We need to take back YOLO. Or redefine it. I’m not really sure quite what it was meant to mean when it first started, but it seems like it probably began as such an innocently positive concept: you only live once, so you must enjoy it. Sounds so simple, and to be honest, the reason the idea has been perpetuated and celebrated is because it rings so very true to nearly everyone who hears it. You should be enjoying life, or at very least striving for an enjoyable life if circumstances beyond your control have made it unenjoyable.
But I think we’re past the point where we’ve accepted YOLO as an empty, blanket-statement advising everyone to live their lives to the fullest by essentially avoiding important responsibilities (financial and otherwise), being reckless, and generally doing things that can really only be justified by saying “Hey, ~you only live once~ so I have to do this! Haha!” We understand that our choices and decisions and actions actually affect us. More importantly, we understand that they affect those around us, and therefore shouldn’t value instant, personal satisfaction over all other factors that might need to be considered when a decision is being made. It sounds fun to shout “yolooooo” and do what you want, but choices need to be made with a little more care than that.
But there’s another version of this concept. There is a tame, responsible version of Yolo which preaches a much more responsible and universal truth: you do only live once (we think?), you should enjoy your life, but you truly should be doing it in a careful, sustainable way that allows for in-the-moment satisfaction as well as setting you up for a safe, secure, healthy future. Which is to say that you probably shouldn’t be damaging your credit score, or damaging your relationships, or justifying spending your last $100 on shoes instead of groceries because ~yolo~, but rather should be carefully tending to and honoring the things you need to do in order to keep your life strong, secure, and satisfying for the long-haul rather than valuing instant gratification over everything else. But good news: there are so many different ways for you to demonstrate that in your daily life, and to learn the process of doing things that feel good in the moment but also set you up for a good overall quality of life, and prevent you from making decisions that are loads of fun for an hour and leave you questioning your existence a day later.
Here are six things you can do
1. Keep your home clean, and aesthetically appealing (for you). Because you’ll feel happier to be in it, and subsequently, you will spend more time in it. But also because it will truly feel like treating yourself, when in reality, you’re just doing the responsible adult thing of treating your living space with the care and respect it takes to maintain it. It feels easy and nice to tell yourself “meh, I don’t feel like washing my dishes, I’ll toss ’em in the sink and deal with it tomorrow!” and put it off another day, but an even kinder thing to do is to face the task immediately and keep on top of your shit before it gets out of hand. It really feels like an indulgence to have things like clean baseboards and a sink that isn’t overflowing with filthy dishes and appliances that are clean and smell nice and run smoothly, but in reality, these are just the basic adult things you should be doing to maintain your space and prevent things from falling so ragged that they need constant care or immediate replacement.
2. Budget experiential activities into your life in a careful and calculated way, and only truly invest in the ones that truly bring you joy. Don’t let yourself feel guilty about attending these events that you responsibly built into your life. It is easy to fall into the habit of mindlessly RSVP’ing “yes” to every event invitation, every concert, every party, every expensive night out at the bar because you’re young and you “should be enjoying life.” But it is easy to look back and count at least a handful of events you woke up the next morning from, shrugging and wondering why you spent $50 that you could have saved to have a subpar time at an event you were less than thrilled to attend but justified with some sort of YOLO-inspired reasoning. And we have certainly been taught to believe that “experiences” will never be regrettable, and that they are more worthwhile to spend money on than “things.” But at the end of the day, spending money on that which will genuinely add value to your life — whether it be an experience or a thing — is a much better policy to live by.
3. Acknowledge and be aware of habits you have that are actually dangerous. Let those ones go. Also acknowledge and be aware of the habits that aren’t great for you and shouldn’t be in excess, but which you can get away with in moderation (like drinking alcohol, eating McDonalds for dinner, or going out and partying when you should be studying. Allow yourself to indulge in them on occasion — and allow yourself to indulge in them guilt-free when you do.
4. When you want to, spend the money you have and can spare on things that truly serve no purpose beyond looking beautiful and making you feel happy. This can range from an expensive handbag to a decor piece that isn’t functional but which looks pretty sitting on a shelf. Allow yourself to make room in your life for things that bring you pleasure and have no purpose other than bringing you pleasure — but do it in a way that respects your financial plans and priorities. That nice handbag won’t bring you joy if you put yourself into debt to buy it. It’ll just serve as a reminder of what you gave up in favor of instant gratification.
5. Practice the type of self-care that includes preparing and protecting yourself from future problems. Build your emergency fund. Contribute to a retirement account. Automate payments and set calendar reminders. Take care of your financial life so it will take care of you when disaster strikes. I think a lot of us have been under the false assumption that there is only one type of self-care, and it is the bath-bomb-and-Netflix type that requires a relaxing break from real-world responsibilities. And while there is definitely a place for it (I personally believe that type of self-care should be built into your daily life), there is a big-picture version of self-care which involves staring tasks and troubles in the face rather than soaking them away in the tub. This type of self-care isn’t instantly-gratifying, and it doesn’t feel relaxing in-practice, but it is the type of thing that lifts hundreds of pounds of weight off of your shoulders when you tick it off of your to-do list.
6. Do what you said you would do when you said you would do it. Being a person with follow-through will bring you much further than the instant gratification of procrastinating on a task you said you’d get done because you don’t feel like it in the moment. In a lot of ways, this ties back to the self-care movement. While it feels like the most comfortable and safe thing to do in the moment, withdrawing from responsibilities — especially ones that involve other human people — is often something that will create more trouble rather than actually solving the root of any temporary issue. There are always exceptions to this type of rule. Obviously, if you have an illness or a family emergency or something that could not be expected or prevented, you may find yourself canceling plans or letting people down. The important thing here is to make sure you are a person who always does what they can, and what they say they will. No one wants a friend who flakes on them constantly and justifies it to themselves as an act of self-care. That isn’t self-care — it is self-sabotage.
Mary writes every day for TFD, and tweets every day for her own personal fulfillment. Talk to her about money and life at firstname.lastname@example.org!
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