Planning for future events is a central plank of UK economic policy. Insurance, saving, and education are all predicated on future security and happiness. But does the cost of planning the future destroy mental health in the present?

Life Plan

Government, parents and teachers have, in general, a common conviction. Citizens, children and pupils need to plan for the future. For those who are not planners by nature, such statements can feel stressful. They can create unnecessary pressure on how people live life each day.

Over planning

Are mental health issues caused by not planning? Or does planning the future in fine detail cause mental health issues? There are no answers at the time of writing.

These are hypocritical questions. Business schools and self-claimed gurus espouse the benefits of business plans. It is important to remember that they have skin in the game. They make their money from teaching business plan formulas.

Planning is not a bad thing to do. Plans are also not crystal balls. The best plans do not know what the future will bring. Newspapers and television news was all-powerful in 2000. By 2010 the news industry was having to completely reinvent itself. News in 2020 would be almost unimaginable to a 1970s journalist.

Advertising Plan

Advertisers pile on the pressure to sell products. Buy exam-improving pills. Commit to a 30-year mortgage. Start a family. Contribute to a pension. Don’t forget the all-important life insurance policy!

Advertisers tap into fears of inadequacy. Products rarely fulfil the claimed advertised promise. Purchase a subsequent top-up product and then it will all be better is the claim. For advertising agencies, life planning entails striving for more things.

Capitalism Builds A Better Future?

Some of the UK’s older residents will say as well as demonstrate, a life planned is a better life. Others will point to regret. Life did not turn out as they intended. For some, there is a sanguine acceptance for others deep bitterness. (Also see Brexit post for more).

Capitalism, the system under which we all slave, relies heavily on people buying into a better future. The definition of ‘better’ will be some material gain. Purchase of a new phone, shirt, sofa, or car.

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.  

Is planning the future paramount to living a happy, fulfilling life? Does the time involved in planning involve missing the present? When plans don’t work out, what is the mental impact on an individual?

This journey is partly to understand whether life plans are a good idea. And whether business plans are worth the effort. Through conversation and blog posts, some of these questions might get an answer. It is important to understand whether pressure to plan long-term is contributing to rising mental health issues in Britain? If planning is a source of stress, maybe it is time for a new approach.

John M

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

4 thoughts on “HAPHAZARD LIFE PLAN

  1. 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. 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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