Send me a blank cheque in the mail and I will share the secret ingredients of a happier life with you.
You don’t believe I know the secret? Then maybe you also realise that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the fact that we are far more advanced than our ancestors were, we live far more comfortable lives than our parents did at our age, and yet, something seems to be missing?
There are different aspects of our lives that we might not be completely satisfied with.
I used to hate Sunday evenings, because it reminded me of what I had to get back to for another five days. That’s Work Dissatisfaction.
I love shopping, but there are so many instances when I look at a wardrobe full of clothes and still tell myself that I have nothing to wear. Let’s call that Body-image Dissatisfaction.
I love gizmos, and large flat screen televisions, and surround sound, and fast cars, and…well, you get the picture. But often I wander around a house filled with expensive stuff, not knowing what to amuse myself with, or I go on a long drive and still feel that there should be something else to life. Possession Dissatisfaction?
There are times when I’m with a group of friends, or we’re at a party, and we’re not really connecting. We each seem to be striving to come out on top at an implicit game of One-Upmanship; only, at the end of the evening, there’s a sense of having wasted the last few hours. This one is more pervasive—if I have to take recourse in fantasy in order to make my life seem interesting, then I’m admitting to myself that I’m not proud of the choices I have made, and of the reality that I am part of. Existential Dissatisfaction?
If you nodded yes to only one or two of the four, then you’re better off than yours truly, who still fights all these forms at regular intervals. You expected me to say at this point that I’ve vanquished these inner demons, that I’m a stronger person and thus able to advise you? I’m not. I’m still trying. What I will try to do this week is describe for you the means you can use to free yourself and lead a happier and more personally fulfilling life.
So, step one: Focus on experiences, not material stuff
My favourite question to people I’ve just met is “What would you do if you were told you had only 30 days to live?” (I agree, I’m not the most favourite person at a social gathering)
But think about it for a moment. Would you go shopping, even if you had all the money in the world? Would you even go to the market? Unless you harbour secret intentions of winning a beauty pageant in your last month on earth, you wouldn’t. You’d probably spend time doing the things you always wanted to, meeting the people you wish you had kept in contact with, telling friends and family how much they mean to you. Television sets and fancy cars and diamond studs would, more likely than not, mean very little.
I’m not going to ask you to try and live like your time on earth is limited. But if you give my question some thought, and if you find that it is experiences that will mean the most to you at the end of your life, will it make more sense to collect experiences, and spend fun time with people whose company you really enjoy?
Ways this might be possible:
1. Start with your weekends, and try to make each of them count. Instead of ruminating over the Sunday newspaper or tidying up an already-tidy house, go out and do something you really enjoy. Take a long drive up to the hills, organise a picnic, climb a nearby mountain, visit an old friend.
2. Now it’s time to tackle workweek evenings. To avoid lazing around in front of the television, take up an activity, either sporting or creative. Action determines emotion, after all. Paint, learn a new language, jog, join a gym, learn a new sport, enrol in a tai-chi class, take dance lessons. If you can do this even twice a week, you’re making terrific headway!
3. Check the calendar for the next long weekend, then apply for one additional day off, so that you have 3 days at a stretch. Or take 2 days off, coupled with a weekend. What is that one thing you have always wished you could do, but haven’t done so far? Any chance you could do it in three days? Need more time? Plan for an extended leave of absence, or just call in sick for a week and go do something fun.
Carpe diem, they say in Latin. Seize the day.