The older I get, the more I realize the vital importance of balance in life. Whether it is a proper balance between work and play, social and solitary, or wake and sleep, when things fall out of balance, happiness suffers. Strong emotions are tempered by their opposites; when too far out of balance, they are called emotional disorders (hint: order and balance share aspects of definition). Addictions, also, are a failing in balance between the necessity for sobriety and pursuit of necessary goals and the pursuit of an induced happiness to excess.

American culture doesn’t value balance, it values excess. From supersizing at McDonald’s to monster trucks, we have been sold the idea of America’s “greatness,” and by extension how “great” we are just to be American. Every ad preys upon our desire to attain the “American Dream” of a large house, multiple cars, and every gizmo and gadget salesmen can spin for us.

Don’t get me wrong: I have my own dreams, and they have been shaped by my culture to a certain extent. However, I also seek balance, even in my dream life. While a part of me would love to live in a sprawling mansion, if I did so it would be populated by friends, with rooms turned to communal uses (library, game room, etc.), or kept as bedrooms for friends. I don’t want that big a space for myself, it’s out of balance.

If I never strike it rich and buy a mansion, I’m content with a room share or small apartment. Room is useful, but too much becomes a hassle to keep up with. Why spend your life cleaning a 4,000 square foot home when you could halve the size (and the cleaning) to have more time for things that matter. This attitude of accepting a much smaller space also saves me a lot of money.

In most cases, balance saves a lot of time, heartache, and money. Lack of balance also causes additional stresses: addiction, over time, takes over your life, leaving you nothing but your vice; focusing on keeping up with the Jones’s can leave your finances incapable of withstanding an otherwise moderate financial crisis, leading to the loss of everything; working too much leaves you too exhausted to enjoy the spoils of your labor… in some cases, even if you have worked hard to maintain balance, life can still knock you for a loop, but a balanced life recovers more easily.

When you know what you’re working towards, it becomes easier to achieve. Instead of a vague dream (I want a house), which sales will prey on to sell you the most expensive thing they can get you to buy, have a firm grip on your dream. Bullet point the steps. Don’t just focus on the end, plan each step along the way.

If you want a college degree, first you have to apply to the college. Keep moving backward, step by step, until you figure out the first step – then take it.

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