Big Goals Vs Happiness

I’ve been thinking about 2 ideas that are floating around: “Live rich on less” which became more popular after the Four Hour Workweek came out. The other is that you want what you want and you don’t have to justify or rationalize it. This idea is promoted by Dan Sullivan.

With the first concept, the justification of your desires, compromise is almost always inevitable unless you want very little or already have more than you desire. It is much like the Parable of the Mexican Fisherman where the businessman on vacation tries to convince the fisherman to work really hard for 20 years to build a fortune just so he can end up with the life he already has.

I recently heard Tony Robbins use the example of a guy who wanted to make $100,000,000. Then Tony asked him to describe what life he would have with all that money. Tony says he named off owning a private jet and other very expensive luxury items such as vacation homes. Then Tony talks the guy into realizing he could have all those experiences he desired for $10 million to $15 million or about 10% of his initial desires.

Tim Ferriss covered this in the Four Hour Workweek with dreamlining. Tim says that people don’t want to ‘be’ rich, they want the lifestyle that they think being rich will give them. You do the dreamlining exercise and you’ll discover that you need far less money to live the lifestyle you desired.

My contention is that if you focus on happiness, you’ll dull your ambitions. To be happy, you’ll need about 10% of whatever you initially stated as a goal. Every time you go to justify your desires, you’ll be convinced to lower your goals because you don’t need that much to be happy. When you justify your desires, you’ll be like that Mexican fisherman who was already content with his life and there would be no need to strive for more.

Dan Sullivan is promoting that you don’t need to justify your desires — “you want what you want.” I see this as a perfect attitude for ambition especially gargantuan, unbridled ambition. When you don’t justify your desires, you don’t need to analyze them. You can simply pursue them. However, not analyzing your desires tends to lead to discontent, which is a good thing if you desire to achieve what only a fraction of a percent of the world has ever accomplished.

I have a client who has goal that would put him in the top 0.00001% of the US population and about 0.000001% of the world population. (There are only about 5000 people in the US with the net worth he is shooting for and a population of about 370 million.)

I warned him that if this is truly his desire, he has to watch out for contentment. Luxury will most likely dull his ambition. He also has another strike against him — he’s already tasted the good life on 1/1000th of his goal. He knows what it’s like to travel the world, partake of luxury resorts, and the freedom of making a very good living anywhere in the world.

If he went into a gargantuan goal and only believed that it and it alone would make him happy without analyzing what would really make him happy then he would have a better chance of reaching his goal. In our work together, we put in a framework to determine if what he is doing is preventing or even slowing down his progress toward that goal.

These two concepts: the ‘living rich on less’ and the ‘want what you want’, aren’t mutually exclusive, but they might as well be. If you realize that you can have the good life (whatever your definition) on less than you desire, you probably won’t do whatever it takes to get what you desire.

If you go after what you desire without analyzing it, then you’ll blindly work to get it and may end up unhappy once you’ve gotten there as it will require many sacrifices to get what you want. This is a common lament among very successful and ambitious people. They worked all their lives to achieve the thing(s) they most desired and when they finally got it, they felt hollow.

The book, How To Get Rich by Felix Dennis, gives excellent insight into how the pursuit of a desire above all else affects a person and the people around him. Most giant fortunes have the consequences described in the book.

I’ll address this counterpoint because you might think it. Unicorns do happen. Lotteries are won. You can point to billionaires today that became vastly wealthy in just a few years without all the sacrifice because the wealth occurred so rapidly that they didn’t have to struggle for it. If you go into your desires and goals with a lottery ticket mentality, then you’ll most assuredly not achieve it.

Now that I’ve described the conflict between these seemingly sensible ideas, you can be more conscious of your desires. Are you seeking happiness and contentment or are you going after what you want without justification?

Neither one is morally superior to the other.

It is okay to want what you want even if that is happiness and contentment.

If you want to make what you consider a “living” and have a digital nomad lifestyle owning only what fits in a backpack, then do it. Don’t let others tell you to set higher goals if you’re happy.

If you want to be one of the richest people on the planet and own more homes than you can visit, then go for it. Don’t let others convince you that you can be happy by living rich on less.

Your goals, desires and ambitions are your own. Don’t let anyone convince you to alter your desires or exchange what you desire for someone else’s desires.

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