I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about happiness and success. American culture has long defined a happy and successful life as one that is often shaped by money, but time and time again, research has revealed that money does not equal happiness. In fact, the opposite is often shown to be true.
Throughout our lifetime, we are given the opportunity to make thousands of choices. We can choose to live within other peoples’ definitions of happiness and success, or we can make choices that empower us to live the “perfect life” as we define it. I read an article the other day about the top five regrets of the dying, and many of these regrets have to do with living a more holistic, complete life that defied comfort, routine and pre-defined expectations. These are people who wish they’d worked less, spent more time with loved ones, allowed themselves to be who they really were and not what they were supposed to be.
I’m coming up on my four-year anniversary of leaving the corporate world. That means we’re also nearing the annual festival known as Burning Man, where I learned that it was okay to buck society’s expectations and follow my dreams to live a life of happiness and success as defined by me. It was at Burning Man that I decided it was okay to ask “why not?” and turn to myself and my community to find what really made me happy. I decided then and there that I didn’t need my boss yelling at me or meaningless tasks to take up my time. I needed to surround myself with people who encouraged and supported the choices I made in my life to be a happy person, or, at the very least, rid myself of those who were naysayers and only wanted to insult or discourage my choices.
Happiness doesn’t require money, and no special equipment is needed. And, yet, I’ve met countless people who are unhappy. People who would rather wallow in routines and habits that make them miserable than take a chance on making a choice that could lead to a more fulfilling life. I shake my head and wonder why. Sometimes making choices that lead to happiness are not easy, but is it worth lying on a death bed, wishing you’d made that hard choice that led to better things later?
In focusing on finances as a measurement of success, I think we also tend to lose focus on what we’re doing now, here, today. We’re tied to social media, focusing on what other people are doing instead of being immersed in the conversation, the moment, the people in front of us. We feel the need to plan out our days with tasks and chores and errands instead of taking free time to lay on the grass and look at the clouds or drink a glass of ice tea while petting the cat. Those simple moments can be some of the most relaxing, satisfying and, quite honestly, necessary. (I admit I’m often guilty of not living in the moment, and it’s something I am constantly trying to do. This poem, by Nadine Stair, is one of my favorites on cherishing those moments and living without regrets, and I reread it when I need a reminder.)
The greatest things in life are free, and yet a lot of us continue down that path where we earn more, faster. To buy what? Time? No money needed. Happiness? Money not needed there either. Love? Nope.
I’ve happily bucked the conventional path many times in my life and it’s weird and fun and unexpected, but it’s also nothing less than totally and completely worth it. I’ll take happiness and freedom to be who I want to be any day.