It is easy to get down about ourself or our lives, when we are constantly bombarded by the media and adverting. Successful advertising preys on us to intentionally make us feel that we are missing out if we do not buy the products they are selling. The media continues to grow to levels that never could have been imagined 30 years ago. In addition to the classic three: print, TV, and radio, we now have the biggest of them all the Internet. Within the internet we have many professional content producers as well as amateurs using facebook, instagram, and other platforms I can’t seem to keep up with. It was challenging enough coping with the vast amount of information from the mass media corporations, but now we are inundated with opinion and content from amateurs. It seems everyone has an opinion to share, and hypocritically this blog is no different.
It takes a stronger Will
The amount of content we are bombarded with everyday is so strong that we are automatically filtering what is important every minute of the day. We are quick to realize the difference between content and paid advertisements on websites. Yet it still takes energy to focus on what it is we really are interested in, without getting bogged down by the rest. It also can be hard when we see things that pander to our emotions.
For instance let’s say we are watching a sporting event on TV and the coach calls a timeout. We all are conditioned that we will have to watch a commercial. Most of us generally do not pay too much attention to it and many turn the sound off. Yet we still watch to make sure we don’t miss the action when the game still comes on. Car companies constantly advertise on TV, and even without sound you still see the shiny new cars racing around. Even if you are content with your car and never had a single thought that day that you needed a better car, just seeing the new cars on TV triggers something in our brains telling us that our car is not as good.
Most of us can control ourselves not to buy everything we see on the TV, internet, email, and facebook, Yet we still take a psychological toll in comparing what we have, to what we perceive other people have. If we didn’t know there was something better, or didn’t think our neighbors had something better, we would be much happier.
How much is Enough
If we can become content with what we have then we can be better suited to not let ourselves be dragged down by what other people have. The secret is to be thankful for the things you do have. It is too easy to see something missing in our life and think that we can’t be happy until that need is met. If someone else has something we don’t, we feel that they must be happier than us, and that we are missing out. It is important to try to live in the moment and be content with what you choose to do in life. Be thankful for the intangibles that money cannot buy, such as relationships with friends and family.
Barry Schwartz did a TED talk based on his book, The Paradox of Choice. What stood out from the talk was that, while we are very lucky to have the freedom to make many choices in our life, it can also be overwhelming. It actually unfairly raises our expectations, and when they are not met, we then blame ourselves for making poor choices. Having opportunity can be intimidating knowing that if we are not extremely happy it is the result of not making the optimal choice.
So it is natural to question if we are making the best decisions, and when we see someone else with something we don’t have it is easy to question if we are living our lives well. To counteract this try to remember there are many different ways to do things and whatever we do decide, be confident that you selected it for your own reasons and be happy with the result. We can never know what the ultimate best decision is, but we can make good decisions that we can be happy with. As pessimistic as this might sound at first, a lot of times it is very easy to see how we could have made a much worse decision. So maybe we can’t always make the perfect decisions, have the best job, have the most money, but we can do what makes us happy if we forget that something could be better than it currently is.
Do not play the Game
One way to overcome all of this is to really think about what is important to you and only those closest to you. Then you can make a plan to live your life under your own values and aspirations. A great way to start is by getting rid of all the possessions that serve no value. A lot of us collect things that only take up space and overwhelm us. If we can unload these things we now have some room to select just a few possessions that mean a whole lot to us. We should think about only keeping the things we cherish most. Instead of having 3 jackets that you don’t really care for, it would be better to have just 1 that you really like. The more we can simplify our livest the more time we can have to stop around and smell the roses. Sometimes just having the time to sit on a bench at the park and enjoy the nice weather outside can be very satisfying. For those that are always so busy with work at their job, and work maintaining their large homes, they may later regret they didn’t find more time to spend with friends and family.
Say no to lifestyle Inflation
Another trap people fall into is increasing their spending as their income.rises. It is easy to feel good when you earn more money and think that you deserve to buy more stuff, drive a nicer car, and live in a bigger house. The problem is you will never get ahead by doing this. The key is to find happiness with less material goods, and save the income to allow you to do the things that you really want to do.
Why is retirement 65 Anyways
This arbitrary number that we take as gospel was not even invented in America. The idea was crafted in the late 1800’s in Germany, and the US created their version of it with social security in 1935. What is amazing about this is that the average life expectancy at the time was 61. So essentially most of the people did not have a retirement back then. It is only due to our medical advancements that we live much longer today and can exceed the 65 mark, some living much longer. Something to consider is maybe the idea of working as hard as possible delaying our desires for retirement is the wrong strategy. I believe many have an idea of retirement as the time to travel the world, sit on a beach all day, and have no worries. This does sound nice, but why do we have to wait 65 years for this? Why not do a little of this now, but continue to work later in life? If we can find some work that we enjoy, or pace ourselves so that the work is manageable, then working at an older age is not such a scary thing after all. It is funny that when talking to a financial planner one of the “scariest” things to worry about is living too long! Wouldn’t you rather live longer than expected and then have to worry about getting a job, rather than not having to worry about the job and dying?
Going further with idea that retirement essentially did not exist for most people 80 years ago shouldn’t we look at any retirement time at all as a luxury? If so then we should consider two options in our working lives:
- Work even harder to make as much money as possible and try to retire before 65
- Not worry about retirement much at all and be happy with however long you can have it
These are extreme situations, but something to think about. We all understand the harder we work now, the better the rewards will be later, but we don’t think of what the value of current opportunity cost is. Likely a balance of working a little less strenuously to have time to live your dreams in the present, knowing that we may have a shorter retirement is worth it. For some they can have the best of both worlds if they live well below their means, and manage their money well.
So how can we possibly have it better than a King?
Despite all of the pitfalls listed above, we still have so many advantages. A King had the best of whatever existed in his time. Generally there was very little for the proletariat, but the king was well taken care of. Think of all the modern day conveniences we have that King’s did not: Air Conditioning, modern healthcare, TV, Internet, Movies, Cars and air travel. We have endless opportunities of where we can go and what we want to do in our lives. Yet we are not happier for it. Simply for the fact that there are some who have so much more than the rest of us that the standard of a King has been raised. We see the sports cars, mansions, and private jets and realize that we do not have as much and therefore are not as happy. Yet if we took everything we have now and went 400 years into the past we would be brimming with happiness. The next time you feel down, try to remember all the things that you do have instead of only those that you don’t.