The idea in a nutshell: We know that what gets measured gets done. A lot of life is spent focusing on growing economic (GDP, our own wages) growth because economic growth is good for everyone. I have a different set of KPIs for my life to try and focus me on the things that are important to me. They include belly laughs and a sense of learning something.
I think most people have bumped into the undeniable fact that economic growth does not equal happiness and the number of flawed assumptions in pursuing it as our primary aim. I have covered my point of view on the subject in other articles in this blog. It’s hard to write on the topic because most of it has been said before. To keep it simple here and avoid repetition, once you have ‘enough money’, adding to how happy your life is, takes a lot more money.
What’s the alternative?
Belly laughing & other worthwhile pursuits
I realised a while ago, that one of the most essential things in life, to me, was belly laughing. If you’re not familiar with the term, it means genuinely laughing hard, ideally with a friend. Laughing makes me feel alive and happy. I guess it also cements the relationships I have with the people I share those moments. I also think it’s impossible to fake.
When I came to terms with how fundamental that was to me, I started thinking about the other things that I wanted, to be part of my life. At work, they always told me/us that what gets measured gets done. In most jobs I’ve had, I was given ‘KPIs’ are Key Performance Indicators – this is the sort of techno jargon they love to talk about. It was usually a measurable thing (like sales) which I was supposed to target and achieve. I often took it far, far too seriously.
Over time, I came to see value in the structure of having specific goals. I agree they tend to get done. Obviously, I then had to correlate two very different things. First, since I can pay my bills, working for more money is probably not a sensible way to focus my time (it won’t make me much happier). Second, I had no concrete goals for other areas of my life.
So I set some.
- Love: I am married, and my first focus is always on my wife. I am not sure she would agree with this, but I believe it does work in my favour that I started the list with our relationship. Having love in my life and a companion to share it and have adventures with is definitely something I want.
- A sense of learning: I get incredible satisfaction and enjoyment from learning new things. I love reading, listening to podcasts and discussing ideas, particularly others’ business with them. I love new technology and might even start a psychology degree through open university.
- Being within my own moral territory: I wouldn’t claim to be a saint, but I know that when I step outside what I consider to be ‘the right thing,’ I regret it. When I’ve done this in my life, it’s been a weight to carry for a long time. I would much rather avoid it in future.
- Flow: They talk about ‘flow’ sometimes on adult education courses and in more spiritual pursuits. They mean flow in the sense of being completely absorbed in the moment and being at your best. I’ve never achieved flow meditating or anything. But when we go sailing, even in the Twilights, it’s so absorbing that I usually forget everything else. That’s the closest I get to flow, and I love it
- My Goddaughter: I was lucky enough to be asked to be a Godfather years ago. Thinking about my Goddaughter and contributing to her wellbeing now and in the future is something I definitely want to do.
- Belly laughing and other physical stuff: I am not going to pretend that I am purely intellectual.
- Relationships: Researching the things which make people happy, there is one thing which comes up consistently – relationships. Good relationships are correlated more closely than any other feature with high-quality lives. Good relations even make you live longer. I know who my good friends are, in each area of life, and I prioritise things which will keep them at the top of the list.
There’s a lot of stuff which isn’t there. You’ll notice no spiritual or religious ideas are there, Family time (in a context broader than my wife ) isn’t necessary to me for reasons I won’t go into.
I think this is a fascinating subject for people to think about in the context of their own lives. I actually think it’s a lot easier for people with children. They have little option but to focus on their kids – they’re so demanding – that they necessarily build their lives around those relationships.
For the last 5 years or so, the things on the list are the things I try and optimise my life around. I literally, consciously make decisions to prioritise those things. If my wife wants to talk to me at almost any time, I will stop and listen to her until she’s finished. I buy and read books on the stuff I find interesting. I set up Google alerts / watch Ted talks and involved technical things on new subjects. When I am sailing, the most important thing to me is how much the crew are enjoying it.
It’s pretentious to pretend that the ability to focus on these things has not been created by the fact that I have been lucky enough to pay the bills. But it would be foolish to squander the opportunity that I’ve been offered.