I have been struggling to write this post for some time now. It is mostly because I haven’t quite figured out exactly what I want to say. But, instead of holding off, I would rather present what I have to say as a “working theory” and revisit it later on.
Admittedly, the title is a bit of a misnomer or at least mildly misleading. To give you some background, lately I have had a lot of friends come to me with “life problems.” They aren’t your typical “hole in my shirt,” “lost my umbrella,” or “broken-down car.” In essence, many of the issues that have been brought to my attention revolve around the concept of “happiness.”
Everyone deserves happiness, and so therefore, we all fight for it. And it seems that everyone in their pursuit of happiness naturally divides themselves into two categories. The first are those who view happiness as a set of rigid choices determining an outcome at the end of one’s life (i.e. have 3 kids and a dog, seen the world, made ten million dollars, etc.). Let’s call these people the “lifers.” The second class are the “dayers,” or those who seek happiness in actions taken “today” (i.e. my current job, my current girl/boyfriend, this one friend now, etc.). I use the word “today” loosely to mean short-term decisions, where short is anything less than a year or so.
If I look back far enough, it’s clear to see that I was a “lifer.” I decided I wanted to go to MIT when I was eight years old. I remember the curb we were driving around when my father told me about “the best school for robotics on the East coast.” I decided then that everything I did would be towards that singular goal. And it was. Taking extra classes online in middle school, science fairs and honors programs, leaving home for boarding school. Every decision I made until I was about twenty-three was to get to (and stay in) MIT.
Now, I am in this sticky situation. I left school and moved across the country for a job. I made new friends. I then quit my job and started a company. I moved again (only about 40 miles). Suddenly, though, in all the hustle and bustle, I can’t seem to get my sights set on a lifer-style goal. And believe me, I’ve tried. I’ve told myself time and time again of the grandiose things I will achieve before I retire, reassuring myself to shoot beyond where falling short is still far enough. But for some reason, life doesn’t work that way any more. Or at least, mine doesn’t.
I’ve found that now I am somewhat forced to be a “dayer.” And I find myself giving this advice to all my friends, even those searching for a school as an eight year old. And here’s why: living life as a “dayer” is simpler.
I have so much more control over those decisions only minutes ahead of me than those years ahead of me. For those of you who speak this language, it’s about finding a local optimizations over a global optimization. Translation: Don’t plan for your 50-year old job, choose the job that makes you happy today. A friend asked me which consulting job he should accept. Company A in Boston where he could potentially be in position X in ten years or Company B in SF where he could be near friends and probably enjoy life more.
For me, this was an easy question given my new theory. The “dayer” moves to SF and enjoys life. But there is some rationale behind this mentality. It’s not just party through life. If you step back and look what you are asking yourself (or others), you are essentially asking what will make you happierin the long run. In this case, one has “guaranteed” happinessin the short term and the other has potential for happinessin the long run.
But to put it bluntly, there are too many variables in life. There are too many things that can go wrong or not according to plan. There are so many things that we fail to see when we to plan forty years in advance. You don’t see the love of your life bumping into you in an elevator. You don’t see that lay-off forcing you into your dream job. You don’t see your family member passing away. But what you do have control over is how the decision about today (or tomorrow or maybe a week away) will affect you.
And I am starting to believe that if you are happy today, that positive energy will permeate the rest of your life, spring-boarding you forward. And at least you can’t look back and regret that instantaneous moment in your past. You lived, and you lived happily.
So what about “happily ever after?” This is where the theory comes into play. Local optimizations will lead to happiness. Short term happiness will lead to happiness in the long run. The scientist in me recognizes the improbability of local optimizations ultimately leading to a global optimization. But I believe it will be “good enough,” where good-enoughness is happiness. It follows that it’s possible to be happy without being perfectly optimal.
Am I right? I don’t know. Sad thing about this experiment is it takes a lifetime to find out. But if you’re curious, throw out the lifer in you and live “leanly” like us dayers.
So “Life Optimization?” A bit of a misnomer, I admit. Let’s call it “Day Optimization” and move forward…happily.
Something I feel compelled to cover because of discussions going on in different circles is the notion that this mentality of being a dayer is self-serving or self-centered. I caution the reader to be careful here, as this misconception is a nuance often overlooked. To be self-serving and self-centered is not always to be so at the expense of others as our childish teachings would lead us to believe. To give an extreme example, imagine someone who derives complete joy through cooking (not the money-making) for others. This person could be completely happy cooking for the homeless or families in need.
The point is that being self-centered, being happy (in this case), and helping others are not necessarily mutually exclusive. I believe that by being happy, you can find a way to make others happy as well. That could be through directly helping them as part of your “job”, advising them on the side, or allowing your happiness to be infectious. Assuming you are a decent person with some semblance of natural selflessness and compassion, I believe that finding internal happiness will be motivation enough to help others.