“There are two ways to increase your wealth. Increase your means or decrease your wants. The best is to do both at the same time.” – Benjamin Franklin
Misery shouldn’t be the price for ambition. Somewhere I believe many people got the idea that to want more, you have to be dissatisfied with what you have now. Believing this, your choice is either to dampen your passions or become miserable with what you have.
I think this is a false dichotomy. You can be satisfied and ambitious. And while many self-help books have covered the topic of ambition, fewer cover the idea of becoming immensely satisfied with what you’ve already got.
Beyond affirmations and beliefs, I think there are some practical tips to do this. Engineering your daily life can be a great way to maximize your current fulfillment. Best of all, it isn’t incredibly difficult to do. Here are some tips I’ve found useful in becoming happier with where I am:
1 – Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket
Investors understand that diversification keeps one bad fall from ruining you financially. Keeping your interests diversified, ensures that one slip won’t make you miserable. Tying your entire life into only one area isn’t just obsessive, it’s dangerous.
Life balance has become a bit of a cliche. Balance implies a weak compromise where efforts are juggled. But the alternative to balance doesn’t need to be obsession. Having several areas of focus at a time will help smooth out the fluctuations in your experience. Pick 3-5 things that are critical for you and a dozen more you feel are important.
2 – Engineer Your Day
Spend a bit of time reorganizing how you run your daily life. Looking over at the horizon it can be easy to miss what is under your feet. Focusing on improvements of your routines, habits and environment can make a huge impact in your current satisfaction. Even if they have little influence on your bank account or GPA.
Start by doing a run down of how you invest your time. Carry around a notepad with you for a day. Record every time you start or stop an activity. This will give you a detailed look at how you spend your time. It should also give you an idea of where you can make improvements.
The goal isn’t to have the most productive day possible or one that is devoid of all “bad” habits. Your objective is simply to experiment with changes that might make your day more interesting, fun or fulfilling.
3 – Break Comparisons
If you are like most inhabitants of industrialized nations, you are richer than most medieval kings. You are free of most diseases that plagued our ancestors. You have far more human rights. And you are far less likely to die a violent death. By such a comparison, you should be overjoyed compared to your great-great-grandparents. Why doesn’t this feel like the case?
The answer is because most people base their satisfaction on comparing themselves with others. You may be fabulously wealthy compared to your forefathers, but you also have to compare your life to people who are far wealthier, healthier and more attractive than you.
Breaking comparisons with other people will make you happier, but it isn’t easy to do. There isn’t an OFF switch in your brain for competition. However, there are a few ways you can make adjustments to your life that help avoid the competitive misery:
- Diversify your social life. If you only associate with people from one class, you will always struggle with comparison. My suggestion is to broaden the groups of people you associate with. Not just in terms of income, but age, experiences, culture and background. The more diversification, the more difficulty you have nitpicking.
- Shut off the media. If information isn’t helping you make decisions and only makes you feel miserable, why are you consuming it? Surrounding yourself with celebrity magazines and television shows featuring spoiled rich kids can fuel that urge to compare.
- Find your talents. Emphasize the things you are good at and make you unique. The more you cultivate a unique identity, the less chance you have of making linear comparisons between your life and your friends.
- Cultivate abundance. Competition is largely based in zero-sum. The idea that someone else’s gain is my loss. Rarely is this the case. Focus on how the effects of another’s win can become your own gain. Emphasizing an abundance mindset can help you avoid the comparison that inevitably comes from thinking scarcity.
- Focus internally. Perhaps the most important tip at all is to put less focus on external results. If you build a stable inner world, you can survive the storms of the outer world. Focusing on the intangibles of your passions, challenges, bonds and purpose will lead to a greater current satisfaction.
Don’t Make Yourself Miserable
It took awhile for me to realize that happily working towards a goal gave the same results as stressed frustration. The stereotype that the high-achiever needs to be an obsessive maniac is a good one to make you feel miserable.
It is easy to look at outside problems as the source of your misery. But too often you bring it upon yourself. Ambition is important, but don’t see it as a trade-off for appreciating what you have. When you trade today for tomorrow, you might realize you have nothing left.
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