One of the things I spend part of every day thinking about is my personal philosophy on life, what I want out of it and how to achieve it. It may seem like overkill to consider these things on a daily basis, but I find that in doing so I’m able to stay on course and pursue the things that matter most to me while avoiding the things that will set me back. Put another way, I focus on getting today right and the rest follows. Ultimately, I’m left with a feeling of purpose and satisfaction impossible to obtain elsewhere. Why do I say this? Because, contrary to the actions of so many people, including myself at one point, when we avoid the things that give us easily obtainable, immediate pleasure (e.g., thrill shopping, drugs, gambling, lust, etc) and instead focus on the activities that drive our personal belief of our true purpose, we live a happier life in the long run. This is not some quack philosophy. It’s grounded in neuroscience, articulated in great detail by Robert Lustig in “The Hacking of the American Mind,” which describes the delicate balance between dopamine (pleasure) and serotonin (feelings of meaning and satisfaction). Thus, it’s one of the great ironies in life that a person who puts pleasure before purpose will get neither, while a person who puts purpose before pleasure will get a high degree of both.
I know this to be true from personal experience. For many years I maintained a hedonic framework as the chief motivating factor for my actions. Let me say this bluntly… I experienced plenty of pleasure during those years, but I was miserable. Once I came to understand the biological basis behind my misery, I was able to begin righting the ship of past transgressions and chart a more purposeful direction in life. I concluded that my life would be meaningless in the absence of people to share it with as well as challenging yet enjoyable activities. It also occurred to me that setting my sights on clearly defined outcomes was more of an impediment than a benefit. If you cannot enjoy the process and work required to get where you think want to go, not only are you more likely to fail to achieve that goal, but you will likely experience only fleeting fulfillment once obtained. Status, money, objects… they all lose novelty quickly. If you spend 10,000 hours of misery for 1 hour of enjoyment, you’ve made a terrible trade. Moreover, the very act of living is a dynamic process. Our wants, needs, and goals are constantly evolving. Setting your sights on something five years from now is likely to change and often overlooks all the corrective steps necessary to get there. I gave myself plenty of room for change by focusing on one step at a time. After plenty of tinkering and several years, I’ve established a simple framework for how to live my life in a way I can only describe as complete serenity.
While it’s not so important to you, the reader, what I choose to focus my time on, I’ll briefly describe my areas of interest in the hope that it will provide you some guidance in developing your own paradigm. As I mentioned earlier, having quality relationships, as well as activities that are both challenging and enjoyable, are of the utmost importance to me at this stage in my life. Fortunately, I’m blessed to have a family and fiancé who support me in ways that make me a better person. With relationships, you get out of them what you put in. Surround yourself with those who want the best for you and be sure to reciprocate. As for my work life, I happen to find speculating in markets a highly challenging and rewarding activity, so the actions necessary to do well and improve in this field consume much of my time. Since time is a finite resource and my work is not the only thing I enjoy doing, I have a few hobbies I devote time to whenever I’m not engaged with my relationships or work. This includes a furious passion for boxing and performance optimization, followed by a substantial interest in developing skills in cooking, writing, and shooting. There are a couple other activities that I enjoy, such as skiing, but they do not occupy enough of my schedule to make them worth discussing here. To quote Ray Dalio, one of the profound influences on my life, “You can have anything you want in life, but you can’t have everything.” I think this is a fitting assertion to end with.
I’ve borrowed the phraseology of the late great Milton Friedman, who said “A society that puts equality before freedom will get neither. A society that puts freedom before equality will get a high degree of both.