So that was a question from a reader. She said she couldn’t understand how was it possible to seize the day, live life to the fullest, but still “take life seriously”, chase goals, be disciplined, and productive. It seemed to her that those two lifestyles can’t be compatible. You either live life like there’s no tomorrow, without goals, without constraints, just going with the flow, or you set goals, plan, and live the “boring” life.
This is a common misconception. It’s actually not an either-or situation. I’ve written a lot about it in the past, so most of my readers know that my philosophy of living life to the fullest has nothing to do with “having fun”.
Actually, it’s quite the contrary. People that really live like there’s no tomorrow are either losers (they haven’t built anything for themselves or accumulated wealth, they don’t contribute to society) or they are heirs and don’t have to worry about making a living (most of which would be losers otherwise). Most people that appear to be having a blast but are wealthy and successful actually set goals, plan, and have tremendous discipline, and good, healthy habits. Tim Ferriss is one of the most popular examples of “organized fun”.
It seems that enjoying life would be incompatible with the apparently boring tasks of planning and nurturing discipline, but it’s not. Again, it’s the opposite! Most people believe that you enjoy life when you go on vacation and can just chill, not having to think about anything at all. For these people, work cannot possibly be enjoyable, daily life sucks. How can someone have fun while working? Oh, maybe if they are millionaires or artists, right? Of course, when we talk about discipline and good habits, we’re not just talking about work, but that’s what comes to mind when people think about enjoying life – it means not being at work.
For starters, let’s begin with the fact that leisure by itself can be a tremendous waste of time. So if you don’t like your job, and then go on vacation to waste time just chilling, well, you’re wasting your whole life… When I talk about living life to the fullest, I’m not really talking about leisure… and that’s where the confusion comes from because most people associate enjoying life with pleasure.
There’s this idea that if you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong. The path to a successful life is filled with challenges that are not at all pleasurable. If we expect to have fun at all times, and if we’re not enjoying the ride, then there must be something wrong. Well, if that’s how you think you have a problem, a big dilemma. You have to chose between being a loser that only wants fun, fun, fun all the time, or you suck it up and do whatever it takes, just so you can pay to have fun later. But does it have to be that way?
I’m having a blast writing this article, and I’m working!
So the secret is to like what you do? Oh, ok, I get it!
No! That’s not the whole picture! Obviously, we should strive to be at peace with everything we do, so we enjoy our days fully, whether we’re working, socializing, relaxing, or doing house chores. However, a huge component of a truly well lived life is to break free from the hedonistic need to feel pleasure all the time. If you’re like a grown baby and you only want to have fun and enjoy things, you’ll naturally dread everything that is hard or requires discipline and focus.
There is this twisted social idea that enjoying life is doing crazy, stupid things, or things that are highly pleasurable. You’re living life to the fullest when you’re out with friends, drinking, having sex with multiple people, laughing, eating your favorite foods, and just doing cool and fun activities. Everything that is hard and “serious” is boring and is taking away from you opportunities to enjoy your life.
From a long term perspective though, all those things are a tremendous waste of time. They don’t produce results, they don’t have lasting effects, they’re just moments, memories. So when I talk about living life to the fullest, I’m not really talking about those things.
Oh Fran, ok, you’re old, so wouldn’t be doing them anyway!
Look, I’m not saying my dear millennial and gen Z readers shouldn’t socialize, drink, have sex, party, go crazy. By all means, do it. Just don’t believe you’re only enjoying life when you’re out and about, while you see the rest of your life as a boring blur of stupid responsibilities. The more fun you have building your future, the more successful you tend to become. When you make it, and, say, you decide to sail around the world for 2 years, you’ll realize how much planning and discipline goes into having that much fun! Oh, and I’m not that old, alright!
When we look back at our lives, decades into adulthood, we start noticing what turned out to be wasteful and what helped us get to where we are. I’ve had countless clients tell me about their regrets. Most of the time, they talk about wasting time thinking they were enjoying life, doing things that for most part are not even good memories, like watching TV, drinking too much, getting involved with the wrong type of people, playing video games.
Of course, some activities are important and produce life long memories. We don’t live 24 hours a day producing unforgettable, emotional memories, however. Not all pleasure is about bonding and nurturing relationships, not even relaxing from daily stress. People waste time in terrible ways with the excuse that they are enjoying life.
The most important factor to trigger change is to adjust our mindset to stop associating pleasure and leisure with the idea of a life well lived. At the same time, this is not about accepting that we must work hard first, so we can enjoy life later. If you understand that life is not about pleasure, you can achieve incredible results. You work hard because you want to, not so that you can relax “in style” later, but because you want those results really bad.
A life well lived, in my point of view, is a life where you are successful and can contribute in significant ways to society. You enjoy doing that, but your focus is not pleasuring yourself. You don’t work hard just so you can pay an expensive vacation or a fancy dinner later. You create change in the world and you enjoy the ride.