Tuesday, August 28, 2012

How to be happier: diversify your life

It seems to me that for certain stretches of time, our lives are designed to be singular.  In college, the pursuit is clear: good grades, wider horizons, impressive research & skills, connections.  At work, in our careers, we strive to earn the respect of our colleagues, knock our clients’ socks off, make money, buy things, and to generally have our shit together (or at least appear to).  Because I aim to surround myself with exclusively interesting and intelligent people, most of my life entails trying to be half as cool as those around me.  I’ve many times been in the position of needing to improve, to shape up or ship out (sadly, sailing has not been involved).  I’ve found that my reaction to criticism, negative feedback, or bad grades (besides crying), is to hunker down and plow through the obstacle in front of me.  That, along with my penchant for sponging up help and advice from others, is a pretty powerful force.

But there’s a drawback there.  Whenever your self-worth, motivation, sense of pride, education, or feelings of accomplishment are rooted in one area, any blow could be fatal.  It can be hard to see past a roadblock and get the big picture.  I am the biggest proponent of index funds, for they’re a straight-forward, no-fuss method to quickly diversify and invest money across a wide variety of companies, and because you need to invest to beat inflation.  Unfortunately, it can be much harder to diversify your life.

Perhaps you have a friend (or maybe you ARE the friend) who dropped off the earth to spend time with a new boyfriend or girlfriend, only to find that when you come up for breath, your friends weren’t around.  Perhaps in that moment you realized that one person can’t tell all the jokes, give all the advice, and provide all of the support you need.  That it’s wonderful to surround yourself with various characters and rely on each of their strengths (and share yours). 

As Kurt Vonnegut famously never said, “Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.”  Not trying to keep in touch with good friends is like owning stock in a fantastic company that shows all signs of being even better, then selling it for no good reason.  Why yes, I may be slightly depressed & possessive of my friends after reading the NYT article about how you will never make friends as an adult EVER.  I have also reached the advanced age of 23 – it’s prime time to ponder where my time and energy should be going.

Life is for pleasure – we’re lucky there are so many sources for that.  Friends, good food, the smell of rain, accomplishing hard things, relationships, sleep, inventing stuff.  For one reason or another, certain people or jobs or passions take up lots of our times.  Some of them should, for they bring us closer to our happiness.  Still, as it’s dangerous to invest the bulk of your money in specific stocks, discovering as many things that bring you satisfaction and then allocating your resources to them, is a much safer plan for the long-term. 

I’m heading to Greece in about 36 hours for a week of sailing with friends, and a few days of exploring on my own.  Suffice to say I haven’t been taking my own advice about diversifying life – here’s hoping that somewhere on those clear blue waters (go ahead and hate me), I think more things and come to more insights.

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