I came across an interesting story the other day while I was reading, and I thought I would share it here. It was written by John Ruskin, a 19th century writer and art critic. It definitely made me think about where I’m really going and whether I’m putting my energy into pursuits that actually matter:
I dreamed that I was at a child’s…party, in which every means of entertainment had been provided…by a wise and kind host. The children had been set free in the rooms and gardens, with no care whatever but how to pass the afternoon rejoicingly. There was music…all manner of amusing books…a workshop…a table loaded with everything nice to eat…and whatever a child could fancy…but in the midst of all this it struck two or three of the more “practical” children that they would like some of the brass-headed nails that studded the chairs, and so they set to work to pull them out. In a little while all the children, nearly, were spraining their fingers in pulling out brass-headed nails. With all that they could pull out they were not satisfied; and then everybody wanted some of somebody else’s. And at last the really “practical” and “sensible” ones declared that nothing was of any real consequence that afternoon except to get plenty of brass-headed nails. And at last they began to fight for nail heads, even though they knew they not be allowed to carry so much as one brass knob away with them. But no! It was “Who has the most nails? I must have as many as you before I leave the house or I cannot possibly go home in peace.” At last they made so much noise that I awoke, and thought to myself, “What a false dream that is of children. Children never do such foolish things. Only men do.”
Pretty sobering, huh? But it’s true. I’ve spent a lot of time around my 13 nieces and nephews, and they’re remarkably satisfied with what they have when they’re at play. But the older we get, the more time we spend putting our efforts into worthless pursuits. Like that time I was unemployed after college and decided that would be a great time to finally beat Zelda on Nintendo 64, or when I was doing my internship in college and worked so much to earn more money that I spent little time with my wife.
There’s nothing wrong with a little recreation, and there’s nothing wrong with making money. I enjoy wasting a little time watching a football or basketball game now and again. But when we spend so much time and effort doing things that take away from all the beautiful gifts we already have, happiness is not going to be the end outcome. You’ve got to figure out what your priorities are and then you’ve got to find balance.
Reading Ruskin’s dream gave me an opportunity to think about the things that matter most to me. First and foremost, my relationship with God. Second, my relationship with my wife (and, in a few months, our baby :)). All other things should be motivated by my love for those. I still want to make a lot of money in my lifetime, but I’d rather use it to help others than to buy a bunch of crap that won’t provide me with long-term happiness. I’m still going to work my butt off every day to build my freelancing career. But I don’t work nearly as much as I could because my time with my wife is sacred. In fact, on our trip to Hawaii last week, I just said “screw it” to a bunch of stuff I “had to do” so I could invest myself fully in the family.
Living on less than $1 a day
I definitely got an object lesson on this when I spent 6 weeks in Fiji doing humanitarian aid. I was working with people who were living on less than $1 a day, and yet they were super happy all the time. I saw the same thing when I went to Mexico when I was in high school. They were happy with what they had, and they put the important things first. They’re proof that you don’t need a smartphone, high-speed Internet, or even running water, to be blissfully happy.
Hopefully you enjoyed Ruskin’s dream as much as I did. And hopefully you’ll take some time to think if you’re one of those weirdos spending all your energy trying to gather brass nails that you’re missing out on enjoying life and making the most of what you already have.