A Modern Disease: Self-Optimization

Last week, near Koenigssee, Berchtesgaden, Bavaria.

Last week, near Koenigssee, Berchtesgaden, Bavaria.

Its been quite a while since the last post.

This has two reasons:

1) I drastically cut down on my internet activities.

The internet is a great thing, but as you probably have noticed yourself, it has also a great potential for addiction and distraction from real life. You might negate that this is the case for you, but very like it is nonetheless. If you disagree, try to turn it off for only one week, NOW.

The good thing is, there is no need for quitting. But what I tried (and will continue to try) is just to shift focus even more from conversations, discussions and experiences in the virtual world back to conversations, discussions and experiences in the real world.

E.g. I joined some “offline” groups of like-minded people who keep me quite busy, plus drastically increased outdoor activity with friends and family, plus more reading (paper books!) as well as more sports.

Look at the picture above. All internet activity, all online conversation and facebook-crap can finally not keep up with a good hike and a sunset in the mountains (and – no picture of that – a classical Bavarian Weisswurst-Breakfast with beer at sunrise on the lodge next morning). At least not for me, so I will continue to prioritize offline over online. Even if that means fewer posts or lower investment income.

I might add more details later, all I can say now (no surprise): Highly recommended.

2) I am struggling how to write this very post and am not sure if the though is finished already.

I’ll try now, but am not sure if I can bring across the thought correctly yet. Lets see.

As said a few post before I came to a point in this blog where I found that more or less all has been said on a topic that occupied me for a long time (about two years):

Downshifting, Frugal Living and the laws of happiness.

I guess if you read all the posts here, you get the picture, you will be able to get control over your spending and your time usage and about setting the stage for more happiness.

But now comes the complicated thing:

At a certain point I noticed that all this “stage setting” for happiness was in fact driven by my wish to find an algorithm, a way of life to “force happiness”.
If I am brutally honest to myself (and what other way is there when you are working at the higher stages of Maslovs pyramid?) I have to realize that I was hoping to arrange life in a way that happiness will endure “forever”. In other words I made the same mistake that so many searchers for happiness made before, I thought there is a receipt for happiness, or in other words a “religion” one has to follow to be happy. Where indeed happiness is a complicated state of being that kicks in without planning but as a side effect of things done the right way.

In my case the “religion” was a mixture of downshifting (maximizing free time), frugal living (maximizing financial independence and minimizing need to work) plus social contacts, travelling, outdoor experience etc.

In other cases (allow me to say more “trivial” cases), the religion is consumption, accumulating wealth and status, career or – closer to Woodpeckers case – things like financial independence (for the ERE community).

And now comes the complicated thought that somehow struck me one day during my two months of sabbatical in summer:

All of the downshifting and frugal living exercises do obviously not bring happiness per se, and if done wrong, they can even create unhappiness.

Don’t get me wrong, I still highly recommend downshifting and frugality as ONE way to set a good stage for happiness, as a good fundament where happiness can prosper and unfold itself.

But only under one precondition:

Most of us people today, downshifters and others alike, we should relax  a bit on our self-optimization efforts.
Actually we not only have to relax a bit, but we have to relax a lot.

I am convinced that a huge, very huge opponent of becoming happy is today’s world’s focus on self-opimization and never-ending growth (be it personal or economic). The constant urge to get better, faster and more perfect in whatever area we are concentrating on. An urge to grow and to get richer without knowing the “what for?”.

The low hanging fruits suddenly have a bad reputation, staying in your comfort zone is considered something bad and boring today, and deciding not to grow or not to develop seems not really acceptable anymore.
Whereas not to grow and not to stretch might be an excellent choice from time to time.

And, if you are honest, the treadmill that most other people tread  in their jobs and lives (putting themselves under pressure to go ever higher and further); this very treadmill can exist as well for the frugal living and the downshifters (save even more money, spend even more effective, generate even more free time).

And this is the big danger:

Than in your (perfectly reasonable) desire for leaving the job-/work-treadmill, you are merely exchanging it against the “extreme frugal”- and “extreme downshifting”- treadmill.

That you forget about the middle-way.

You calculate and count too much, you are optimizing things too grim and create another system in your mind that is as stiff as the old one.

Coming back to the middle way means concentrating on the low hanging fruits (there are many), stay in your comfort zone (this is what all sane life forms wish to do), and more than all be careful to not put yourself under too much optimization stress.

Plus two things:

1) Avoid contact to people too much concentrated on this “optimization” (they are constantly unrelaxed and their urge for self-optimization is very epidemic).

2) Avoid contact to people with significantly higher socio-economic “status” (i.e. the rich guys, the “big” guys), because it is very hard to not start comparing to them is you see them too often and as a result of the comparison you will either (a) start to self optimize again, or (b) feel depressed.
Let them life in their money world and stay in your own world. At least in my case I noticed that both conversations and activities with the rich guys are quite boring anyway – too much focussed on money and political tactics.
And definitely put all your “why-Steve-Jobs-is-such-a-great-guy-and-how-you-can-become-him”-books in the bin immediately. They are all crap and this Steve Jobs guy never struck me happy or good company anyway.

Your world is already big enough (in a way likely much bigger than most big guy’s world) and can offer a perfectly happy life if you just accept being where and what you are.

That’s it for the moment.

Hope I was somehow able to bring across my thought.