Is it possible that not being able to plan the life ahead could lead to mental health issues? Or does trying to plan every detail of a future life cause mental health issues?

Life Plan

Government, parents and teachers share a common conviction (generally speaking) that life should be planned. 

For those who are not planners by nature this can feel very preachy, and for many create huge pressure on how they live life each and everyday.   

Advertising Plan

Advertisers pile on the pressure to plan for the life ahead; swallow exam-improving pills, take a 30-years house mortgage, start a family, contribute to a pension, and of course… the all important life insurance policy!  

Advertisers tap into fears of inadequacy to sell products that rarely fulfil the promise claimed, and normally require the purchase of a subsequent top-up product.  Planning life for advertisers entails having to keep striving for more. 

Capitalism Builds A Better Future?

Some elder people in the UK will say, and can demonstrate, a life planned is a life that is better. Others will point to regret or how life did not turn out as they intended, sometimes leading to a sanguine acceptance or deep bitterness.   (Also see Brexit post for more on this)

Capitalism, the system under which we all slave, relies heavily on people buying into a better future, generally defining ‘better’ as some material gain such as a new phone, sofa, car or house.  

Life Is Haphazard

Life by its very nature is haphazard. The amount of variables all living creatures need to negotiate everyday makes it none other.  It is possible to plan for an accident although the consequences of breaking a leg could be beyond anything that can actually be imagined when it happens.  

So if planning the future is paramount to living a happy, fulfilling life, when things go wrong what impact does it have on the mental capacity of an individual?  

Part of Haphazard Business is to (unscientifically) examine through conversation and posts here, whether pressure to plan long-term for the future is contributing to the rise in mental health issues across Britain.

John M

Connected Post: Abundant Choice, includes link to new American study on The Tenuous Attachments of Working-Class Men (posted 18 May 2019)


  1. Reply

    There’s a lot to unpack here. And I think that framing the question about “mental health issues” possibly drives the discussion to extreme positions. I would see mental health issues as extremes of a range of negative emotional states: general dissatisfaction, lack of control, lack of self-respect, etc.

    And I suspect there is no answer that applies equally to all people; I don’t feel able to answer for people whose perspective or circumstances I don’t share. I offer my perspective, as someone who has been very fortunate in life, as an illustration without trying to suggest it’s applicable to others.

    Your phrase “plan the life ahead” admits a wide range of possibilities, and I also feel that it may conflate a couple of distinct concerns. I’ll refer to them as “providing for the future” and “having specific goals for the future”. In my case, I’ve always wanted to achieve personal security and reduced dependence on the whims of others; i.e. to secure my place on the lower levels of Maslo’s hierarchy. In my case, this included pushing while I was quite young to own my own place: I’d had enough of the student way of being pushed from room to room, with its attendant hassle. This was a form of provision for the future, in that I new I’d need somewhere to live, but I didn’t know where I’d be living 5 years hence. Indeed, I believed that I was likely to move quite frequently, and arranged my finances in a way that I perceived would maintain my security through multiple relocations.

    Yet, I never had a plan for exactly what I’d be doing in the future. Indeed, I’ve always tended to be very opportunist, going with possibilities that presented, rather than trying to follow a life plan. And while there are certainly things I would have liked to achieve, or could have done better, I don’t feel unhappy with how things turned out. For me, the security (provision for the future) allows me to be very relaxed about not having a specific future goal. So I propose that making adequate provision for the future, and living a haphazard life, are not mutually exclusive possibilities.

    I think that some manifestations of capitalism, with advertising as its handmaiden, may be contributory to dissatisfaction and mental health issues. I think a key problem here is that expectations (future goals?) get raised beyond many people’s capacity to achieve them. I don’t say that this is an inevitable consequence of capitalism, just one that our flavour of capitalism seems to promote. Again, reflecting on my own thoughts about provision for the future, my own opportunistic nature tends to have me adjust my expectations to what I perceive is possible, rather than pushing myself to realize what I see as over-ambitious expectations. As a result, I may have not achieved everything I might have done, but I think I’m more content this way. A function of advertising is (arguably) to raise people’s expectations, and as such it might be seen as contributing to dissatisfaction and even mental health issues. For me this point about expectations was driven home at a time when I was contemplating the possibility of moving from the UK to work in USA. While it was likely that my earnings and material standard of living would be higher, I had spent enough time with friends living there to realize that even though they, too, were enjoying a good standard of living, it seemed to me that they were still something of an underclass surrounded by people who were substantially better off. I didn’t feel that this was something I wanted.

    1. Another interesting comment Graham. My question to you would be your start point in life. Did you feel secure from early life heading into later life that you had the opportunity to be ‘very opportunist’?

      Is planning to be opportunist, how you describe here as ‘living a haphazard life’ the same as a person who begins life in a haphazard household and then spend most, if not all of their life, trying to get some order or balance? The mental health angle is part of the provocation; how the mental health of a person is perceived can often be down to the society they find themselves, and a metaphor for capitalism, in many senses, not a well system.

      By coincidence a friend sent over a New York Times article on the “Haphazard Self”, which spins out of a fascinating study of working class men in America. I wrote a blog post referring to this, Abundant Choice, and ask maybe to have a read and come back to this conversation? John M

  2. Reply

    Yes indeed, I was lucky to have a secure start in life. Not “born with silver spoon” type of security, but opportunities to learn and develop in ways that I could feel confident in being able to look after myself. So, yes, this granted me the possibility to be opportunist.

    1. This comment popped up on the phone as I was sitting listening to All Party Parliamentary Committee on Ai evidence session on ‘Citizen Participation: Diversity Of Ai’. One of the panel mentioned the “abundance of certain groups is a barrier to others becoming involved in Ai”. The reference was, I am guessing more towards gender and ethnicity yet my mind was already wandering towards the early years; how early life experience and exposure limits future ambitions and opportunity? John M

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