Today, however, we are in a position to derive much of our happiness from pursuits internal to our minds. We do this by blogging, watching House of Cards on Netflix, listening to a symphony from iTunes, tweeting with friends and acquaintances, seeing their pictures on Facebook or Path, and learning and collaborating on Wikipedia. As a result, once one secures a certain income to cover basic needs, greater happiness and well-being today can be had for virtually nothing. What is the point, then, of doing materially better than one’s parents?
…Many young people I know—journalists, activists, developers, and designers—are making the same choice, even if they don’t realize it. They are choosing to live below their potential means in order to be happier. And while you see them “work” very hard and for long hours for stagnant or declining wages, they are in fact having a ball and obviously getting paid enough to do it.
For many, we are already living in a post-materialist world where wealth has been decoupled from well-being. We won’t do better than our parents materially, perhaps, but we’ll nonetheless have a better standard of living.
I was just having this conversation with my dad last week. Well, rather, he was doing what he feels to be his fatherly duty by giving me a lecture, which I dutifully absorbed. He thinks a couple of my jobs are dead-ends and that I should be trying harder to find something closer to a “real” job, full-time with benefits and all that. He hinted, though more in my brother’s direction than mine, that he doesn’t see enough evidence of a respectable drive to succeed, which he was told, while in business school back in the late sixties, would require at least seventy hours a week.
He did indeed work his ass off for everything he has; the man practiced what he preaches. I didn’t spend a lot of time around him until I was in high school, as he would often put in up to twenty hours a day at his two businesses, grabbing a little sleep on the floor of his office in between. But I knew even then that I didn’t want his life for anything.
That ship pretty much sailed for me long ago in any event, right around the time I decided against going to college or acquiring any specialized skills. I’ve counted on frugality to make up a lot of the financial ground lost by not having a diploma, and I still have faith in that approach. I resisted the urge to remind him that the most onerous burden I have, a mortgage, was something I was ambivalent about to begin with but went through with on his advice (and yes, I vigorously agree with Helaine Olen: I wasn’t hearing any warnings about potential disaster in the housing market back then, quite the opposite) because strangely, I almost feel protective of his belief. I’d rather he feel slightly disappointed and worried that his son might be too lazy and unambitious than pained by me saying, in however many words, that I’ve considered his ideas and rejected them, that I think his time has passed, and that I’d rather take my chances on being destitute in my old age than spend the enjoyable time I do have sprinting madly like a hamster in a wheel toward a secure future that may never come.