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To Hustle or to Be Happy? That Is the Question. Or Is It?

When I lived in Greece, we had a routine.

Every morning, we’d leave our little apartment, walk down the hill through the streets lined with citrus trees and vibrant flowers, stop to grab a cappuccino, and sit in the park while our kids played.

Every. Single. Morning.

On Tuesdays, we’d grab some fresh fruit from the street market– the laiki– and eat it while we sat.

On Sundays, we did the same stroll, while everyone roasted lamb and the whole city smelled like it. My mouth still waters when I think about it.

I wrote my thesis while we were there, getting up at 6:00am to write before we went with the kids at 9:00, then working afternoons and evenings.

I still got stuff done. But it was the best work-life balance I’ve ever experienced.

Life in North America feels, well, different. It’s more hectic, more stressful. Whether this is a universal trait of North American life, or just the habits I sink into from being raised here, I don’t know.

But it’s a lot less enjoyable.

Somehow, life here consists of constant running. It’s like a hamster wheel of long commutes (before the pandemic obviously), driving everywhere, long workdays punctuated by cheesy slogans (TGIF!). After work, we rush to get home to make dinner, make lunches for the kids, maybe even take the kids to an evening activity, before we crash into bed again.

It’s exhausting.

Last summer, I was sitting in a park with a friend who recently immigrated to Canada from Burundi. I was asking him how he liked Canada.

“It’s a wonderful country,” he told me. “Everyone is very busy. You just work all the time. Because of that, it’s productive and people are wealthy. But we’re used to seeing family and friends every day. Here, you see them once a month–if that.”

I thought about how many people I consider friends, and how I’m totally happy to see them once every two months.

I thought about my family that lives all over this province, and how I get to see them once a year, if I’m lucky (and that’s without a pandemic).

Why do we hustle?

There have been times in my life when the hustle has been symbolic. I’ve loved building Roostervane on the side of whatever else I’ve done. It’s been the best type of hustle, totally rewarding and exciting.

I don’t actually think hustle and happiness are diametrically opposed. The hustle can be exciting, the thrill of a new challenge or an income boost.

But I think hustle can evolve. Hustle for me has moved from being a thing I do sometimes when there’s something to get done, to the way I live my life.

And sometimes hustling stops making you happy. Instead, it becomes misery. But you feel like the misery is worth it, because you’re chasing future happiness. The hustle, the madness of day to day that never stops, can become soul-destroying when we start to tell ourselves that happiness is something that happens someday.

Someday we’ll go to the park every morning. Someday we’ll sit and read a book. Someday.

Carolyne and I talk about our dreams all the time. A house in the country. Some land. Some passive income so that we don’t work 12 hours a day.

I could garden. She could paint.

We do some quick calculations and realize that, to build the life we want in Canada, we’d probably need a cool million.

I build programs for refugees that desperately want to get here.

But accumulating wealth in this dream country isn’t easy either.

We pay

  • $2,500/mo. for housing expenses–that’s a modest, 3-bedroom place.
  • $1,000/mo. for basic groceries to feed a family of five.
  • Another $1,000/mo. for living expenses, insurance, and a car.

These aren’t different from an average Canadian family. And that’s $54,000 just to stay in one place. Which, in case you’re keeping track, requires something like $75,000 to get that in after-tax take-home pay.

Now, we do make that and more. We’re lucky. For the life of me, I don’t know how some people survive in this country.

But that number, and all it represents, means that we keep on hustling. In the hopes of some future happiness. Happiness becomes like an investment, you put your time and energy into the bank in hopes of a future payout.

Happiness is like an index fund.

And the hustle reigns supreme.

Change it all

There inevitably comes a point where the discussion rolls around to Greece.

“Remember how happy we were?” we say.

“Life was so simple.”

But when life is simple, I get bored.

Sometimes I need the hustle. I’m an ENFP. I can’t sit still…

So like Icarus, I try to hustle neither too high or too low. Just the right balance so it doesn’t all come crashing down.

The hustle makes me really happy. It drives me.

Until it doesn’t.

Then, I try my best to choose happiness. To take a walk. To bring the kids to the park. To capture the spirit of our European life in my busy Canadian reality.

To breathe, if only for a Saturday.

And to stop thinking happiness is something we have to put monthly payments on. And instead, just go out and find it.

Oh wait, but there’s a pandemic.


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