I was farting around on Instagram the other day. I wasn’t posting anything or looking for anything in particular. I was just kind of mindlessly scrolling through my feed without even really noticing what I was seeing. I zoned out like this for a couple of minutes (or half an hour…who knows?) and then I thought, Why am I even doing this? It’s not even fun.
I love Instagram, and Twitter, and Facebook. But sometimes they’re just kind of a time suck – the places where I go when I’m avoiding something else, like actually doing my work or making eye contact with strangers at the elevator. It’s where I go so my brain can slowly turn to ooze.
I have a friend who says the same thing about Netflix. She’ll zone out and binge watch 3-4 hours after work every night to dull the boredom / stress / ailment of the day.
The thing is, numbing out doesn’t actually feel all that good. It just feels less bad. Temporarily. Talk about setting the bar low.
Ever sit down with a bag of cookies and suddenly realize you’ve eaten six without really noticing? (Or is it just me?) That’s why I don’t keep cookies in the house anymore. It’s the first thing I turn to when I’m stressed or bored or avoiding something. It’s just another way to numb out. I know I’m not alone.
Now there’s nothing wrong with social media or Netflix or cookies. Those things are effing DELIGHTFUL. The problem is how we (and I include myself here) sometimes use them – as a numbing agent for stress, boredom, avoidance.
So I’ve started asking myself, Is this making me more happy or less happy?
Zoning out on Instagram that day was making me feel less happy, but when I have something interesting to share it makes me more happy. Mindlessly wolfing down six cookies on a stress binge? Less happy. Enjoying one as a fun little treat? More happy. Numbing out with hours and hours of Netflix every night? Less happy. Mainlining the first five episodes when the new season of House of Cards comes out? More happy.
Is this making me more happy or less happy?
You can ask yourself this question when you notice yourself numbing out, but how about applying it more broadly? Like to your career?
Think about the last time you had a late night at the office. Did it make you more happy or less happy? You may find the answer to this question is, It depends. If you were burning the midnight oil for a fulfilling project that was in the home stretch it might have actually made you more happy. That kind of thing can feel exhilarating and empowering when it happens occasionally, but if it’s the norm you may be slowly working your way to burnout. Less happy.
So what?, you might be thinking. Some stuff in my career makes me feel less happy. What am I supposed to do? Just say fuck it and hang out at the zoo all day?
Happy now or happy later?
Ditch your job for the zoo if you must (hopefully you are also independently wealthy), but sometimes we make tough choices in the interest of future happiness.
I have a client who is building her own business. After more than 20 years she doesn’t dig her industry anymore, so she’s changing career paths radically and building something of her own. But she didn’t quit her job. Not yet. She doesn’t plan to quit for another year or two. She’d rather stick it out at her less than ideal gig in the interest of providing more stability for her future business. She’ll have more savings and less pressure. It’s tolerable. More happiness later.
Another client of mine made the opposite decision. She felt like her job was crushing her soul and sapping her energy, leaving her little opportunity to work on her biz on the side. She had a lot of hustle and heart (and a decent financial cushion), so she just up and quit. Sure, she could have had more of a financial cushion if she stuck it out for a while, but for her the best decision was ripping off the band-aid. Instant gratification. More happiness now.
Often the question becomes, Is the short-term pain worth the long-term gain? Sometimes yes. Sometimes no. Only you know.
In a different scenario the question might be, Is the short-term gain worth the long-term pain? Think back to the cookies. Scarfing a bunch of sweets might feel kind of nice in the moment (short-term gain), but doing that over and over is going to start to feel shitty (long-term pain).
Do I really have to choose?
Happy now or happy later – it doesn’t always have to be one or the other. What if you could have both?
Rachel (not her real name) is another client of mine who is starting her own business. She doesn’t have a very big financial cushion to make the transition to working on the business full-time, but on the other hand her job leaves her exhausted and stressed out, with little time or energy to work on the business on evenings or weekends. What’s a gal to do? Stay in her job and burn out, or quit and hope her business is a smashing success right out of the gate?
Rachel just took another job (and left her old one) so that she can slowly build a solid foundation for her business AND stay sane while doing so. Win-win. She didn’t have to choose between happiness now and happiness later.
My point? There is no one-size-fits-all answer. What works for Rachel, or me, or your best friend might not work for you. The important thing is to ask yourself the right questions. Is what you’re doing making you more happy or less happy? When you’re faced with a tough decision do you go for more happiness now or more happiness later? And, most importantly, do you really have to choose?