Yesterday I heard a quote that changed my life.
It’s one those things that makes you really re-consider what you do day-to-day. It makes you re-evaluate every core assumption you’ve ever had about life. And it’s totally a Milk the Pigeon worthy quote.
Here’s how it goes:
“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.”
Think about it.
Beware. Barrenness. Busy life.
At first it caught me off guard.
Isn’t doing more stuff in life better? I mean, if you only live once (YOLO!!), wouldn’t you want to cram as much stuff into it as possible?
That’s when the revelation hit me.
Ambitious People Die Unfulfilled?
There was a well-known story a while back about Joshua Bell, a world-class violinist playing a multi-million dollar violin in a Washington subway.
It was a social experiment to see how many people would stop by and listen.
… And the results were exactly what you might expect. Very few people stopped, and when they did, it was mostly children dragging their parents.
At the end of the experiment, he made about $150… even though he regularly sold out concert tickets at Carnegie hall for $100 a SEAT.
“Yeah yeah yeah, stop and smell the roses. My mom has been telling me for ten years.”
That’s not what this is about, and not what I’m trying to say.
Doing MORE in Life Is Not How You Die Happy
Most of us (myself included) have this idea that the direct way to “die fulfilled” in life is to just do more shit.
Travel to 50 countries.
Start a business.
Learn to speak French.
… And I’ve personally fallen into that trap. I’ve done all of the above. But honestly, none of those things do jack shit to make you happy today.
In other words, ACHIEVEMENT (doing more stuff) is not how you live a content, enjoyable life.
Doing LESS stuff – and focusing only on the most important stuff – is how you live a happy life and die content.
Focusing on the right stuff (regardless of whether or not it leads to achievement) is how you die fulfilled. You know all those books about how people in remote villages are the happiest? They’re the happiest because they focus on family, on quality personal time, on enjoying fresh summer breezes – and not becoming the next American Idol (unless that’s what they really love).
Busy = An Early Grave
Back to the quote.
Here’s why It hit me like a ton of bricks.
I have been the WORST when it comes to “being busy” in life.
I’m always busy. Always doing shit. I watch less than one hour of TV a week, and most weeks go without watching TV at all. I don’t play any video games. I don’t waste a lot of time. I’ve achieved a lot for my age.
But a lot of days I still feel unhappy even though I’ve achieved so much. I find myself burning out. Trying to cram MORE into my life.
I speak French and Chinese, I’ve traveled to maybe 50 or 60 countries, lived on 3 continents, written two books, am building a business that I love.
But still something is wrong. Those things aren’t making me happy. The only things that make me happy are the things that I’ve created that are meaningful to me.
Maybe I can save you from this type of suffering.
Let me tell you what I find on the happiest days on my life. I’ve often talked about the power of doing a flow test if you’re unhappy every day.
Guess what I’ve found are my consistently most happy days?
The days when I do nothing in particular.
I don’t mean nothing – I consider watching TV worse than doing nothing. I just mean going with whatever intuitively attracts me at that moment.
Literally, my highest days during my flow test were either A. periods of high productivity working on something I loved, or B. the afternoons drinking an espresso out front of a coffee shop on a warm spring day, watching people float by, and not thinking about life, not doing any work, and not doing anything at all really.
This is HUGE.
The real way to die happy is to do the stuff that you find fulfilling – which doesn’t always mean adding more and becoming more busy.
A busy life can be incredibly un-fulfilling. Sometimes we fill our time because we feel obligated to. Sometimes we do it because being “bored” scares us. Sometimes we do it because we’re bound by an idea about how “ambitious people ought to be” (that’s me).
It’s all bullshit.
Do you understand?
Thank god I’m learning this lesson at 26.
I could have just as easily done what we’re “supposed to do” to be happy and successful. YOLO right? Carpe diem. Seize the day. DO a bunch of shit. Cross things off your bucket list.
… But I learned first hand that often my most enjoyable days were achieving nothing. Going nowhere. Adding nothing. Crossing nothing off my bucket list. Just sitting there with an espresso by myself or talking to someone.
I couldn’t share how much it “added” to my life, because there was nothing to check off or brag about, but it was real and it was there. And I was happy.
Bucket lists are bullshit.
Bucket lists are yet another way we try to make ourselves busy and feel like we’re really living life. We’re not. We’re going through random experiences that make us happy for the time being, let us brag about our cool achievements in life, and make people outwardly think we’re seizing life.
They are yet another meaningless distraction. Worthwhile? Sure. But I don’t think it fulfills many of your deep human needs for meaning and purpose. Not even close.
The bucket list life just seems attractive when you’re in a cubicle – life is about yin and yang – when you’re stuck, you want the exact opposite – freedom.
But you die fulfilled by doing the stuff that truly interests you at that moment – whether or not it “adds” anything physical to your life, or helps you “get anywhere.”
Busy-ness Can be A Disease
For those among you that are like me – terminally wired ambitious – and you know it’s killing you, stop feeling guilty about doing jack shit.
Note: I don’t consider TV doing jack shit. TV is “tuning out” while sitting in a park is “tuning in.” One helps time pass quicker. One helps slow down time because you’re fully there.
Go sit somewhere with an espresso and just read. Or just people watch without judging them. Do something REALLY simple that makes you appreciate life… big time. Notice how much more relaxed and happy you are afterwards. You didn’t add anything to your life. Nothing tangible. Nothing you crossed off that big bucket list. But still it left a lasting impression, right?
Sometimes carpe diem means sitting and watching the sun set for two hours. Sometimes it means working on a project you love. Sometimes it means being with someone you love.
Just don’t forget to leave time for all these things.
Sometimes it’s the very act of doing less, or doing nothing, that leaves you feeling the most content at the end of the day, and at the end of your life.
Find out what that is for you.
Thoughts on this? Tell me below.