I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness lately. I suppose it’s the natural evolution of FIREy life:
- Get a job
- Get out of debt
- Retire (whatever that means)
- Work on yourself (happiness!)
Of course, we all should be working on happiness all along, but sometimes we get thrown off course with the busyness of life. You can only take so much.
Happiness is a topic I’ve been obsessed with for a while. When I retired waaaaay back in April of 2017, I thought early retirement would make me happy. My life was better, but I wasn’t any happier. (More on that below.)
This post is part 1 of a 3 part series:
- Part 1 (this post): Pondering Happiness
- Part 2 (week of October 16): Happiness Experiments
- Part 3 (week of October 23): How To Be Happy
Disclaimer!: I’m not a psychologist or expert on much of anything. I’m a nerdy, awkward dude who likes to take long walks and think. The words below come from my own thoughts and research. But I find that sometimes its more valuable to come up with your own answers. This exercise forces you to think and experiment and perhaps arrive at a deeper understanding than words from a book.
Happiness Isn’t Simple
If I could explain happiness to you in 3 sentences, I would. Then you could stop reading this blog and get on with your life. There is no simple solution. The complexity of happiness also explains why there are entire sections at the library and bookstores filled with books on the topic.
Consider all of the factors that go into happiness:
- Basic needs: shelter, food
- Genetic disposition: were you born happy or curmudgeonly?
- Work: do you like your job?
- Relationships: family, friends, community
- Environment: do you like where you live?
- Personal growth
I’ve only scratched the surface.
Thought #1: Happiness is complex with many moving parts and variables. Some of them are in our control. Others, not so much.
Happiness Is Different For Everyone
It was January in Colorado and the winter was bleak and cold. But it was fine because I was in San Diego with the family. We were at Mission Beach at sunset and the day was glorious. It was about 70 degrees and there was a gentle wind blowing off the ocean. The sun was about to dip under the waves. Everyone was content and happy. Almost everyone:
- Me: Daughter, what is wrong? Why are you so unhappy?
- Daughter: I HATE California and I HATE the beach.
- Me: You’d rather be back in Colorado where it’s freezing cold?
- Daughter: YES!!!
That was several years ago, but she still maintains her hatred for the state of California and beaches everywhere.
Thought #2: What gives you joy may be someone else’s nightmare.
Definitions Of Happiness Evolves
When I was 25 and broke and got my first paycheck from my first real job, the first thing I bought with it was a pound of ground beef. In my latter college days, I was probably food insecure. It was hard to pay for stuff with a minimum wage, part-time job. That pound of beef and the sloppy joe sandwiches I made with it made me extremely happy. I remember it like it was yesterday. Now I don’t eat much beef and when I do, is usually isn’t memorable.
Another example is driving. As a kid, I loved getting my license and first car:
Now, driving gives me stress. Everyone is in a hurry and others get mad when you’re not going fast enough for them. Sitting in traffic sucks the life out of you.
Yet another example is cars. As a kid, the idea of owning a ridiculous sports car made me happy. Now, it would just be another object that I’d have to care for, store, and insure. No thanks.
Thought #3: You change and so does your idea of happiness.
You May Not Know What Makes You Happy
I have nothing to sell you. I’m not going to take out ads to promote this blog or FIRE. If you like my words, thank you. If not, here’s something you may like better. Or this. OK, this one is ridiculous, but hilarious.
On the contrary, billions of dollars are spent every year trying to sell you:
- fast food
- cruises (*guilty*)
- toilet paper
- monster truck rallies
- political views
- lots and lot and lots of other crap you probably don’t need…
The people who create these ads are smart and know how to get you to part with your money. If you watch many of these commercials, they aren’t actually trying to sell you a product. They’re selling you the feeling you will supposedly get when you experience the product:
Thought #4: If you don’t know what makes you happy, many will have ideas for you! You’ve been warned.
You Must Work At Happiness
I quit my job way back in April of 2017. I had assumed on the day that I quit, the skies would part, the sun would come out, and I’d live the rest of my life happily hiking, biking and working on stuff in the garage. Life was certainly better, but I wasn’t any happier. I soon realized that I was relying on an external circumstance to make me happy. Most happiness comes from within.
Thought #5: Happiness just won’t show up. It takes work.
Sometimes You’re In A Rut And Don’t Know It
I spent the past 20 years of my life working on houses. Designing and building structures and spaces is pretty fun. Here’s a deck I built a couple of years ago:
I’m still not done with this house, but getting close.
I took this past summer off. I spent my time on a big road trip, hanging out with my kids, walking 25,000 steps per day, and listening to podcasts at the gym.
When fall rolled around and it was time get back to work on the house, the thought I had was this:
I don’t really want to do this anymore.
It was only after I removed myself from construction for an extended period of time that I realized it was no longer moving my needle.
Thought #6: Don’t get stuck in a rut. Try experiments in life frequently to make sure you’re in a good place. A sabbatical is a great way to facilitate this.
Happiness Is Overrated
Have you read this yet?:
Elon is a complicated human. He’s difficult to get along with and often makes insane proclamations. He’s also a brilliant industrialist who successfully started a rocket company. Very hard. He also kickstarted the switch to electric vehicles by growing Tesla into a mainstream auto company. Even harder according to Elon.
And he’s clearly not a very happy human. However if he was happy, he wouldn’t have accomplished many of the great things he’s done. He’s a bit nuts with very bad ideas sometimes, but the world is a better place because of him.
Thought #7: While the life of Elon Musk isn’t for most of us, emotions can serve to drive us.
Next: Happiness Experiments
Next week, I’ll report back on some happiness experiments. One of them involved driving this thing around southern California:
Another involved a dinner at a Michelin star restaurant.
The Corvette was interesting. The food, not so much.
Tune in next week for the juicy details.
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