Jim’s motto was “You only live once.” He didn’t want to miss out on a good time. If there was fun to be had, Jim wanted his share of it. He made his decisions based on what felt right in the moment. He ate, drank, smoked, and otherwise ingested what he wanted whenever he could get his hands on it. He stayed up late. He refused to wake up early. He went to every party he could find. He was an adrenaline junky, never backing down from a dare. He slept with anyone who would have him. He chased whatever his body craved. He had more fun than anyone he knew.

Deep down, Jim did want a stable job, family, home, and all those “normal” things someday, but he told himself that there would be plenty of time for all of that later. While he was young, he was going to make the most of every second and try to pack as much fun in as possible.

Jim’s teens and twenties were a blur. He amassed an unrivaled collection of empty bottles and pop-tops and was quite proud of the notches on his bedpost.

By the time Jim was 30, he was having as much “fun” as ever and he was also miserable. Casual sex offered no more than a quick high, leaving him unsatisfied over the long run. He could mix a great cocktail and drink and smoke with the best, but he also had a long list of substance-induced problems that made him question if it was all worth it. Jim’s finances were a mess and his professional prospects were even worse. He was in considerable debt and spent his money as soon as he made it. He could manage to get an entry-level job, but was beaten out for every promotion by someone who, if he allowed himself to admit it, was more reliable and qualified. He knew a lot of people but didn’t have many real friends. His happiest friends, the people he admired most, had slowed way down and he rarely ever ran into them at parties anymore.

Jim admitted he was lost. In his pursuit of fun he had missed out on joy. He realized he had been chasing a mirage. By living for today he had failed to consider what his life would be like tomorrow.

He knew it was time to reconsider things.

Jim’s mistake is a common one. It is easy to fall into a pattern of pursuing short-term pleasure at the expense of our long-term contentment.

Living a happy, loving, and deeply gratifying life requires prudence. Lewis defined prudence as “taking the trouble to think out what you are doing and what is likely to come out of it.” Prudence protects us from seeking out those things that are sweet but not satisfying, teaching us that not all types of fun are ultimately fulfilling. 

Professional Success

However one defines a successful career (e.g., money earned, records set, people served, etc.), it is unlikely that any of us will be successful unless we are prudent. Yes, having talent is also important but it only sets the stage for success, it does not get anyone there on its own. A professional athlete who can run faster, jump higher, and throw farther than any other will not find success if he is not forward thinking enough to eat well, exercise, practice, and refine his abilities by learning from coaches. Success will elude the businesswoman with incredible intelligence and great ideas if she does not plan, strategize, and consider both the short and long-term effects of her decisions. In professional settings, prudence optimizes our chances of success by compelling us to make wise decisions that help us make the most of our talents.

Quality of Life

Cordova et al. (2007) wrote an article on quality of life that speaks to the important role prudence plays in helping people get their needs met and improving their well-being. They not only identified human needs and values that determine quality of life, but they also identified the various ways these needs are satisfied. For example, the human need for subsistence (i.e., food, shelter, and other life sustaining services) is met through cooperation with others, application of knowledge and physical labor, and the availability of resources. Without prudence, humans are not thoughtful, strategic, and collaborative in ways that help in the search for food, construction of shelter, and establishment of stability. Other needs like security (e.g., rules of conduct) and participation (i.e., making meaningful contributions to the world) are also more easily met with the thoughtfulness and wisdom that characterize a prudent life.

Developing Prudence

Although it may be a struggle, we can learn to adopt the considerate, reflective, shrewd, and farsighted characteristics of a prudent person. We become prudent by considering the future and avoiding the temptation to be reckless, careless, and lazy. Any struggles we face and sacrifices we make during this process will be well worth it. For if we are successful in becoming more prudent, we will likely find happiness and success that can only be achieved when we learn to make the most of the moment while keeping one eye on what is ahead.