There are two versions of you that exist. There is the person you are right now, and there is the person you will eventually become; current you, and future you. At the end of reading this article you will be future you from the perspective of current you, and you will be a different person. Time and experience make the future version of ourselves different from who we are right now in this moment. Even if we do nothing but stare blankly at a wall for four hours, the person we are at the end of that four hours has changed, even if seemingly imperceptibly. You will at the least be four hours older, and perhaps at the most, someone who has achieved a profound understanding of themselves. You could have been meditating about your life during that staring, only you know for certain. The point is, we are always changing, and the only control we have is over the direction of that change is the choices we make.
You can do nothing to change who you are right now, but the choices current you makes will determine who future you is. That sounds clunky, so let me rephrase. There are two people in your life, the person you are, and the person you will eventually become. You have the power to determine who you will eventually become, and you can ensure that version of yourself becomes who you want to be by the choices you make in the present. It can be empowering and scary to realize the kind of power you have over the direction of your life and the future you will have. You have the capacity to become what you have always wanted to be, to be the kind of person that will make you happy. Eventually, current you will be future you, and when that day comes, will you be happy?
We must side track for a moment to define happiness. Happiness is a state of being. It is a kind of joyous satisfaction with your life that comes as a result of living the virtues that make you a good person. It is not the immediate satisfaction of your most base desires in the moment that defines hedonism. Happiness does not come from consuming the bowl of ice cream; it comes from knowing that you have the power to choose if you want to eat the ice cream, and if you do, it will not ruin your health. Happiness is self-empowerment and self-control. Happiness is not spending time with people in your life; happiness is knowing the people you spend time with in your life are there because they practice the same virtues as you. Happiness is knowing that you will become the person you want to be because you are already making choices that make you more like that version of yourself every day. But, how do we achieve happiness?
The first thing we must realize is that happiness is not an achievement, and it is not a destination. It is a state of being, which means it can only be experienced. So, how do we experience happiness? We must make choices every day that make us virtuous and good people. I say virtuous and good because I believe virtue is living in accordance with your values. If you value honesty and want to be virtuous, you must be honest and truthful with yourself and the people in your life. You could value hurting other people, and thus would be virtuous by hurting other people. But that wouldn’t make you a good person. In order to be good, you must virtuous in living the values that make one a good person. Those values may be self-evident to most people, but this is short list of some of them: honesty, integrity, trust, compassion, empathy, sympathy, kindness, generosity, courage, and magnanimity. That is by no means an exhaustive list, and to provide a complete list may take a lifetime of work. Another reality is that being virtuous and good also takes a lifetime of work.
The truth is, none of us will ever be perfectly truthful, perfectly honest, perfectly empathetic, and that is OK. We are human. It is more important that we try and are dedicated in our effort to achieve virtue than it is to actually achieve the ideal. Being virtuous is a skill, and like any other skill, it must be practiced if we are ever going to be good at it. You do not have to be excessively rigorous, but it is important to have a working understanding of your virtues. Otherwise, you will not know what choices to make. If you want to be an honest person, this means you must always tell the truth, no matter how embarrassing. Sharing embarrassing truths can be hard, but there are two ways to make it easier. One, you start with easy, little truths. Perhaps you tell your friend you secretly have a crush on the awkward person that used to work in the mail room, or despite how obnoxious your boss is, you respect and appreciate them for what they are trying to accomplish in the workplace. Two, you have people in your life with which you can share your truths openly and honestly without fear of judgement or reproach because they accept and appreciate you for the person you try every day to become.
This is another truth; achieving virtue is a life-long pursuit, and you must make choices every day that direct you towards being virtuous. You must practice every day, every time you have to make a choice. No matter how small the choice is today, it will impact future you. You may think, “Ah, it’s just one cookie, what could it hurt?” but it is not just one cookie. It is a value judgement about whether or not immediate gratification is more important than long-term success. If you are trying to lose weight, saying no to the cookie today will make it easier to say no to the cookie tomorrow, and after saying no to the cookie a few days in a row, you will feel so empowered that no cookie will hold sway over you ever again. Understanding the kind of power future you has the potential to wield must be an ever present idea in your mind because it will have a profound impact on the power current you is able to exercise.
Future you will eventually be current you, and if you want future you to be happy, successful, and the culmination of your life’s biggest dreams, then it requires consistent, diligent work from current you. It is not about some singular herculean effort, rather it is about a lot of little efforts every single day. One snowflake is not capable of covering the mountain, but when enough of them accumulate over time, and their fall is consistent enough, you can build a ski resort and make a lot of money. The snowflakes are your choices, and the ski resort is your happiness. Isn’t it time you started accumulating?