Monday, May 14, 2012
From the time we begin our adult working life, we are inoculated with the belief that we should plan, save and direct substantial amounts of our energy toward being ready for retirement. Yet, we live a retired lifestyle for an average of sixteen years, and work for nearly 40. So where is the wisdom of focusing on the future, when it is so distant and such a small portion of our adult life?
The concept of retirement planning is, of course, with merit. However, living for today also carries merit. There are extremes of lifestyle focused in each of these directions, with those that indolently absorb the moment, but are totally unprepared for any contingency or emergency that may arise, counting on society to take care of their needs. On the other hand, there are frugal, obsessive individuals who hoard pennies to be ready for old age, and, when old age arrives, fret over every coin that is spent, even when faced with the truth that they have more than enough set aside to live comfortably. In the middle is the route to comfort and balance, making the most of each moment without selfish indulgence.
Unfortunately, modern technologies and modern standards blur the lines between responsible work and planning, enjoying one’s life and being a contributing part of the world around us. Our laptop computers, tablets and smart phones carry our personal lives to work, our business lives home. Exclusive, valued time spent with close friends has become shared with Facebook and Twitter, email and text friendships at our fingertips. Quiet time frequently is shattered with the beep, tweet, chirp, ring or jingle that alerts us to incoming communications. Few of us demonstrate the will power or social awareness to defer answering these devices, regardless of where we are or what we may be doing. We live, not for the moment, but governed by that moment – a moment owned by whoever is intruding into our time. There is no exclusivity to our time, whether it be work, play, community personal or family.
We have become a society that has no future, but is directed to save for it. We have become a culture that has a surfeit of time, but gives it away frivolously, then bemoans the loss. We have become slaves to the moment, but that moment is defined by others, for the most part.
To embrace the idea that we should live for the moment is as polarizing as to embrace the idea that we should focus exclusively on the future. However, we do need to value the moment, and anticipate the upcoming life.
Studies show that we derive more value from small, frequent pleasures than from one large indulgence. On the other hand, analyses reveal that we are more stressed by frequent minor annoyances beyond our control than by larger, infrequent crises. The logical corollary to these two conclusions is that, to get the most out of life, we need to take time to embrace the world around us, but to do so in a manner that provides long term satisfaction rather than short term spikes of pleasurable but selfish indulgence. The future will be shaped by how we view and interact with life today. If we opt to ride the crests and valleys formed by others around us, we will experience less enjoyment in the moment than if we take a balanced view of our contribution to the environment around us in relation to what we would like to see come back to us. We should grab each moment, not each day, and look to being the best we can be, not look to grabbing the most we can get.
By snatching at every incoming communication, by mashing work with personal life, by sacrificing friendly personal interaction for electronic jabber, we are ingesting everything, but like the cow in the foxtail patch discovers, everything is not always a pleasure to eat!
Balance, then, is vital. Enjoy the moments of pleasure, but enjoy, also, the moments of effort and hard work. Save and plan for the future, but also plan and spend as if the future is today. Use technology to embrace life, rather than letting gadgets sap life from your fingertips. Live each moment as if you were already retired!