Pillow Talk: Happiness

Sunday, October 06, 2013

The interesting thing about living as an introvert who overthinks the future is that it brings me to questions and fabricated conclusions about how I will lead my life. I probably spend too much time subconsciously making a bucklist of what I want or need to do tomorrow, next week , two months from now, three years from now. I can practically feel the gears in my head whirling with no end in sight. But why should it really matter that I trudge through these very tough when I can just live life as a free spirit and actually enjoy my few years in college? (Few, in comparison to the number of years I'll be working.)

"It's about the pay and moving up the corporate level, making the big bucks."

"It's about having a secure job when you graduate from college."

"It's about making your career goals come true."

Sounds familiar? These are reasons I've deduced from chats with both adults and fellow students. Harsh, isn't it? Humans are greedy, and I do agree with it all. As students who want to be the best, we push ourselves to go through college, through the good and the bad, so that we can end up with a secure job and a nice salary straight out of college (or graduate school or a professional school, whatever your heart desires) so we can stop swimming in debt and start living the real life.

But there's something missing. Something not enough people talk about or just simply throw aside until it's too late. And so today I want to share with you a story that I stumbled upon a few months ago -

A vacationing American businessman standing on the pier of a quaint coastal fishing village in southern Mexico watched as a small boat with just one young Mexican fisherman pulled into the dock. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. Enjoying the warmth of the early afternoon sun, the American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish.

"How long did it take you to catch them?" the American casually asked.

"Oh, a few hours," the Mexican fisherman replied.

"Why don’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?" the American businessman then asked.

The Mexican warmly replied, “With this I have more than enough to support my family’s needs.”

The businessman then became serious, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”

Responding with a smile, the Mexican fisherman answered, “I sleep late, play with my children, watch ballgames, and take siesta with my wife. Sometimes in the evenings I take a stroll into the village to see my friends, play the guitar, sing a few songs…”

The American businessman impatiently interrupted, “Look, I have an MBA from Harvard, and I can help you to be more profitable. You can start by fishing several hours longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra money, you can buy a bigger boat. With the additional income that larger boat will bring, before long you can buy a second boat, then a third one, and so on, until you have an entire fleet of fishing boats.”

Proud of his own sharp thinking, he excitedly elaborated a grand scheme which could bring even bigger profits, “Then, instead of selling your catch to a middleman you’ll be able to sell your fish directly to the processor, or even open your own cannery. Eventually, you could control the product, processing and distribution. You could leave this tiny coastal village and move to Mexico City, or possibly even Los Angeles or New York City, where you could even further expand your enterprise.”

Having never thought of such things, the Mexican fisherman asked, “But how long will all this take?”

After a rapid mental calculation, the Harvard MBA pronounced, “Probably about 15-20 years, maybe less if you work really hard.”

"And then what, señor?" asked the fisherman.

"Why, that’s the best part!" answered the businessman with a laugh. "When the time is right, you would sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You would make millions."

"Millions? Really? What would I do with it all?" asked the young fisherman in disbelief.

The businessman boasted, “Then you could happily retire with all the money you’ve made. You could move to a quaint coastal fishing village where you could sleep late, play with your grandchildren, watch ballgames, and take siesta with your wife. You could stroll to the village in the evenings where you could play the guitar and sing with your friends all you want.”


Why do so many young people never seriously consider their long-term happiness? More specifically, their long-term happiness with their loved ones? From the time we are young, society has told us that we can achieve our dreams if we work hard. But you know what that equivalates to? For those who have set career dreams, during the first 5 - 10 years after graduating, you work over 60 hours a week, take on projects that will help you move up the corporate ladder, network with inspiring people, change companies and relocate at least once, and unknowingly drift apart from your best friends you made before you began your career to achieve that dream. Somewhere in that hectic life, you will fall in love and get married, and maybe even have children. That would make everyone happy, right?

But it's the balance between loved ones and work that can cause you to isolate yourself from what should be the most important part of your life - your loved ones. As someone in your mid-30's who has finally reached a satisfying career position with a satisfying paycheck, you'll probably come home more often as exhausted and disappointed than not because at work you feel respected and accomplished, but at home you constantly feel let down by your husband/wife and kids. A number of people end up spending all their energy on building their career, like the Harvard businessman in the story, and very little on their family, which often  leads to unhappiness, then separation or divorce. (We all know it's true.) Of course there are people out there who, at one point or another, are able to find that great balance between work and family. Why do we put work first when loved ones should be our highest priority, our most important source of happiness?

Those in our generation want to make money fast! Media has shaped us into wanting more instead of appreciating what we have already - nice car, designer products, expensive home, high social status, and a love of our life. Has our generation come to the breaking point where we naïvely believes that money is the source of happiness? That more is more and less is nothing?

I used to be the typical teenager who was jealous of everyone else because they all had the latest or best anything. The nice cell phones, personal laptops, cameras, trendy clothing, carefree lifestyle, etc. I looked at how I lived, disappointed that I couldn't have any of those up until the latter half of high school. That's right, even having pretty clothes didn't come until late in high school when everyone else looked great since the start of middle school.

"We all want what we can't have."

But now I look at my life, and I appreciate every bit of it. Enough is enough, especially when parents buy and pay for practically everything I own. Do I mind that I drive a car that my family has owned for longer than I've been alive? No. In fact, I was appalled when a friend asked me, "Why don't you just ask your parents for a new or better car?" Because I really appreciate every bit that my parents have put forth in my life, and if I want a better anything, I will work hard for it. It's being content with what you have when you can't have it better.

And so this brings us to should live like the fisherman, content with the money he makes now but cherishes where he is now with his family, or should we live like the Harvard-graduate business, work tirelessly for 20 years just so we might end up living a wealthy,comfortable life and then enjoy the company of our loved ones? Or in the case of the story, watch our grandchildren grow up but not our own children because we're too busy forging a millionaire career? It's that selfishness that we grow up with, especially in developed countries like the US. We don't appreciate the little things in life until it's too late. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems like higher ranking the school you attend, the more you expect out of life, and so you justify  how much you spend on your new lavish lifestyle with that hard work you put forth to your dream career. Unfortunately, sometimes it can take 15 years before we achieve that dream salary. Are you willing to wait that long for dreams to come true? I know that for the majority in my generation, the answer is "No". We want to hit the top within 5 years out of college, but that only happens to the lucky few. Our generation is impatient and greedy. We don't want to take as long as our parents to earn top salary. Those who are patient and selfish forge their own path so they can earn top salary without enjoying life with their loved ones.

I look at my future, and I'm always wondering and scared about what it will be like, even with a career goal in mind. Will I even graduate with my intended degree? Where will I be in 5 years? in 10 years? Will I finally see the light at the end of the tunnel? Am I going to work abroad? Will I have found true love? (sounds childish, but don't tell me you've never thought of that either.) Where will I be with photography? What type of industry will I settle in? Will I be able to see the world someday?

But most importantly, will I be happy? 

I hope that 10 years, even 20 years from now, at the end of the day, when I look back at everything that happened, I can say that I am happy and content with my personal life, no matter how my career is doing. No matter what happens, true happiness will come from those who love you the most. They will be the ones who support you no matter what happens to your career. We should all keep that in mind, and give the love they deserve. And if you don't find happiness from them, like you did when you first got married or had children, then it's time for everyone to sit down, evaluate the situation, and listen to each other. But of course, remember to do things that make you happy, such as taking a bath, curling up with a good book, or sleeping in.

Always keep in mind true happiness in your life. No one plans to be unhappy with their marriage and family 15 years down the road. Sometimes it just...happens. But it doesn't have to. I'm only recently found my balance of happiness within school. I'm someone who stresses over the little things. It's been very tough for me these past few years, but when I look at everything that has happened so far in my life,I'm thankful that the ones who loved me the most, my parents, have supported me every step of the way. And by taking the time to evaluate situations, my life, and my future, I know I can make myself into a better, happier person. To live the life as someone who is satisfied with the little things, who appreciates less is more, and, most importantly, is surrounded by those whom love and care for me the most?

That's what I call "happiness".


Update (October 7): I wrote this post on the whim without pause, so I apologize if it was incoherent. I haven't taken any photos since the start of the semester because I purposely left my camera at home. However, I'll be doing a "Pillow Talk" series where I discuss serious topics on my mind and talk about my life.

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