Friday, January 13, 2012

Are you working a job you hate, to buy sh*t you don't need?

That is one of my favourite lines in any movie. 

The line comes from the film Fight Club, when Brad Pitts character, Tyler, is consoling the narrater(the character is never actually named) after there was an explosion in his house where the narrater "lost everything".

About a month ago, I was sitting on a beach in Cambodia after scuba diving for 6 days (you can read about it here) when I sat down and had a chat with my instructor who had given up the office life in London to be a scuba diver in ... well... paradise.  We were having a conversation about what is important in society, and what is important in life, and how they can contradict each other.  

If you take a big picture approach, you could probably assume that most people want to be happy. End of story. Any successes which are achieved or aimed for are merely a conduit to improve ones lifestyle and, therefore, assumed happiness.  Therefore, career wise, we usually have two options, we "take a job for the love" or we "take the cash, working towards a career".  Not to mention the old adage "if you find a job you love you'll never have to work another day in your life".  But, unfortunately, research doesn't back up these things improving happiness. Sure, not having enough money will increase your unhappiness, but once your basic needs are met, your happiness plateaus. A study in the US found that the salary level in which happiness plateau's is $75,000. This means, that there is no intrinsic gain to your level of happiness between earning $75,000 a year, and $500,000 a year. It is merely an illusion which highly paid employees uphold, and everyone else believes.

Unfortunately though, most people, when given the opportunity in Job A or Job B, will take the cash every time.  Even if it involves less time to yourself, more overtime, less time with your family an being on call.  Why?  Is it because happiness is difficult to measure, but salary isn't? Is it because we constantly measure our possessions against others in society?  

Taking to Rachel, my scuba instructor, her, and many others in the area work for little money but have their basic needs met. They get shelter and food supplied, and with their salary can afford clothing. They work in a small village, so have none to really measure their possessions against.  Not only that, they actively do things to leave a legacy and a positive impact on the community around them.  And they are all happier than when they lived in the city and worked a 9-5 had nice suits and a flash car.  The salary as a diver is awful, but the quality of life is better, as is the level of happiness.  

If you looked at what society has us do, it is set goals and work towards achieving those goals.  If you have a higher paid job, a nicer car, better stock options, or a new flash fresh water pool, you are usually considered "more successful" than someone who earns less that you. But if these things don't bring happiness, at the end of the day, is there a point to it?

I am trekking around Asia, with a backpack and a suitcase of clothes (as I am moving to London), and I can't help thinking how much unnecessary stuff I have.  I have a suitcase and a back pack.  I actually find it really liberating to not have many goods, not be paying off a car, and not being worried about that new sofa which I just had stain protected.  But I say again, with the little I have, I actually think I have too much. It's too much of an inconvenience for me to carry around and look after.

And it is amazing how many travellers say the same thing - "It's not until you travel for an extended period of time, that you realise how little you actually need".

So, my question is, are you working a job you don't like in order to buy things you don't need? Are you putting your time and energies into things which actually will improve your happiness?  

(If you want to read up more on this, there is a fantastic blog, much better than mine,  that goes over this and other topics at
Until next time,
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  1. awesome stuff Dan. It's very true - part of the reason why I don't work a 5 day week any more.

    1. Great Stuff Mon! :) It certainly is eye opening to what is important! :)