Friday, April 17, 2015

Happiness is...

What is happiness?  What we want to do, or what we should do?

I walked to the airport today and got to thinking about what makes people happy - and unhappy.  There are a lot of unhappy people in the USA today, one of the richest countries in the world.   And they are unhappy because they somehow thought they got a "raw deal" in life, as they text this misery to their friends on their smart phone.

What would make you happy?   At first, it would seem than indulgence would make you happy.   Imagine just doing whatever you wanted to do without worrying about the consequences.   Eat all the food you want, drink all the beer you want, spend all the money you want.   That would be fun, right?

Well, that pretty much describes my life as a 20-something.   I spent ever last penny I had and never bothered to keep track of my expenses or even my checking account balance.   And I ate whatever I want in whatever quantity I wanted to.   Eat a whole bag of Fritos and wash it down with a six-pack (or two) of beer?  No problem.  I mean, that is what fun comprises, right?   Too much of everything is just enough!

On the other hand, living frugally, keeping track of your money, your caloric intake and how much you drink - well, that's no fun at all, right?

Well, this is where I had an epiphany.   No, actually that is more fun than self-indulgence.   My 20-something lifestyle seemed like fun and the only downside, as I perceived it, was that I didn't have more money to spend.   If only the system wasn't so unfair!  I would be rich, right?   But for all those rich people and fat-cats, I could eat two bags of Fritos and quaff own a whole case of beer.   Right?

But I figured out, eventually, that when you have a calorie surplus of even 100 calories a day, that adds up to 3000 calories a month - or an extra pound of weight.   12 pounds a year, 120 pounds in a decade.   When you are 20 and active, this doesn't seem like a big deal.   A decade later, when none of your pants fit anymore, you realize it was.

Similarly, when you don't keep track of money, a decade goes by and you realize that you have accumulated nothing except a used car and a bunch of broken-down shit.  The self-indulgence option turned out to be a dead-end, and actually a recipe for long-term misery.

So I buckled down and started to save and invest.   Not as much fun, to tell you the truth.   At least at first.   But over time, you realize the security of having money in the bank and no mortgage to pay (which is $40,000 a year, at least, I don't have to earn as income!) is far more satisfying that all the self-indulgent spending in the world.

Yes, shiny new cars are fun.  The stress of car payments and the real cost of depreciation are not.  We trade long-term happiness for short-term ecstasy.

Speaking of ecstasy, that is an interesting analogy.   When you do a euphoric drug like LSD or Ecstasy, it does seem like everything is "groovy, baby!" and the pleasure centers of the brain are stimulated.   But the next day, it seems that "real life" is twice as boring.   It is almost as if God doles out only so much happiness per day, and if you take out a payday loan on happiness (by doing drugs) you pay it back double, the next day, next week, next year.

Spending and eating habits work the same way.   You can indulge yourself now, and have a brief "high" - and pay for it later on, in weeks and months, and years, of loan payments and dieting.

I suppose everyone goes through this.  Some never figure it out.   But it ain't hard to discern why some 20-somethings think they got a "raw deal" in life these days (and when I was young, and my siblings were young, and my parents were young, too).   They take the self-indulgent path, as we are all want to do at that age - drink deep from the well of life, right?   And it is an expensive path to take.   And they shout "unfair!" when it doesn't work out.

Some spend the rest of their lives complaining about the unfairness of it all (even as they get jobs, houses, cars, children, whatever - nothing is ever enough, so long as someone else has more, right?) and are never truly happy.   They buy everything on time, trying to find happiness, but buying only misery.

Such a shame, in such a rich country.