buy anything, think about what you're giving up to be able to afford it. Sometimes it's not just the money you're paying. You may also be giving up your life.
Tynan wrote a bit about this in a couple articles the last few months. Basically what it all may boil down to is the same message religions and the new age/spiritual communities/personal development have been parroting for years. Happiness seems to be an internal state that can be made or unmade by that person alone (a totally internal state NOT dependent on the outside). It sounds really far out and I'm not sure if I even buy it now as there are many events which will instantly plummet my happiness to zero but despite that I've found that on the material path that - yes - physical things/experiences don't make you happy. I think we all need to experience how it is like to have all of these things to start with though just to really hammer the point home that these things will not do it for you in the end.
Objects decay eroding possessions - time passes diluting experiences - static objects are really atoms continually moving at the speed of light - death will come for us all eventually. In light of this backdrop maybe it makes sense that the ultimate assigner of 'what makes happiness' may be the human consciousness as nothing lasts for good in our world. Putting our happiness into external entities (all of which eventually dilute or decay) seems like a sure path to unhappiness. By holding happiness within our own consciousness though we attach it to that which lasts - that which is constant - and that which we perceive with.PS: Gets a little more hairy than this. Since we are also human flesh biological/chemical concerns play a huge role in our feeling of happiness as well. As we cannot yet will the body to repair/change/mutate itself with the consciousness alone we must also make amends to optimize the body to optimize happiness. I've heard stories of some people being able to do this but it requires a huge amount of 'soulforce' for lack of a better word (maybe a fusion of wisdom/experience/will/removal of blockages etc)
I've read about Tynan's view on happiness, but it sounds too utopian to me. He might even be fooling himself or writing about what he wishes was true. As you said, simple external stimuli can instantly make you happy or unhappy, and I don't see any way around it.
Maybe it's possible to become emotionally immune to all external stimuli through meditation or religion, but I know I don't want that. It would also mean giving up all the external joys and everything that makes my life worth living now.
As far as experiences are considered, I still think there's a lot of value in them. What are we if not the things that we experience? Sure, experiences do fade away with time, but they also are everything you ever experience at the present moment, and everything you'll ever look back to.
Neglecting experiences, in essence, is the same as neglecting your own life.
Yeah I came to a similar conclusion at the closing of my 'new age' phase years ago. Putting everything into the 'big picture' turned everything into a 'whitewash'. When I started my 3rd blog it was with the conscious intent of 'playing the game' meaning living life again and not trying to dilute the good stuff by washing out the bad stuff by continually denying existence and life as a sort of silly game our souls play.
A lot of people say they are 'born to suffer' and maybe part of the enigma of life is that is what we indeed came here to do. Not to suffer per se but to live - and as a result of that living - experience polarity - the opposite of a wash - the extreme highs and extreme lows - experiences as you mentioned. Maybe we came here with the full knowingness somewhere deep inside that we can experience the good things in life but the very existence of good is only propped up by the existence of bad since they are polarities (one cannot exist without the other).
At my desk at work I used to do a stupid drawing exercise regarding this concept over and over again out of some sort of obsession. I'd make a scale of good and bad then draw an arbitrary line thru the middle as the border on a sheet of paper.
| All the good stuff is here!
| ------------------------------ The Line -------------------------------
| All the bad stuff is here!
I then imagined what it'd be like to have a better life and adjusted the line accordingly
| (where the old line was)
| ---------------------------- The new line cause I've gotten more good stuff --------------------
After setting the new line I imagine I'd take the good for granted after a long while so if I had to redraw the line I'd end up back at the original picture. The picture where the line is right in the middle - because we as humans take things for granted. Gratitude does help with this a ton but since most of us are not continually grateful we eventually end up back where we started - drawing a line thru arbitrary territory and labeling half good and half bad (even though things may be going really well for us). It seems like circumstances getting better doesn't make one happy I guess is the point. As you eliminate things which make you unhappy you forget about them then suddenly really minor annoyances become big issues. Not getting a 2nd egg in your 2 egg breakfast makes you fly into a rage. Getting ripped off 5$ of change due to a cashier's error sends you into an animal rage. Stuff like that lol. In the meantime people over here in the US are angry about their 'first world problems' some kid in a poor country might have just gotten a free loaf of bread and is over the moon right now despite being in a war torn zone where everything they've ever known could disappear in seconds.
Given all that I like to think happiness is better served internally than externally as we always have more control over the internal as many others have found out. We have very little power to change most events/circumstances/outcomes so we dig in where we can - which is inside ourselves. It may turn out to not be true but I think it's worth a Pascal's wager to try and make ourselves happy as the payoff is infinite if we succeed and we don't lose all that much if we fail. Thus it seems like an optimal action to take given all circumstances.
You bring up a very good point about the relativity of happiness. We don't fully appreciate happiness unless it's compared to the bad moments in our lives.
Of course, we are free to interpret the things that happen to us however we please. Nothing in life is good or bad on its own. It's only our interpretation that makes good things good and bad things bad. With that said, I'm still not convinced that we should primarily strive for self-generated happiness.
It's a good idea to keep a positive outlook on life and avoid unhappy thoughts as much as possible. But if self-generated happiness is all we care about, what's the point of doing anything other than self-generating more happiness? What reason do we have to get out of the bed in the morning and start a new day? What's our ikigai?
I also think it's dangerous to focus too much on the outcome of anything we do. The end result is usually out of our control, but we can always choose what we do to get there.
The journey is the reward.
Haha not sure if I can answer that one myself - the reason for living. If I had to take my best stab at it our 'ikigai' is whatever amuses us at that present moment and the journey (as you said) we invest in to experience that. I'd agree it is all about the journey since as I mentioned earlier I believe everything is somewhat transient in the end. Due to transience the journey is all that matters.Maybe the only reason we're here is because we want to travel these journeys - and then one day in the far future when we no longer want to experience these things then yeah we will self-generate our own happiness, not do anything on earth, die, and then not come back to this floating space rock.
Good piece Emil. I too learned this lesson pretty early on - thankfully. Blew $3k on a gaming laptop going into college, and ever since I've tried to really evaluate if I need something before I buy it. I tend to be spend much more liberally on experiences though, but I agree that at the position you're at right now it makes it tough to do that.
It seems like the problem isn't really having to give up months of experiences with friends, etc - it's that it would take 6 months to get $2-3k. Fix that and everything opens up a bit more for you :)
I know that making more money would certainly make it easier to have amazing experiences, and I'm working on it now. If it only took two weeks of work, I would certainly go rafting to Grand Canyon.
However, the tradeoff will always be there, and there really is no limit to our desires. I'd probably dream about going to space with Richard Branson if I was making more money, which would again involve the same dilemma.
Economists have estimated that income is correlated to our day-to-day happiness only up to $75,000 a year. After that, income no longer makes us happier. It does, however, affect our evaluation of life, but not how we feel on a daily basis. It's good to keep that in mind before getting lost in the rat race.
I agree, though I think that study is WAY over-quoted without people really digging into the methodology of the study. I take it to mean "once basic living requirements become 'comfortable', more income doesn't = more happiness".
Definitely agree that money is not the thing to chase...and neither are experiences. The time cost of things is very important as you say, but I think that some people - myself included - are very irrational when considering it. For example, I might consider it when I have my laundry done for $20 but not for waiting in line to get a lunch for $6.50. Spending the $20 probably saves me 2-3 hours per month, and waiting in line to save a delivery fee of $2 actually costs me half of my average hourly rate.
The key for me is finding satisfaction - not necessarily happiness - in as high a % of my day as possible and balancing activities in "the now" with activities that are in "the now" but focused on a better future "now"
Rambling, but hope that makes sense!
Interesting thing was that I had the similar thought on "whether materials can make us happy" the other day, but rather from a different angle. My frustration was that: I usually regretted too fast after I got something in my possession successfully. It seemed to me that the things were always the pretties, best, most valuable when I yearned for them. And once I got them, or maybe a few days later, I lost interest. I needed the next hunt. The most valuable would always be the next. Just like Pele the Brazilian footballer, he said that his most valuable goal would always be "the next one".
So I thought materials can give people a feeling of pursuing, which can drive them forward and feeling excited about a target yet to reach. And materials also gave them evidence that they actually accomplished something: you can touch, see, feel the materials.
I know this is now what your journal was about. But just some thoughts.
I've also observed that things no longer seem so desirable when you actually have them. I've already lost most of my excitement for a really nice apartment that I'm going to rent this fall. I haven't even moved in, but I'm already taking it for granted.
There is nothing wrong with always pursuing the next big thing, as long as your happiness in not contingent on getting there. If it is, you'll never be happy, because you'll never have it all.
The journey is the reward.
So ultimately what we are seeking is just excitement. When new things pop up, they make you feel interested, excited, curious to find out what they are. And when you know what they are, have experienced them, and see them too often, they are no longer capable of arousing your curiosity or giving you the excitement they used to offer. And that is why they seemed less desirable after a while. Like how you feel about your apartment.
And just as you said, there is no chance of being happy. Because happy always comes with getting something you want, and by the exact time when you get something, you no longer want it. So there is no way to be happy at all. Such a dystopian outlook on life. :(
I kind of blame myself for being like that too. What if I feel the same way about people around me? Friends?
That sounds like a dangerous habit--finding old companies less interesting.
I was a teenager with way too much time on his hands. It was summer break and I had just finished middle school. I used to spend hours browsing the web mindlessly, which is something I still occasionally do. In one of my browsing sessions I decided to see if there was any way to make money online. I didn't want to get a job. After all, I was a teenager who was scared of having to do any kind of work. But I also thought that it would be nice to get some extra cash to buy a few more beers, or whatever else I thought would make me happy back then.
I knew almost nothing about making money online. A friend of mine had tried clicking on ads for a while, and that earned him less than a dollar per week. I wanted to know if there was anything more profitable, so I joined a forum about making money online. There were a lot of people who said that making money on the internet was impossible, and a few more who claimed to have easily made about $1000. I focused on the second group, and I soon found out that they had all made money from sports betting.
What? How is sports betting supposed to make you any money?
Even if there is a way to make money from gambling, there surely must be a lot of risk involved. That's what any reasonable person would think. However, I soon found out that it's possible to make money from bonuses that bookmakers give to their new customers without any risk. To keep a long story short, you bet on all outcomes of a sports event so that you're guaranteed to keep a fraction of the bonus no matter which team wins.
It took me a while to wrap my head around the concept, but once I did, it all made perfect sense. The only problem was that I was only 15, way bellow the legal age of gambling. And I had no credit card, of course. I still don't know what arguments I used, but I managed to convince my mother to give me one of her credit cards for matched betting.
Of all the bits of gear, the one thing that fundamentally defines how I'm able to travel is my laptop. I use it to keep in touch with people all over the world, make money, find things to do in each country, and buy my plane tickets. It's probably my most important possession, which means that any time a new one comes out that can improve the way I work (better specs) or travel (smaller or lighter weight), I consider buying it.
I went to Japan last month for many reasons, one of which was because there was a laptop there that was unavailable in the states. Its specs were so unbelievably good that no other laptop would substitute. I marveled at how Sony could make a laptop so much better than anyone else, even my beloved Lenovo, and I was determined to buy one.
It took two trips to the Sony Building in Ginza (fruitless) and finally convincing one of my awesome friends (Thanks Elliot!) to buy it for me and ship it to me after I left. Not an easy process. Luckily for you, they released this laptop in the US two days after I got back, for less than I paid. Oh well.