Throughout your life, you’ve probably heard these two competing philosophies.
The first philosophy is around just partying and enjoying as much of life as you can right now, even at the cost of your future. Who cares about how well you do on that test tomorrow or your career and savings in 20 years? Live right now! Party it up, do drugs, spend all your money, ignore homework, stay up late, do whatever makes you happy. Because now is what you can experience.
The second philosophy is about delaying gratification. Some take this to an extreme. It’s about suffering now, cutting back, being frugal, living a boring life, doing whatever you can so that you can save up and set up your success and disproportionate results down the road. That way, when you’re 65 years old or 79 years old, that’s when you can really start living. Your retirement savings will have compounded to millions of dollars.
You didn’t really like your job but brought you the status and freedom you wanted. Now, you can finally travel, enjoy life, and do what you want. It only took most of your life to get here. It sucked getting here, but you were better than the people who live for the moment because you showed restraint. And now you have a lot more than them.
That’s the dream… Right?
As you can expect, there’s downsides to both of these extreme approaches. And I believe the answer lies in the middle. If you do it right, you can enjoy life, to a reasonable extent, while you’re young, but you can also set yourself up for success when you get older.
No one does it perfectly. In fact, most people probably intuitively understand that these approaches taken to an extreme are bad. But it’s hard to manage the nuances between these extremes well. For instance, they’re not partying it up and doing drugs every night, but some might be eating too much candy or not considering how they’ll regret not starting a YouTube channel or a business when they’re much older. After reading this article, you may be able to do a little better than you have been doing.
How do you optimize your entire life? To do so, I think it’s important to first understand what you should avoid.
Let’s start with the repercussions of living impulsively and short-term.
Money: If you spend impulsively, you won’t have much saved up. Through the mathematics of compound interest, the difference in the money you can accrue in your retirement fund can be hundreds of thousands of dollars, maybe even a couple million.
Health: If you do whatever make you feel good to your body, those things have long-term negative effects. You can end up overweight, unattractive, died earlier because of bad Health, feel worse because of bad health, addicted to drugs that drain your bank account mama and just end up mentally and physically afflicted, which don’t let you operate at your highest level.
Relationships: We already mentioned how your health and physical appearance will be affected. That will affect your dating life and opportunities. But also, doing things that make you feel good without having empathy towards how others might act can lead to heartbreak, people seeking revent,, burnt bridges, a bad reputation, and just leaving a trail of burnt opportunities. The obvious example is a male player who is sleeping with women who wants something more, leaving what kind of hard break. But there are plenty of more nuanced examples. Those without empathy in any social interaction can feel the make the most of it and just come off excessively selfish, leading to missed opportunities or bad first impressions. In the book Give and Take, we find that the most successful type of person is not the taker or matcher, but the one who gives more than they take in an effective way (The book goes into detail on what is an effective way and what’s not oh, but that goes beyond the scope of this discussion.)
Happiness: Well you may experience short-term pleasure in the next hour or day, sometimes, you’ll incur a much greater amount of suffering than it’s worth. Now, I’m not talking about things that people are okay with suffering too, like a hangover after drinking too much. Plenty of people are fine with that. I’m talking about the bigger stuff. What about regret? Do you want to be someone who is just regretting living a boring life but too old to change any of that? Living by the seat of your pants often means not thinking or planning for the future, which can lead to you living in a comfort zone or not even considering taking chances that you should have that would have led to cool things like starting a new business. That can ultimately lead to you realizing that All this time has flown and you have no substantial career war chief means to show for it because you never thought ahead.
Okay, so now, Let’s cover some of the main drawbacks to only suffering and living for the distant future. While this isn’t as common sense humans are wired to be more impulsive, I’ve seen a good amount of this in the Asian American Community as a part of. I think part of me used to think I was better than others because I showed so much restraint, it’s not always as great as you think. Here are some of the major down sides.
Resentment and Suffering: It’s usually never enjoyable to skip out on partying, drinking, traveling, and all the other fun activities that you are forsaking oh, but that you’re seeing others doing all the time. Resentment can build up and that just leads to an unhappy place as well as unstable outbursts and behavior.
Betting on a future that isn’t guaranteed: Except for the most restrained personal finance enthusiasts and asian-americans, most people do find little ways of enjoying the present even when most of their day is filled with restraint. I know a medical student who will carve out one hour of free time at the end of the entire day of studying. Just remember that too little enjoyment in the present can lead to you banking everything on a future that never happened. If you’re waiting until you’re 60 so that you can finally enjoy your life, what happens if you get hit by a car at 57 years old? All that working suffering was for nothing.
Regret: You thought just short-term impulsiveness can lead to regret? Nope. Being too hyper focused on your distant future can lead to regret too because you’re playing it too safe. When you’re staying too much in your comfort zone and not doing things because you’re scared it will mess up your long-term future, that can lead to you not taking the risks and going on the adventures you should. For example, is it really worth it to skip out on every vacation from your twenties to your forties so that you can earn more money, climb the career ladder, and save more money? What’s it all for? So that you can have a lot of money to travel? Then, why just do it now? Often, decisions have to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. The most common mistake seems to be assuming that all delayed gratification is worth it. But as Warren Buffett once said in a shareholder meeting, is it really worth canceling your child’s Disneyland vacation so that your yacht can be 20 ft longer when you get old? Extreme frugality is not the answer. Always ask yourself why are you doing something and is that trade-off worth it. In some cases, it is and some cases it’s not. Perhaps, skipping vacation one year may lead to the pivotal promotion you need to really change the game in your industry, but skipping a vacation for the 3rd year has diminishing returns.
Failing to Take the Risks That Lead to Your Best Life: Taking time to plan for the future and having the discipline to build towards a plan is good. But when you hyper focus on something that’s far in the future, you can lose sight of other opportunities that can lead to a better life and more of what you want. There’s an episode of Rick and Morty where Morty finds a crystal that lets him see different outcomes in the future. He gets hyper focused on one outcome that involves him dying of old age with his high school crush. To make that outcome happen, he does all this weird crazy stuff based on what the crystal tells him. It ultimately, as you can imagine, leads to failure. Morty turns into some monster that uses alien technology to turn him into a mess. The point is that you can’t always control your distant future. In fact, your goals may change over time. As I write this, I am on a never-ending travel journey. I’m 5 minutes from a beach, and making it happen came with its share of hurdles. (For one, it’s off season, so the water’s too cold. But it’s more affordable.) It would have mathematically cost less if I just stayed home every year and never went on vacation. I could have saved up my money and invested and grown it. While that makes sense from a financial standpoint, I know in my heart that traveling right now was the right decision because it’s given me an experience I will remember fondly when I’m old rather than one filled with regret. The trade-off becomes clearer: would I rather have a dozen travel adventures while I was young or have a dull, boring life, having lived in only one place, so that I could net $5,000 more per month when I retire? What would I even do with that additional income? Probably not that much. I probably just travel and it will be harder to do it then when I’m so old.
A Set Up for Disappointment: As a disclaimer, what I say here isn’t always the case. Sometimes, the payoff is just as great as you expect. I know there are personal finance gurus out there who retired by the time they were 40 through extreme savings, and they were delighted with the outcome. With that out of the way, it’s important to be cautious of putting your face and happiness on some distant goal post that is too far in the distant future. Realize that you can achieve a level of happiness and enjoyment now, not just in X years from now once you achieve X thing. For me, that was when I felt Unhappy in Lost after college, thinking that once I became a witch doctor, that would make me much happier. But then that set up a false idea that I had to suffer for at least 10 years before I achieved that doctor status. And if I ever did, I would have been surprised, like many before me, when I realized that wealth and status didn’t solve all my problems or make me as much happier as I thought. Plenty of studies show the diminishing impact of money as it correlates with happiness as income increases. Plus, would I have really felt it was worth it or been happy with it when I’d be constantly working at a job I wasn’t passionate about?
Bringing It All Together
So with all that being said, I’ve used all these factors together to live in a way that I have been for the last few years. I believe the best way is optimizing both at the same time. And what I mean is enjoying life now, within reason, while optimizing your long-term success, within reason. You should optimize your long-term future within reason, not to an excess, while you’re optimizing the present so that you’re enjoying right now, within reason.
Delaying gratification doesn’t mean you have to put off seeing results for decades. In sports, you may start to see the pay off within months. In some skills, you may start to see the results within weeks. And delaying gratification also doesn’t mean that you have to suck the fun out of the present moment. You can still find ways of having fun. Stuck at home studying while others are partying? Make it fun! Invite your study friends. Add some jokes. Play some study games. Blast some music you enjoy while you study. As Ken Jeong once said to Stephen Colbert, “When I was young, my only goal was to get into a good college, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t have a lot of fun along the way.”
The key to living efficiently is to avoid the big mistakes and creating systems so that you don’t have to sink or make decisions in the moment for those things. Decide on the major train wrecks you want to avoid and just get out of the way.
For me, those train wrecks are:
- Retiring with too much money at the cost of too much sacrifice, not enough to do with it, and most importantly, too much regret because I played it too safe and didn’t live an interesting life and only saved money
- Doing something impulsive that leads to severe or notable health, permanent injury, or death. I’m thinking drugs, obesity, car crashes, getting hurt or killed while traveling, dangerous party scenes.
- Being too reckless with my money or career (through speculating, not paying attention to how to build my career and job title over time, gambling, spending, entertainment, ruining my reputation, stupid acts, etc.) that it sets me up to be a low income earner, have a poor reputation, or have low net worth when I’m older.
- Living too much of my life with a mediocre level of happiness or contentment that is a 4 out of 10 or lower for whatever reason (sacrificing too much, suffering, cutting back for the future, too boring of a life, fear of getting uncomfortable, etc.)
When you look at it that way, you’re clear on what you should avoid and those big train wrecks all of a sudden seem easy to dodge. and honestly, I feel like even if some of those happen, science has shown that humans have a way of coping. They tracked the happiness of lottery winners and people who lost their limbs in a car accident, and they found that after a few months, they both returned to their normal levels of happiness before those incidents occurred. Simply put, what you think will be so devastating isn’t as devastating as you think. So maybe even living with that much regret or this money in your bank account than you think isn’t going to be as bad as you think.
The one last thing I have to say before I end this is that regret can stem from multiple things. It’s important to look at it multi-dimensionally. For example, you can regret things that you did and you can regret things that you didn’t do. I think everyone has varying levels of regret because no one is perfect and always makes the most Flawless decisions throughout their entire life. But regret really refers to those massive mistakes you make, not the small ones. And you can’t change the past, so the best you can do is learn from your mistakes and others to improve the present and future. And ideally, learn from others’ mistakes so that you don’t have to make them yourself.
I recently finished Arnold Schwarzenegger’s autobiography and this guy was so optimistic and did so many things right. He went from one 6s to another, and he may be one of those few people who really had no regrets. But even he screwed up a couple times. The book was optimistic and it Made it seem like he had no regrets. But I think the one regret he would admit to his cheating on his wife. you can tell that affected him and he would take it back if he could. So, doing research on successful people you want to be like can lead to uncovering those train wrecks you care about. And keep in mind it’s not just about The stuff that you didn’t do that you should have, so just starting a business or writing a book, but the things that you did that you shouldn’t have done, such as cheating on someone.
So, get out there and make the most of your life! I’m doing it right now by traveling, working in an industry I enjoy, building my career, but also trying to stay frugal, healthy, and putting in the work.