"We only get to play this game one time. We have one life."
I'm mindlessly scrolling through social media, a habit I have been trying to kick, when I see a meme about money. I'm generally curious every time I see finance-related memes. This particular meme said, “I'm stuck between saving money and YOLO."
I quietly laugh to myself because I recognize this for what it is, a false dichotomy for humor's sake. However, it didn't take long for me to realize that the popularity of this kind of meme is dangerous. Whereas I can recognize this as a false dichotomy, many people don't. Many will see these as our only two options and suffer from the tough choice they imagine having to make.
On the surface, this sounds like a true dilemma. Should I enjoy life? Or should I save my money for some future that may never come?
Once you dig a little bit deeper, however, you realize that these are the two extremes. We should not spend all of our money in the present nor save all of our money for the future.
We have to strike a balance.
You Only Live Once (YOLO)
The idea that we only live once is nothing new. Abbreviating this idea as YOLO and throwing a hashtag in front of it is pretty new.
You only live once. It's four simple words that are surprisingly profound. It means that you get one shot at life. There are no do-overs. You’re lucky enough to be born on a rock that is spinning in circles and flying around a star - the only rock we know of that supports life. You get a few dozen trips around our star, and then it's time to leave.
This idea’s profoundness has led to the justification of various kinds of bad behavior, at least what we would call bad behavior in the long run. You don't want to save any money for the future? That's okay, YOLO! You don't want to work at your job because you got yelled at? That’s okay, YOLO! You want to spend your time only on enjoyable things because you don't like feeling discomfort? That's okay, YOLO!
YOLO is a profound idea that is used as justification for hedonism.
You Only Live in the Present Moment
Mindfulness has become a popular term as of late. Mindfulness, and the way we practice mindfulness (mindfulness meditation), have been around for ages, but are now being shown scientifically to be beneficial.
One of the ideas that come from mindfulness is that all we have is the present moment. The past only exists as a memory in our head. The future only exists as anticipation in our head. We can only experience the present moment. You have never experienced something in the past; you have only experienced something in a past present moment.
A useful idea that comes from a present moment focus is that we get to choose what to pay attention to. Recognizing that so much of our lives are lost agonizing about something that happened in the past or worrying about something that may happen in the future is helpful. It helps us bring our attention back to the present moment. Recognizing our thoughts with non-judgmental awareness will help us be more mindful and alleviate some of that suffering.
However, it's a misapplication of the present-moment-is-all-we-have idea that is at the core of the YOLO trend.
Too Much Focus on Present You - YOLO
If all we have is the present, and the future it's not guaranteed, then we might as well have some fun. That's the pitch, anyway. How bad would it be if you put off having fun until tomorrow and then didn’t live to see tomorrow? This seems to be many people's justification for ignoring the future. Many of us know somebody who experienced some bad luck; somebody who died six months after retiring or otherwise could not enjoy the fruits of their labor.
Unfortunately, we seem to be bad at understanding the odds of living into the future.
Future You Will (Likely) Exist
You will almost certainly be alive tomorrow. That is not guaranteed, of course, but it's highly likely. Indeed, all we have is the present moment, but it is more accurate to say that all we have RIGHT NOW is the present moment. There will be future present moments. If we waste all of our resources (money, time, talent energy, etc.) on one version of our present selves, we deprive all future versions of ourselves.
We have to take care of not only ourselves in the present but also ourselves in the future.
Too Much Focus on Future You - Saving
When people put too much focus on their present selves, it's often because they've heard some story about somebody who could not enjoy themselves at some future time. This becomes their justification for putting too much emphasis on their present self.
But it's misguided.
They seem to choose as their reference point somebody who put too much emphasis on the future version of himself. You know this person. A classic example is Ebenezer Scrooge. Putting too much emphasis on the future means that we don't enjoy the present.
It’s just as bad to neglect your present self as it is to neglect the future versions of yourself.
Balancing Present You and Future You
It’s important to strike a balance between the present moment and your future present moments.
Of course it's important to live in the moment and enjoy life. But that's not an excuse to steal from the future version of yourself.
Of course it's important to create a margin of safety and save for the future so that you can take care of your future selves. But that's not an excuse to deprive yourself of satisfaction in the present.
Yes, you only live once. But that includes your entire lifetime. Live in the present, but prepare for the future. You want to be able to enjoy living in the present, in the future.
You only have one life. Live intentionally.
Related Money Health® Reading
References and Influences
Gilbert, Dan: The Psychology of Your Future Self
Harris, Sam: Death and the Present Moment
Harris, Sam: Waking Up
Kinder, George: A Golden Civilization
Kinder, George: Transforming Suffering into Wisdom
Klontz, Brad, and Ted Klontz: Mind Over Money
Lindsay, James A.: Life in Light of Death
Millburn, Joshua Fields, and Ryan Nicodemus: Essential
Newcomb, Sarah: Loaded
Scott, S.J., and Barrie Davenport: 10-Minute Mindfulness
Solomon, Sheldon, Jeff Greenberg, and Tom Pyszczynski: The Worm at the Core
Veres, Bob: The New Profession
Wallace, David Foster: This is Water
Yalom, Irvin D.: Staring at the Sun
Note: Above is a list of references that I intentionally looked at while writing this post. It is not meant to be a definitive list of everything that influenced by thinking and writing. It's very likely that I left something out. If you notice something that you think I left out, please let me know; I will be happy to update the list.