The highlight of my 2017 so far was a camping weekend on the NSW Central Coast with my husband, our five-year-old twins, and a close friend.
We locked our phones in the car and spent the weekend swimming, playing silly games and eating good food.
The pinnacle was swimming in the sea with the sun rising over the waves and seeing a pod of dolphins breaching just metres away.
More accurately, my friend saw them and I saw blurry shapes because I wasn’t wearing my contact lenses, but it was still magical.
When we arrived home on Sunday night, my husband remarked to me that it felt like we’d been away for much longer.
Despite the hours of driving and the hassle of putting up the tent in the harsh sun one day, only to take it down the next, it was worth it.
It was just so relaxing being immersed in nature without the constant intrusion of technology. Now that we know the children will sleep in a tent, we’ll go for longer next time.
In our modern world there are almost infinite possibilities about how to entertain ourselves and spend our recreation time.
That’s exciting but if we’re always chasing what’s shiny and new, we can forget about the simple pleasures in life.
And of course, social media makes it hard to ignore all the things we could be doing but are not doing. The result?
An epidemic of envy and FOMO – “fear of missing out” – that’s contributing to a rise in anxiety and depression.
Not all envy is bad. Psychologists distinguish between malicious envy, which can lead to destructive behaviour, and benign envy.
Benign envy can help you determine what you really want and increases your motivation to improve your own position. (That’s unless you convert it to admiration and essentially admit defeat.)
But envy can also mean that you end up measuring yourself by warped values, which is a recipe for unhappiness.
Author Mark Manson talks about this in his book The Subtle Art to Not Giving a F*ck. He illustrates it with a story about two musicians who were kicked out of their bands on the verge of the big time. They were Dave Mustaine, who was in the early line-up of Metallica, and Pete Best, who was replaced by Ringo Starr in The Beatles.
Mustaine went on to found heavy metal band Megadeth and is widely regarded as a hugely successful and influential musician – but he once admitted in an interview that he couldn’t enjoy his success because he never managed to be bigger and better than Metallica.
Best sunk into suicidal depression but ended up getting over it, retraining for a career outside showbiz, meeting his wife of the past 50-something years, and is now happy with how things turned out.
Manson argues Best is happier because he has moved on, while Mustaine is measuring himself by things he has no control over – the success of his former band.
FOMO and its counterpart YOLO – “you only live once” – is also bad for our bank balance because it can lead us to splurge on too many treats or take on unaffordable debt.
A study last year funded by ME Bank, with 1045 respondents across Australia, found nearly one in two of us spend money on the spur of the moment with little thought for the consequences. Most of these YOLO spenders spent $300 or more on their most recent impulse purchase, with nearly half using credit.
A separate study funded by Suncorp Bank interviewed 1113 Australians aged 20-29 late last year. The results suggested men in their 20s were more likely to make “now” purchases than women the same age, and spend $504 a month more on average. Men in their 20s even spend more than women on clothing and shoes.
You might think this isn’t a problem if you are spending less than you earn and paying off your credit card in full each month.
But even if it’s not sending you into debt or financial hardship, it might prevent you from reaching goals you really care about, such as buying a house or retiring debt-free.
It could be contributing to a house full of clutter where you can never find anything you need and you’re too embarrassed to invite friends over.
Or perhaps you value experiences over things but as a result you never say “no” to anything and you wind up over-scheduled and stressed.
Simplifying your life and learning to be content with having less and doing less can make you happier.
My goal this year is to focus on life’s simple pleasures. Another camping trip. Hosting friends for dinner. Playing with my children. Exercising – especially swimming. Cooking leisurely meals. Borrowing books from our local library – and returning them on time as well.
I also plan to say “no” to a few more things on behalf of my children and teach them that it’s OK not to do everything.
The thing about YOLO is it’s true – you do only live once. I’m a big believer in carpe diem, or seize the day. Don’t put off what you really want in life, because one day it will be too late.
The trick is that you need to decide what’s important. You can do the things you want most, but you can’t do all the things.
Article and Photo by: Caitlin Fitzsimmons | The Sydney Morning Herald