There are countless stories about how we ought to live our lives. We are expected to be ambitious; to want to be wealthy, successful and well educated; to get married, be monogamous and have kids. These social narratives can make our lives easier, by providing guidelines for behaviour, and they might sometimes make us happier, too. But they are, at their heart, stories – and ones that may not have originated with present-day people in mind. As such, many of these stories end up creating a kind of social dissonance whereby, perversely, they cause more harm than good.
Indeed. I’ve been very fortunate in the last few years to have completed “the American Dream”, so to speak. Married with a child, a dog, a nice house, and a decent job. Do I feel successful?
No. If anything, I feel more fragile than ever before. My mortgage is the first debt I’ve had in 11 years. Before the mortgage, everything was paid for in cash. Even the cars I’ve had in Japan were paid for in cash (via a bank transfer, of course). By avoiding debt, I avoided the paycheque-to-paycheque problem that consumes so many families in North America. This also made it possible to save money.
However, with a mortgage, I’m now $373,000 in debt despite putting $65,000 down ahead of time to lower the borrowed amount. When I moved to Japan, Reiko and I had just $7,500 in the bank combined. 10+ years of hard work, diligent saving, and not wasting the things we bought made it possible to have all the nice things we enjoy today. Yet I don’t feel successful …The money, job, marriage myth: are you happy yet?