• Optimistic Thom

The Easiest Way to Self-Sabotage Your Happiness

Updated: May 15

Cards on the table, I don’t have the secret to eternal happiness, and I would be lying if I thought there was one out there.

What I do have some authority in, however, is something I think we all know a little about. I know how you can take any kind of genuine fulfillment you currently have and ultimately destroy it, all by yourself.

It starts with Americanism, a term that’s been around for a good while. In 1928, a humour columnist defined Americanism as the following:

“Americanism: Using the money you haven’t earned to buy things you don’t need to impress people you don’t like.” — Robert Quillen

I found this definition when going down an information rabbit hole last week, 2:00 am on a work night. The search came about after contemplating the idea of buying a brand new car, as mine had recently broken down on what would have been a beautiful Sunday morning. Anyway, in my search for a new ride, I found bountiful options. Brand new, slick designs with built-in apps that will tell you when you are dehydrated.

The new cars I was looking at, all came with one common denominator, they were luxury, giving a level of status to whoever owned them.

With a new vehicle, my friends and family would all believe I was ahead in life. If you don’t know, I’ll admit this status is important to me, and I’m sure it’s essential to most people out there, even if we don’t like realizing it.

In one purchase decision, I would go from the guy always bumming rides and taking the bus, to the guy with a slick new ride, who always knew when he needed to hydrate. Stay with me here as I’m almost getting to the point.

Being the broke twenty-something I am, I then began to look more into costs. They were doable, don’t get me wrong, I would just have to downsize my daily coffee buy, and maybe sell a kidney.


You know, doable.

Realistically a new car would probably involve me taking a corporate consulting job, as opposed to the non-profit marketing position I work at now, while also putting my dreams of getting my masters on hold.

Initially, I felt it was worth it, as life is full of sacrifices and blah blah blah. Really, I just wanted to convince myself to buy a cool new car. But then I started to think about the bigger picture, looking at the happiness my money was buying me, and in that curiosity, I found Americanism.


A Note On Status-Related Purchases

You see, there are two ways to say I’m buying a new car.

Statement one, “To afford the payments for this amazing new vehicle, I found a better paying job and decided to hold off on my masters for now, but I’m still keeping it on my radar.” Not bad, right? Probably a similar statement a lot of people make, convincing themselves to make lifestyle sacrifices for their status.

Okay, statement two,

“I gave up a job I loved for a higher paying, soul-sucking position that pays so well, I’ll probably never be able to leave. Oh, and I put my education-related dreams on hold indefinitely. I did this all so I could afford something that’ll be new for 12 months, so my friends think I’m cool.”

Okay, I’ll admit that’s about the bleakest picture I could paint, but you get my point. Basically, I realized I was thinking about giving up a job I loved along with my dream, all to afford something that will represent high status for what, maybe a year?

It was 2:00 AM when I realized:

If you stop giving a shit about your status among others, you create the opportunity to build space for a life that actually makes you happy.

Before my current position, I worked in government for almost a year. In government work, I saw many people stuck in a job they hated, living an unfulfilling life, all to hold on to the arbitrary status created by their material things.

The term ‘golden handcuffs’ comes to mind, and I think it really does a life like this justice. It comes down to the fact we unknowingly trick ourselves to making sacrifices of the life that genuinely gives us fulfillment, for a life in which society tells us it will make us happy.

We believe the higher paying job, and the brand new cars are going to keep bringing us joy, where in reality, that joy is never sustainable.

I look at people who have devoted their lives to this unsustainable form of happiness as the best way to remind myself that it is not the life I want. On paper, it may seem excellent, but it’s devoid of experience, risk, real relationships, and passion.

It’s painting by numbers to impress as many people in our lives as possible, without ever considering if this is the life we actually desire.

In order not to self sabotage your happiness, understand this is unapologetically your life, and you should never put your status above that which gives you true fulfillment.

To be cliche, you only get one go at all of this, so do what makes you happy. Oh, and also, don’t buy a new car unless you can afford it. It’s the worst investment you’ll ever make.

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©2020 by Optimistic Thom