"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.