When you read the Stoics and personal finance blogs in the vein I write you quickly learn the goal in life is happiness. Money, retirement, and financial independence are all cash words we use to make our case about happiness. Saving and investing a large portion of our income building a solid nest egg allows for less work and more happiness.
Then I wonder if there is more. I’m a happy guy no matter where I am. I am content with what I have; I have all I need or want. Happiness is a state of mind. Anyone can be happy any time they choose to do so. All you need to do is learn your happiness triggers and then trigger them.
But what about enjoyment? How do we trigger enjoyment? If happiness is something we choose to be, can we also choose to enjoy? These are interesting questions I want to explore.
Harvesting Good Feelings
When I am not working my business or writing this blog, I farm. Since I am already happy, farming does not create happiness or make me happier. Happiness is not a matter of degrees. Either you are happy or you are not. I enjoy farming. Working with the animals gives me pleasure.
Take a distasteful job on the farm: cleaning the chickens. Chickens make a mess and it stinks. Cleaning the chickens is a job I don’t volunteer for; I do it because it needs doing. Cleaning the chicken coop has no effect on my happiness; I am happy and will remain happy even while doing the distasteful job.
You can learn to enjoy something if you allow yourself the pleasure. (How do you like that play on words?) Hard work brings me pleasure because I know it is healthy for me. Cleaning the chicken area is actually something I enjoy once I get going. There is a satisfaction to seeing the area get cleaner with each push of the shovel.
It is hard to see the difference and why it matters in such a case. Maybe we need another example.
The First Cut is the Deepest
Five years ago I worked so hard I busted a gut. Actually, I twisted wrong and caused a hernia. It was small, but painful. After careful consideration I decided it was time to go under the knife.
As the anesthesiologist put me under I was the happiest man on earth. Since I have two hands I can say, “On the other hand I did not enjoy the idea of surgery.” There was no pleasure in having a painful hernia nor did I enjoy the idea of surgery. However, through the whole process I was always happy. In my mind life is always good. The alternative, death, not so much.
Learning to Enjoy
Happiness is easier because you can choose to be happy anywhere at any time for any reason. Learning to enjoy a process or your position in life takes some effort. Like cleaning the chickens, I learned to enjoy the work. Sure it stunk to high heaven and the work is hard. But there was a reward at the end (actually, a reward as I worked); the chicken coop got better, cleaner with each shovel of stuff removed. And I enjoy watching the chickens jumping around with glee at their new, cleaner surroundings. After it is over I get to enjoy a nice hot shower.
Learning to enjoy process is one of the fundamental keys to success. Just because you reach financial independence or land your ideal job does not mean things are all roses all day, every day. There will be mundane jobs you don’t want to do. Imagine starting a business you always wanted. The business grows and is wildly profitable. You are happy! Then the day comes when you need to fire an employee. I know this from personal experience. I remain a happy individual who happens to not enjoy firing employees. It does not have to be a traumatic event. It can be a learning experience you learn to tolerate.
Using the Difference to Grow
By now you should understand the difference between happiness and enjoyment. This provides an opportunity to grow. You are happy as long as you can say, “I have enough.” A young person dying of an incurable disease can still find happiness knowing they have enough because they have a life to lose, a life where they experienced and lived.
Finding enjoyment in distasteful tasks can turn a negative into pleasure. One thing I hate with a passion is flying. It’s not the plane or the up in the air thing; it’s the airport. What a waste of precious human life. In January I am speaking in Florida at Camp Mustache SE. I love standing in front of a crowd and sharing ideas. I already feel anxiety over flying there.
If I am going to teach and share ideas I may as well apply them to myself. (Physician, heal thyself.) How can I learn to enter an airport and feel less anxiety? Is there a way I can turn the traveling part of traveling into pleasure and enjoyment? There is! I could focus on the endgame where I have the awesome opportunity to meet great people and share. Problem with that is I still need to go home. After the endgame comes the Ick! part. More airports.
Here is my solution. We will see if it works in January. The airport and time on the plane is something I consider wasted. I read, of course, but it is harder for me to read in such settings. I also tend to fall asleep if I read sitting for a long period, so my normal reading style is up, down, and all around. (I see no one is surprised who knows me.) At home I have sound cancelling headphones. I’ll bring them with me this trip to see if I read better. I will also write during this time. I never write while in airports or on a plane. This time I will. I can write anywhere for some reason.
The final piece of the puzzle includes my Stoic training. I’ve preached Stoic principles in the past. Now it is time for me to use the training. By letting go and accepting the situation I can relax and enjoy a good book, a quiet nap, or some writing time (probably all three). If I find a way to close the door while in the airport and on the plane I will feel the time was wisely spent. In normal life that is the kind of thing I enjoy immensely.
What about You?
You should always be happy, even during challenging times. Pleasure has many meanings and some things are out of our control and unpleasant. What brings you enjoyment? How can you turn distasteful tasks enjoyable?
The Stoics taught negative visualization where you sit back, close your eyes, and imagine the worst that can happen. When you open your eyes you realize how lucky you are because none of these things have occurred. Seneca practiced poverty once per month by dressing in old clothes; he was a very visible Roman statesman and an advisor to emperor Nero. He realized the worst that could happen to him was not all that bad.
Even the end of life can be enjoyed. All you need to do is commit to the experience; you only get one shot at it. By ending worry about dying you allow yourself the pleasure, the enjoyment of living the process of dying. It sounds crazy until you accept there is nothing you or anyone else can do about it. We will all die. How you die is up to you. Enjoy it.