As I get older I find myself sometimes reminiscing about “the good old days”. I’ll listen to music and say to myself “what is this crap”? Or I look at the state of politics and I wonder to myself “things seemed so much better back when Reagan and Clinton were running things”. I can’t be totally positive about this, but I think there are a couple of things going on here that lead me to forget that there’s never been a better time to be living than the future.
Life gets more challenging as we get older. Young people think that life gets easier as they get older because they’ll have more money to solve the dominant young person problem – being poor. But that’s not really true. As you get older more money often means more responsibility. It means more stress and perhaps even longer work hours. Although our mental fortitude is becoming firmer as we get older (as we become more experienced with life) we’re adding stresses that are constantly attacking that fortitude. At the same time our physical stresses are multiplying thanks to that bastard Father Time. Life doesn’t necessarily get easier as we get older. For a lot of people it gets harder.
Increases in living standards have blurred our expectations. It’s common to hear people say that life was easier many decades ago because we could raise a family on one wage and not feel overly burdened by this. This is true, but it’s largely the result of a time when we had much lower expectations from our lives. The paradox here is our living standards have catapulted so high that we’ve lost sense of reasonable expectations. After all, you could still live a 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s or 80’s lifestyle if you wanted to. Just throw away your computer, your cell phone, your modern car, your tv, your internet access, your modernized kitchen, downsize your house by 50% and eliminate most of the other things you probably enjoy. We’ve surrounded ourselves with incredible technological advancements that have improved our living standards, but added other burdens. After all, these modern luxuries aren’t free!
As a result of these blurred expectations we’ve come to believe that we should be able to have all these great luxuries of modern life with the one wage and big family that life before these great luxuries afforded us. But as the old saying goes, there’s no free lunch. Those great technological advancements all get paid for one way or another. We pay for them with fewer kids, more time at work, etc. And so we’re involved in a great big case of trying to have our cake and eat it too.
But don’t be fooled. Life is better and more exciting than ever. To really put things in perspective I’ll tell you a story about how I think of things in a really extreme way. I hate flying. Planes scare me for the same reason they scare most people – we have an irrational fear of air disasters even though they’re not statistically dangerous. But every time I get in a plane that takes off I think to myself “eat your heart out Leonardo Da Vinci”. Da Vinci was obsessed with flying. Oh what he would have given to be able to fly 300 mph in a metal box! Yet we experience this thousands of times every day as if it’s just part of our god given right as human beings. Look at the progress we’ve made and how we take it for granted!
Was life better when we were kids? Maybe, but as Morgan Housel recently noted:
To paraphrase Jon Stewart, the only reason you think the country was better during your childhood is because you were a kid.
— Morgan Housel (@TMFHousel) November 16, 2015
Life is certainly easier when we don’t have the stresses and demands of modern life. At the same time, those stresses are why the world has never been more exciting. We are more interconnected than ever. We have access to things that previous generations never could have fathomed. We travel the world with ease. We experience and learn about the world in previously unimaginable ways. Life is never easy. But there isn’t a more exciting time to be a human being other than right now. No, right now. No, right now….
Mr. Roche is the Founder and Chief Investment Officer of Discipline Funds.Discipline Funds is a low fee financial advisory firm with a focus on helping people be more disciplined with their finances.
He is also the author of Pragmatic Capitalism: What Every Investor Needs to Understand About Money and Finance, Understanding the Modern Monetary System and Understanding Modern Portfolio Construction.