It’s taken me some time, and plenty of shameless mental masturbation, to tentatively work out what the currency of life is.
Let me backtrack. I’ve known for quite a while that while money is pretty awesome, it doesn’t completely fulfill me. Winning the lottery would not make my life problem-free, and marrying rich wouldn’t satisfy me in and of itself. Working at a soul-crushing job merely to watch the numbers of my bank account slowly increase from the air-conditioned comfort of my office? Not my cup of tea. No – money, while a powerful and helpful currency, is not my currency of choice.
So what, then, makes you rich in life if not money? Two things, actually. Time, and Happiness.
Let’s begin with the less complicated and more-or-less self-explanatory one, Time.
Time is the reason why I refuse to work as an office slave. It’s the reason why, whenever I catch myself negatively assessing my (insert body part here) I force myself to get up and go for a run so at least I’m doing something about it. It’s the reason why I’ve slowly but surely been cutting out the people who are negative in my life, or who generally don’t add anything inspiring or special.
I’m not pretending to have mastered either of these currencies. Far from it. In fact, my biggest challenge at the moment is working on simply being where I am. To some, I suspect this is easy. Some people seem to have an innate ability to enjoy the simple pleasures of where they are, when they are there. I happen to live in my head far too much for my own good, and as a result I miss things happening around me. I’ve caught myself desperately taking pictures when I travel so sometime, at some later date, I can reflect upon my trip and experience the memories fondly. As opposed to enjoying myself when I’m actually there. I’ve ruined dates with great potential because my mind is working a mile a minute on some problem currently out of my control. I’ve bounced around in relationships, looking for the next best thing, instead of slowly savoring what I already have.
Now, whenever I catch myself mentally far, far away from my surroundings, I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and focus on what I feel around me. If I take a refreshing sip of pinot grigio, I focus on how citrus-y and crisp it feels in my mouth. If I’m going for a walk, I put my hair down and let the breeze play with it as it streams behind me. If I’m lying in bed, I bury myself in my covers and inhale the fresh smell of laundry and perfume lingering on the sheets.
It’s a work in progress.
Now for Happiness.
Of course, there are hundreds of ways you could personally define happiness. I have a thousand experiences that fit the bill. “Happiness is waking up next to someone you love, and catching them smile contentedly in their sleep.” “Happiness is wrapping both hands around a steaming mug of tea while reading a fantastic book on a rainy day.” But those are fleeting moments of happiness. What does happiness actually mean? What is long-term happiness defined as?
The closest definition I’ve come across which seems appropriate is by Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D. He states that happiness is enjoying the journey of life as much as the destination.
Equally important, then, is what happiness is not. It is not prolonging your enjoyment to some arbitrary date and suffering in the meantime. (When you retire? When you get married? When the kids move out? When you lose 20 pounds?) It is also not ceasing to challenge yourself or improve and instead exist in a barely sober lifestyle because it’s fun (for now).
One would think that the realization of Time and Happiness being the most important currencies in life is great news. They seem, on the surface, far more attainable than goals like “I want a Ferrari,” or “I want to be a supermodel.” However, if life has taught me one thing, it’s that simple is always best. With that said, simple does not equal easy. In fact, the simplest things are often the most difficult.
That’s quite enough thinking for one day. Time to enjoy being where I am, and go outside to dig my toes in the sand. To be continued.