If I could give you just one piece of advice, that would be it. Get to know yourself.
-And be more mindful when reading (non-fiction) books.
That is the key to success, happiness and all things good in life. If you don’t know who you are, there is no way you’d reach your goals – simply because you don’t really need what they are and instead go after somebody else’s objectives.
If you know who you are and steer your life accordingly you won’t suddenly wake up afflicted by some random strain of age anxiety.
So, how do you know who you are and what you want (as well as what to do about it)?
By running ‘experiments’ and paying attention; in short by being mindful of your own reactions to various stimuli (and your environment).
Experimenting means trying many different things in real life, but it also means reading, watching, listening, discussing and thinking. It means finding role models; mentors even.
Most of all you need to ignore the siren calls of the herd, the temptation to climb the closest hill and the marketing noise of modern society.
E.g., you neither want nor need a ridiculously large mansion, Iron Man’s cliffhanger villa (above), Rafael Nadal’s watch (below), or the baddest and raddest super car by McLaren (the P1 pictured above). That’s the “Jones” in you talking, that Beta character yearning to be Alpha.
Do you have a megadream?
I can’t say I was never just as programmed regarding what success is supposed to be. Thankfully, I stopped short of buying this church in central Stockholm (picture below), making it into a one bedroom studio with a 30×30 ft bed in the middle.
It used to be my “mega dream” though, inspired by Scrooge McDuck who started his sleeping career in a drawer and eventually upgraded to the world’s largest bed – as the world’s loneliest duck.
Before learning my lesson, I bought an expensive Swiss watch (Hublot Big Bang Rose Gold), a few cars (BMW, Porsche, Ferrari 360 Spider, Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder) and a downtown penthouse that is borderline too big for me and my girlfriend (2350 sq ft). Luckily, she vacuums.
I even test drove a 55 ft Itama yacht (pic.) before getting the message. Right there and then with my hand on the throttle and steering wheel, it was painfully obvious that the yacht was way more boring than my 7ft water scooter (Seadoo RXP).
-not so fun
-fun! (yep, that’s me… breaking the law, breaking the law)
So, it took me some ten years of luxury and conspicuous consumption, before I realized it wasn’t things I wanted. In fact, those things stole more energy than they gave me – in particular the cars (and actually the scooter too). I eventually realized that I was brainwashed into impressing others, even if it felt as if I really wanted those things.
I think Buyer’s Remorse isn’t that much about the anticipation being better than the actual purchase. I think it’s simply a case of paying for the wrong things, i.e., the remorse is a real and true signal of a poor decision. Now, that is something to take with you the next time you’re visiting a car retailer.
You definitely don’t want to bathe in money (ew!), and yet you can easily find money bathing pics on Instagram.
Oh, and I’m too so guilty of throwing cash around in pictures – and as embarrassed as I am about it (on my Instagram account), it’s still even more important to stress what a ludicrously second hand behavior it is. Living for others is a surefire way of making the least out of life.
There is nothing wrong in being or becoming rich, or in optimizing whatever it is you do. What’s wrong is if money, fame and status are your primary objectives, without a thought to why you want it or how you’re going to use it as a means to fulfilling your true desires.
When am I happy?
When reading a particularly good book. When listening to music. When understanding science. When playing with my dog or my friends. Gym-related happiness: (breaking plateaus, in the sauna, showering, eating and resting afterward), when expressing free will, when writing down a worthwhile thought, when experiencing moderate danger, when falling, when laughing, when completing projects: taking out trash, hanging a painting, writing a book, installing a router.
I enjoy heights, views, beauty, the sky, the vastness of space, exerting myself…
In short I’m happy when I use my brain for discerning patterns, and when I’m using my body to its fullest. Simple as that.
I don’t expect you to appreciate the same things as I do, and I fully understand if you want to at least try the money game of wealth, things, fame and status before focusing on satisfying yourself. However, I hope you take my experiences into account, and keep seriously questioning whether you are doing things for you or for somebody else. Hopefully, you’ll find yourself faster than I did.
- Study yourself in as diverse situations as possible
- Pay attention to your primary reactions
- Avoid vicariousness; pleasing others can be a means to an end but not a goal in itself
- As a practical example: When coveting something, try to imagine what it would be like actually having the item in your possession. Pinpoint what joy or use it is supposed to give you.
- And as a bonus, since I recommended reading as a way of analyzing yourself: To get the most out of reading, ask yourself during reading “What am I learning? Am I making progress toward my goals? How does this fit into or alter my body of knowledge”
I never said it was easy:
By the way, the above strip was my first encounter with the “know thyself” meme, in the early 1980’s. It flew right over my head though.