The Secret About Choices No One Will Tell You About
Tl;dr: choices have consequences and should be measured in terms of the impact they will have on one’s future, not on one’s present or past.
There is something I wish I had been told as a child. It’s simple yet brilliant, and regarding people’s habits in this matter, I don’t believe this principle is known by many.
Guess you guessed what we’ll talk about in this article: choices.
Why We Choose Wrong
The belief, at least in the Western world, is that people should do whatever makes them happy.
Happiness is the new meaning of life. When the billionaire lifestyle is discussed in society, with their freedom, lavish life, and endless shopping possibilities from luxury bags to the most expensive homes, someone will rather quickly object that “sure, they have money, but are they happy? Money doesn’t buy happiness”.
I believe the idea that wealth and happiness are incompatible to be motivated, if not by jealousy, at least by self-hatred.
The wealthy one is opposed to the happy one. This self-reassuring thought that “billionaires may be rich, but at least I’m happy” will dismiss any guilty thought about not being a billionaire as this way of life is not the one that should be chosen.
Happiness should be prioritized over money. And so, when we make choices, we prioritize “being happy”. Or do we?
The One-Size-Fit-All Happiness
That may sound like a presumptuous statement, but I don’t think many people know what happiness is.
Happiness was defined to me by Matthieu Ricard, a French Buddhist monk living in Nepal, biologist, writer, philosopher…and vegan (see, no one is perfect).
In one of his books, Ricard introduces the conceptualization of happiness by comparing it to pleasure.
These may be the most “Buddhistic concepts” ever and are quite important to distinguish.
So, what is pleasure? Pleasure is a glass of beer. A cigarette. Masturbation. Sugar. Gossips.
Pleasure is an immediate positive feeling originating in the practice of action with long-term negative consequences.
It’s a dopamine shoot at the beginning and a dopamine crash at the end.
Pleasure is the reward before the pain. It’s what consumerist societies are hooked on since buying sh*t is mainly driven by dopamine.
He Who Consumes Pleasure Is Not Happy
And that is because pain follows pleasure. To the cigarette succeeds the withdrawal symptom.
To the beer succeeds the hangover. To the orgasm succeeds emotional emptiness.
To sugar succeeds the sugar crash. To the gossip succeeds the emotional void.
The Buddha in fact warned extensively against pleasure, highlighting the long-term trap that it guarantees and advises a path where short-term pleasure is refused to the advantage of long-term happiness.
What Is Happiness?
Happiness is a long-term and long-lasting feeling experienced after an initial investment of effort or pain.
Happiness is publishing a book after writing for three years.
Happiness is taking a shower after the gym.
Happiness is obtaining high grades after an intensive study session.
Happiness is…you got the idea.
Where We Are Mistaken in Choices
The “choose that makes you happy” is usually wrong for two reasons: first, by “happy”, people mean “pleasured”.
Don’t know if you should go for the fruit salad or the chocolate cake?
“Choose what makes you happy” will most likely encourage you to take the chocolate cake because you know you will experience more pleasure than the fruit salad.
Second, people only look at the short-term consequences of their choices.
The Origin of “Choosing Pleasure”
Choosing pleasure is a consequence of looking at short-term consequences of choices.
Simply put, people that seek pleasure are people that can’t think in the long-term because if they did, they’d choose long-term happiness.
But they don’t.
When making a choice, we very rarely look at the mid or long-term consequences of this choice.
The message broadcast by society makes us choose that which will make us “pleasured” the fastest, instead of looking at the option that will bring in the most in the long-term.
Pleasure-based choices are the reason why people make completely irrational decisions, such as having kids while they’re broke, getting married to someone they don’t know well, getting wasted, taking heroin, studying social sciences and humanities, gambling, and more.
As little as an instant of contemplation about the long-term consequences of these choices would most likely incite most people to back off from them.
Except that we don’t, because we want “to be happy”, and we want it now, which makes us unhappy in the long-term.
I call the long-term consequences of choices the dividends of choices.
The Dividends of Choices
The dividends of a choice are the long-term consequences of a choice and it is probably the main characteristic that splits a successful person from a non-successful one.
Life is a succession of choices and not much else. It is deciding whether you’ll get out of bed or not.
Deciding what job you will take.
What subject you will study. What food you will eat.
And whether you’ll read a book, study or watch television.
The younger you are, the more important the choices you make are because these choices will impact the rest of your life.
The 85-year-old grandma’s decision to wake up or not will not significantly impact her life because it’s basically over (yeah, I know, I’m kinda cruel).
However, the 18-year old that decides to wake up to study for her entry exam in civil engineering will have a profound impact not only on her life but maybe on billions of others. \
As such, you’re not making choices for the upcoming hour.
You’re making choices for your entire life, every time. That piece of cake may well be the one that will give you cancer in 20 years.
That episode may well be the one that will hook you up to the show.
That math exercise may be the one you’ll have at the exam. You don’t know. I don’t either.
But by choosing wisely, you can considerably increase your chances for a better future.
Choosing Is Extremely Easy
Choosing is actually quite easy. A choice that rewards you directly is most likely a bad choice and you’ll end up paying a price in the long-term.
A choice that gives you the most difficulties at first is most likely a good choice because it is the one that will reward you in the future.
Overcoming obstacles develops your character, problem-solving skills, perseverance, and resilience.
It’s what makes you stronger. Those who have an easy life and always avoid adversity do not become strong and are most likely not capable to overcome the obstacles laid on their path.
This observation is what spurred Ryan Holiday to call one of his books “The obstacle is the way”.
The Bottom Line
She who chooses short-term pleasure chooses long-term misery.
She who chooses early pain chooses late happiness. Eventually, we all are the sum of our choices.
We are where we are, with the number of friends we have and the bank account we have because we have made the exact choices that led us there.
Had we made other choices, we would have ended up somewhere else, with a different life.
When I was 21, I got completely wasted and spent three hours in a loud club.
When I woke up the next day, I had tinnitus in my ear. That noise never left.
It is the first thing I hear in the morning. The last thing I hear when I go to sleep. 3 hours.
That’s all it took for a life condemned to hear a constant noise that is not going away.
That’s the extent to which the choices we make can impact our life.
Drinking. Not wearing earplugs. Spending time at night doing nothing.
We are the sum of our choices. We collect the dividends of our choices in the long-term.
Good choices make us collect good dividends. The bad choices make us collect negative dividends.
We make bad choices due to the mental pressure to choose short-term pleasure over long-term happiness and due to our incapability to contemplate the long-term consequences.
Choosing hardship over easiness, and long-term investment over short-term pleasure is what leads a person to become successful.
Don’t eat that cake.