The following post is first and foremost probably a little too long, and even worse it may come off as overly self-indulgent. My apologies either way.
It was sparked by a quote I read recently from Calvin & Hobbes creator, Bill Watterson. The quote is at the bottom of this blog, so feel free to skip reading everything I wrote just to get to the good part. I don't blame you, but just know that I consider it cheating...
Let’s all take a break from the insanity that our world has devolved into following Trump’s election victory. In the meantime, I’ll sum up everything you’re gonna see on social media for the next few years:
Now that we’re good to go, I’d like to talk about being happy.
“Woah! Hold up! Wait a minute! Not so fast!”
“What the hell do you know about being happy? And why should I listen to some pseudo-intellectual, mystic guru, ‘be one with yourself’ bullshit?”
You shouldn’t. And you won’t have to… I think. The goal of this blog is to layout some observations and possibly a few scientific facts, maybe piece them together a bit and leave the rest of the interpretation up to you. What I want to talk about is finding happiness in your adult life, after the college parties have faded into the distance, you're no longer a kid, and you’ve been handed a few responsibilities.
The truth is, I don’t have some earth-shaking insight on how to be happy, and I’m certainly not the poster child of unmitigated contentment. But I’ve read some things and watched some things and noticed some things around me that I’d like to share. Feel free to say, “screw this” and stop reading or feel free to say “screw you” after reading, if that’s what makes you happy...
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I spend my time, day-to-day and hour-by-hour. Because like almost everyone my age, I have ambitions and aspirations and other synonyms for goals. But like everything worth doing in life, I know that it will take a massive amount of work and many failures to reach those goals.
And that means sacrifice.
Sacrifice of time, sacrifice of energy, and in many cases, a sacrifice of temporary happiness. Too often I’ve found myself faced with the dilemma of temporary happiness versus the potential for long-term happiness.
My dilemma is that I’m 1930s depression-era poor and in the midst of a career change. Due to this situation, I’m living in this weird limbo where I work my current job while spending what would be my free time doing work for my future job… which is generally unpaid. I’m also blasting through my savings account at supersonic speed in my attempt to still live a decent lifestyle while making the annual salary of an outlet mall Santa.
So I guess the question for me is, do I continue on my current career path (aka the safe route), which almost guarantees I’ll at least live a comfortable life… or do I attempt to make the leap and sacrifice money, comfort, and current happiness for a small chance at much greater fulfillment in the distant future?
I think in some way we all face a question similar to this. For some people it’s a dilemma of “do I work my required 40 hours a week, collect my paycheck, and have more time to enjoy life outside of work” versus “should I come in early and stay late for the possibility that my boss notices and in two or three years I can get that promotion, make more money, and live a better life?”
It seems like a lot of people from my generation face this problem and are unsure of how to respond to it. Many of us don’t want to wallow in an entry-level job for years just to climb some corporate ladder that will help fill our retirement fund. We’re 22 to 28 years old and could really give a damn about an IRA or 401k. I can’t speak for everybody, but I think many of us either want fulfillment in our careers or enough money that we don’t care whether or not our work makes us happy.
So when we’re stuck in a low-level, low-paying position doing menial work, we feel incredibly unsatisfied. In these situations, we don’t experience any gratifying successes while we work a job that leaves us with little in our bank account to distract us from this fact.
WE NOW BREAK FOR A TIGER ATTACK
Back to our regularly scheduled programing...
Speaking of facts...according to USA Today, millennials have higher depression rates and suffer from more frequent stress compared to older generations. About 20 percent of millennials experience on-the-job depression, compared to just 16 percent of Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers. So what could possibly be the reason for this difference?
Let’s begin with how we were raised. I believe our generation has had a greater freedom growing up than any generation before it. Not necessarily freedom from rules, restrictions, or helicopter-parents, as those things have only grown more prominent in kids' lives. Rather, freedom of expression, freedom of choice, and the freedom that comes from many of our parents telling us we truly can be whatever we want in life.
We’re convinced any career or lifestyle is possible. We’ve seen the lives of internet billionaires, we’ve read about entrepreneurs who chased their dreams and made millions, and we have lived vicariously through their experiences and successes in a way that was previously impossible.
It was easier to convince a kid who grew up in Iowa in the 1960s that a decently paying, white-collar, desk job was the only requirement to live “The American Dream.” You make enough money to provide your future wife and kids with a 3-bedroom house in the suburbs. It comes with a freshly mowed lawn and a short commute in your wood-paneled station wagon to the nearest city. You work 40 hours a week, make a decent salary, have good benefits… and you’re happy.
But sometimes that’s because you knew almost nothing else. Sure there were movie stars and pro-athletes to aspire to, but in many ways that lifestyle seemed so unattainable. Hollywood and Yankee Stadium felt like they existed on an entirely different planet.
Most of all, it wasn’t a common notion that you could find happiness and excitement in seemingly normal, practical jobs.
Let’s blame it on technology! Research has found that the average human attention span has dropped from 12 seconds back in 2000 to just 8 seconds in 2015. Luckily, given the number of famous people who died in 2016, attention span most likely increased as we’ve all spent significant time contemplating our own inevitable extinction (this is not supported by scientific facts).
Many people believe this reduction in attention span is due to how accessible information is these days. Immediate gratification has become more achievable than ever, especially given the rise of smart phones, fast-internet, and loose women (just kidding).
I think the problem is that we can almost guarantee immediate gratification. Watching Netflix will make me happy. Eating this bowl of ice cream will make me happy. Anonymously calling someone a loser online will make me happy.
But for anything that takes time and effort to bring us a sense of fulfillment, there will always be the risk that in the end you’re left with nothing. Ultimately, you’ve sacrificed immediate gratification for further disappointment and unhappiness. Not a great trade off.
But success takes sacrifice. It takes fully acknowledging the risks, knowing you could end up back at square one, but now with less time and energy. In this world where we see so many people skyrocketing to success overnight, it’s like many of us are afraid to make the leap unless we’re guaranteed a soft landing. Instead, we sit at our entry level jobs making entry level money, gazing into filtered Instagram photos of lives better than ours… and we feel unfulfilled.
I think that it takes a special type of person to recognize this and actually do something about it – I’m only sitting here recognizing it, not actually doing anything, so trust me I’m not saying that I’m special. Every one of your friends is showing off the highlight reel of their lives across all forms of social media. And that’s fine. But if that lifestyle makes you feel like something’s missing… what do you do?
I'll leave you with the quote from Calvin & Hobbes creator Bill Watterson that ignited these 1500 words, which I am immensely grateful you were able to get through without quitting:
“Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential — as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.
You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them.
To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.”