A Brief History of “Lifestyle Design”
The term “Lifestyle Design” was invented by Timothy Ferriss in his bestselling book and blog The 4-hour work week. The fundamental idea (and it’s an extremely exciting one) is that any of us can, by following the directions in the book, free ourselves from financial dependence on our job, develop a business that will support us while working less than a day a week, and then spend the rest of our life doing the things we love and/or we are passionate about. Timothy himself spends his time (when he isn’t writing or lecturing) traveling the globe in search of adventures and pursuing his hobbies, that include international Tango dance competitions and professional-level wrestling. Some of his accomplishments in these areas are almost unbelievable.
The book is so inspiring that I am writing a Review of Timothy Ferriss’s “4-hour work-week”. I give Timothy credit for his inspiring story and his manual, however, he is not the first person to have had this idea, and his analysis of the problem of freedom (or “liberation”) is at best partial.
Enter Richard Nelson Bolles and “What Color is Your Parachute?”
The grand-daddy of “Lifestyle design” is actually Richard Bolles in his classic book “What Color is Your Parachute”, subtitled “a practical manual for job-hunters and career-changers”, that gets updated every year. The book is on the surface, about finding a job, however, it runs far, far deeper (which may explain why it’s been a bestseller for 30 years). Bolles (who was actually a former episcopalian minister) describes his underlying philosophy in an Appendix, as follows (I paraphrase): finding an occupation that uses your gifts and talents, and that you enjoy doing, and that allows you to make a contribution, is nothing other than your mission on earth. What God wants from us, more than anything, is to have a good time.
Now you may relate to the God-language or not, but the point is: the quest to find something to do (some way to spend our time) that we enjoy doing and that we can make a contribution is the most important task that we could ever do – a task, incidentally, that we are generally not prepared for either by our parents or by our schools and universities. This most important task – how we are to spend our lives – is, for the most part, left to accident.
Bolles addresses this problem (of finding the meaning of our lives through creative work) in various ways, including analyzing the things that bring us joy, the environments we want to work in, and the people we want to work with; and he presents a number of very practical approaches for actualizing these dreams (the greatest of which is the informational interview, which is a networking technique). However, Bolles never considered the idea, that it might be possible to not have to work at all. I actually suspect he would have been horrified by the idea, but hey, it was a different time .
Enter Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin and “Your Money of Your Life”
“Your Money or Your Life” is an equally important book, written before the internet age, about gaining control of your time and your life by becoming financially independent. The authors’ idea is to find ways to decrease your expenses and increase your income, in a way that is in alignment with your values and your life balance and therefore does not create any painful sacrifices, and then to put all your savings into long-term US government bonds, until eventually you have enough interest income to stop working altogether, a point known as financial independence (FI). Once you achieve FI (the point where your interest income equals your expenses) you are free to spend your time however you want. The technique is slow but fool-proof, and it has developed a nationwide support group network and various training guides and process manuals. As an aside, Joe Dominguez (who died of cancer) spent his life promoting simple living and the ideas in the book, and was involved in various experiments in relationship and communal lifestyle similar to what we are doing at the Trellis Community of Philadelphia. See his fascinating article The Possible Relationship.
Finally, enter Timothy Ferriss and “The four-hour work week”
This is Financial Independence on steroids: develop a product, get a website that generates enough passive income to support you, and then spend the rest of your life pursuing your passions. The idea is very compelling. The perspective that I have developed on this problem, however, the perspective from which I run my own life, is a bit different.
To begin, in my experience the problem of money (having sufficient income, passive or otherwise, so that you don’t have to do things that you don’t want to do) is only about 10% of the problem of freedom (or “liberation”). Freedom, or Liberation, is a state of mind – it’s a self-created, moment to moment experience, and it can occur at any moment and in any situation through a simple change in our thinking. The problem of liberation is the problem of meaning – of what gives life meaning. Having money can help, however, I know at least a few quite wealthy people (people who run very successful internet businesses and who have achieved financial independence) and they are not any happier than anybody else.
Martin Seligman and “Authentic Happiness”
The psychologist Martin Seligman (author of many best-selling books including “Authentic Happiness”, “Learned Optimism” and others) discovered in his research that money is completely uncorrelated to any measure of happiness. In fact, he found out that there were only a few things that correlated to happiness with any statistical significance. Can you guess what they are? The first was marriage (or, the quality of one’s primary relationship). The second was the presence of faith (the presence of a belief system that gives meaning to one’s life). The third (less strong than the first two) was the presence of a social support system (sense of belonging, of loving and being loved). Everything else was statistically insignificant, including, very surprisingly, things like one’s state of health, and having had an absent or abusive parent.
Which leads us to the inevitable conclusion…
The pursuit of money for the sake of freedom is a dangerous game to play
There are several major dangers in pursuing money for the sake of “freedom”.
The first danger is that it can become an all-consuming, obsessive preoccupation, that may take years of your life and then fail. Developing passive-income, internet-based businesses has become the obsession of an entire generation of Americans, fed by a whole class of “internet marketing gurus” who make 99% of the money generated by all the businesses that have been spawned.
The second danger is that you may get what you think you want (money), only to discover that it is not what you wanted at all. Timothy Ferriss has in many ways an enviable lifestyle, traveling the world having adventures and pursuing his hobbies. Well, quite frankly, that is a wonderful goal to have if you are 27 years old (or for someone of any age, if you have never done it before) – but it is not enough to build a life of permanent happiness and meaning.
The simple truth, that is well-known to all of us at some level, is that happiness and fulfillment have very little to do with money, or even about external success. It’s about relationship (to yourself and to the world).
For most of us, the greatest source of happiness and meaning in our lives is actually our relationships with the people around us – our spouse or partner, children, friends, co-workers, and mentors / mentees. If your goal is to live a life of purpose and meaning, rich in contribution, passionately and enjoyably engaging the world, the first step in achieving that is to look at the quality of your close relationships, and how you can improve those and also reach out and widen your network of friends and associates.
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