On a comedy TV show the other night, there was a scene with a bunch of stereotypical Millennials throwing an “unemployment party” for a friend who lost his job and got to kick back collecting unemployment insurance for six months.
The partygoers were portrayed as free-spirited, self-absorbed freegans who mostly sat around immersed in their smartphones and eating food they dug out of restaurant dumpsters. At least they drank unused beer. Whew.
One of the show’s characters, a somewhat more mature sports agent named Phil, got into an illuminating chat with a couple of the younger guys:
Phil: So, what do you do?
Millennial 1: What I do is not define myself by what I do.
Phil: OK. Well, then how do you pay for things?
Millennial 1: What, is money your only benchmark for judging a person’s value in society?
Millennial 2: You think you’re better than us because you have “a job?” [Gestures with air quotes]
The thing is, that definitely could have been a scene right out of my own college days way back in the Dark Ages. Except for the freegan thing, that is. Sure, I ate two-day-old pizza lying around my college dorm room, but I drew the line at dumpster food.
As a young man I did everything I could to scrape by without working and, since I didn’t have much growing up, I wasn’t really interested in material things. Besides, all most of us hippie kids cared about back then was sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
What changed? I grew up. I wanted to make something of my life. Wanted to have a family and provide for them. I wanted to be successful. I wanted my parents to be proud of me. Also, my wife is proud of me. And I wanted to be proud of myself.
Having accomplished all that – by climbing the corporate ladder and working my tail off for many years in “a job,” mind you – I have the means to own a lot of things people covet. The funny thing is I don’t. I live a relatively simple and uncluttered life. I’m happy that way.
Don’t get me wrong. We have a nice home, but we don’t have second and third homes like so many of our contemporaries do.
We’ve lived in the same place for 20 years and we do a lot of work on the property that wealthy people hire others to do. It’s hard work but it’s outdoors, sort of fun and good exercise, too.
We have a lot more time to enjoy life because we’re not going back and forth, moving into and out of, or buying and selling all the homes we don’t have.
We have two cars and a pickup truck that are 8, 11, and 14 years old but they all run well. Why get new cars?
The other day I was advising a friend on which smartphone to buy and she was shocked to learn that I didn’t already have an iPhone 6. She said, “You’re a high-tech guy from the high-tech industry and you write about technology. How come you don’t have the latest and greatest?”
“Because getting and converting to new stuff is a pain in the butt,” I said. “If it does what I need it to do and it works fine, I’m happy. And I stick with it until I’m not. Less is more. Simple as that.”
Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching teaches, “If you want to be free, learn to live simply.” Smart guy, that Lao Tzu.
So why work so hard? Because having “a job,” working hard, loving what you do, accomplishing great things, meeting your goals, and being successful are all their own rewards. So is providing for your family and keeping them safe, healthy, and comfortable.
On the other hand, thinking you’re so free-spirited that you don’t need to work and eat food out of a dumpster is not my idea of freedom. And neither is being a slave to material things. If you want to be happy, work more, and own less. Simple as that. Authentic happiness.