Note: I originally sent this content to my email list last week. I received such a positive response, I decided to publish it here. This version is slightly longer.
What I write about in this post is the most important thing I learned in my journey to financial independence. Hell, it’s one of the most important things I’ve ever learned. Only took me 4 decades! Better late than never?!
I really do want you to learn from my mistakes.
This isn’t meant to be one of my normal Ask the Readers posts, but if you have thoughts, I’d love to hear them. Leave a comment or send me an email via the contact page if you’re shy.
Are you happy? Think about it. Consider yesterday:
- How many times did you smile?
- Were you happy, sad or just going through the motions?
- Did you say “Hi!” to strangers or look away?
- How did you spend your day? Did it bring you fulfillment?
- Did you go to bed content or did worry keep you awake?
- Yesterday was Sunday, so you may not have been at work. However, think about your last day at the job. Was it mostly positive or negative?
I’m asking you about happiness because I lived the wrong way for a long time. I was counting on future events to bring me happiness. These are some of the thoughts I’ve had:
When I get the raise, life is going to be better.
As soon as we move , we’re going to be in a better place.
I need a vacation to get away from my routine.
The biggest event I looked forward to was early retirement. I lived a crazy life to get there as fast as possible. I had this thought so many times, it’s probably tattooed on my brain:
When I leave work, I’m going to be so much happier!
And then I did leave work.
And then I wasn’t any happier.
Don’t get me wrong, leaving work was a good thing and the right choice. I have less stress. My health is vastly improved. Life got better. I’m incredibly grateful that I get to live this life. But, happiness didn’t automatically appear.
I think about my situation frequently because I read comments like this almost every day in the FIRE community:
- I can’t wait to leave my job!
- How do I pass the days until I’m FIREd?
- Only 8 years left to go!
I am guilty of having the same thoughts. I say “guilty” because they were all wrong. I realize now that counting on something external to bring me happiness was silly and misguided. At the age of 44, I know it now. Better late than never.
A friend who recently went through a tough stretch put it this way:
People need to learn that their happiness is their own responsibility, not anyone else’s — friends, family, or politician.
If you’re on this journey, listen up:
Don’t wish your days away.
If happiness doesn’t come naturally to you, work at it:
- Stop complaining: Instead, figure out a solution. Look at problems as opportunities.
- Control what you can control: There is a lot going on in the world, but most of it has no bearing on your life. And despite what you hear on the news, the world is as good now as it ever was. It’s also getting better.
- Practice gratitude: Be thankful for what you have.
- Do something every day to make someone else’s life a little better: This could be as simple as telling someone you appreciate them.
- Surround yourself with good people: Good people make you better, but also make you want to be better.
Find your joy. No matter what you’re doing or how much your job sucks, there is something to appreciate in each and every day. Make it all count. If something is wrong, fix it now.
So, ask yourself this now:
Are you happy?
If not, do something about it. Most importantly, realize that happiness comes from the inside. Reach down and get it.
Life is too short to live any other way.
Age is a terrible thief. Just when you’re getting the hang of life, it knocks your legs out from under you and stoops your back. –Sara Gruen, Water for Elephants
Addendum (5pm Monday): I reread this post and now I realize that it’s a bit of a downer. One thing I should have said is this: One of the great things about having more time is that you have the luxury to contemplate life, reflect and grow. My first year of FIRE wasn’t everything I expected it to be, but I’m thankful for the lessons that I learned, course corrections and all.
Epilogue: I’m no expert on any of this. I’m still working on myself. Part of my exploration is reading. I’m currently working on this one:
I was skeptical of this book when I first heard about it. Would it just be a bunch of new-age, feel-good stuff? Then, a smart, sciencey friend recommended it, so I picked it up. So far, so good.
The Graying Saver also recommended these:
A reader mentioned this one: The Purpose Driven Life
What other recommendations do you have?
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