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I remember thinking that finding happiness would be instantaneous once I left my career behind. After all, work was the time-suck in my life that was holding me back.
Back in 2010, I was crushed when I had to go back to work after the short vacation I took once my daughter was born. My 9-5 was in the way of everything and I wanted out.
Fast forward to my first day of early retirement on January 1, 2019, and I was finally there. Finding happiness no longer needed to be a mission because I no longer had 40-50 hours of work and commuting time in the way, right?
Well, sort of.
Without a doubt, I can say that I’m tremendously happier now that work is no longer in the way. However, there’s a lot more to this puzzle of life and it turns out that thinking happiness will just drop in your lap once you leave the rat race is a little shortsighted.
Money can’t buy happiness… or can it?
At one point in the conversation, they were talking about money and happiness. The idea that money can’t buy happiness was being discussed and then JL said something I thought was extremely insightful:
“Money by itself doesn’t make you happy, but the lack of money can make you unhappy.”–JL Collins
If you’re interested, you can listen to this below at about the 50:12 minute mark…
He also mentioned that:
“Once you have enough, it plays an ever-diminishing role in your happiness.”–JL Collins
I was in the middle of working out at the gym when I heard this and had to just stop what I was doing and rewind. I replayed it again and was fascinated – he summed this up so eloquently and accurately in those two simple sentences.
It’s absolutely true – money can’t buy happiness, but it can remove some of the obstacles to make it easier to find it.
Reaching financial independence and early retirement doesn’t mean that everything on the path to happiness suddenly becomes a reality in life. Sure, you now have a lot more time and freedom, but you still need to figure out what makes you happy… that’s the hard part of the journey.
As an aside, JL Collins wrote what I consider to be the best book on investing in the stock market that I’ve ever read. It’s clear, concise, logical, and easy to understand. If you want to understand how to invest intelligently, be sure to check out The Simple Path to Wealth. This is the book I recommend to all my friends and family when asked for advice.
Finding happiness in life
Ok, so if money isn’t the problem, is finding happiness even possible?
Whoa, whoa, whoa. First off, I never said money isn’t the issue. What I’m telling you is that money isn’t the only problem.
Having enough money to cover your expenses (essentially being financially independent) means you no longer have to worry about money. That’s a big deal because the stress of money (or more accurately, from the lack of money) is a big cause of problems in our lives. According to the American Psychological Association, 72% of Americans reported feeling stressed about money at least some of the time in the prior month… that’s a significant amount of time to have this weight on your shoulders!
So the good news is that financial independence can free you from that burden. And if you’re Fat FIRE (adding even more padding to your nest egg), money likely becomes even less of an issue. For instance, even though we’re financially independent, I still need to keep an eye on our spending and portfolio probably a little closer than someone who’s Fat FIRE.
The bad news is that finding happiness still needs to be on your radar regardless.
You still need to figure out your life’s purpose. For some, that might not be a huge driving factor – maybe you’ll be content with just taking up a few hobbies and spending time with friends and family.
For others, there might be a massive pull to do something bigger… a void in your life. Perhaps that void can be filled by giving back and doing volunteer work for a cause you strongly support.
Or maybe it’s taking things a step further and starting a business or philanthropy to bring you joy. And with many folks, building or creating things can bring that feeling of satisfaction.
I struggle with this quite a bit. I’ve been early retired for over two years now and still have restless nights because I know in my heart that there’s something more that I need to be doing.
I’ve sort of put that on the back-burner right now though because I want to spend as much time with my daughter now while she’s still young. That’s time I can’t get back later and also the reason I wanted to leave the old 9-5 to begin with. Once she’s older, then I can start focusing on a new mission in life.
So my happiness factor has gone up tremendously since I no longer have the burden of a regular job and can spend so much time with my family. However, there’s still something missing – something I’ll need to do at some point down the line. And it will happen, folks!
Putting in the work
Here’s something you might not have considered… even though you leave one job, you still have another. That job is to put in the work to reach your goals, whatever they might be.
Finding happiness isn’t going to just drop in your lap.
My daughter, Faith, can’t stand it when Lisa and I discuss the details of where we’re going to move, things we’ll need to do, and other considerations. She doesn’t want to think about leaving Boquete, which is fair. But like I tell her, things don’t just happen – you need to plan and take action first.
One of my goals to do once I retired was to get in better shape. Lack of time was always the excuse while I was working. With the former career by the wayside, I was ready to get fit.
Now, I’ll tell you, I hate working out with a passion. But I’m seeing results (finally!) and it boosts my happiness level to know that I’m in better shape. So I head to the gym and work out 5 days a week.
Would I rather just sit around, drink beer, and watch some action movies, romcoms, or chick flicks all day? Absolutely. However, that might make me happy for a short while, but over the long run, I’d just be disappointed in myself for squandering away my time.
Uh, and yes, I do love old chick flicks and romantic comedies – “Mean Girls”, “The Notebook”, “She’s All That”, “Can’t Hardly Wait”, “Sleepless in Seattle”, “13 Going on 30”, “A Cinderella Story”, “Can’t Buy Me Love”, whatever. In fact, I’ll just go out on a limb and say that any old movie with Rachel McAdams, Meg Ryan, Hilary Duff, or Lindsay Lohan is an automatic winner in my book.
But I love any good movie. “Zack Snyder’s Justice League”, “Raya and the Last Dragon”, “The Mitchells vs the Machines”, and “Soul”, are some of the more recent ones I’ve enjoyed (can you tell we watch a lot of family movies?). And I’ll take a “Die Hard” or “Expendables” movie any day.
So yes, I do take some time periodically to watch a good movie or to have a beer (or two!), but that’s a small portion of my life. Knowing I’m working to get better at something is generally more fulfilling to me.
Even if there’s something fun to do, you still need to be the catalyst to make it happen. A perfect example of this is traveling. We love to travel and we do a lot of it. We have a blast visiting new places by car, plane, or boat… but we still need to put in the work to plan it and make it a reality.
We use credit card rewards to pay for a lot of our travel – free flights, free hotel stays, etc. That in itself involves some strategy and planning. But then there’s coordinating everything to fall into place correctly (planes, hotels, etc.), the actual booking of the travel, researching to have some ideas on what to do at the destination, and more.
Traveling is fantastic but you still need to put in the work to make it happen. The good news is that once you’re booked, the happiness shows up even before the actual trip as one of my wonderful readers commented in an earlier post:
“While most of us know that buying experiences is better for happiness than buying things, the less talked about thing is that anticipating those experiences is a big part of the enjoyment as well.”— Mr. Life Outside the Maze from Life Outside the Maze
Any new hobby needs the same attention. I’m excited to learn to play the harmonica in the near future, but I also know that I’m going to suck at it for a while and will need to work at it to get better. I know it’ll be fun because I’m looking forward to it, but I still will need to practice a lot.
Financial independence is phenomenal but finding happiness once you get there is up to you.
Finding happiness requires balance and compromise
There’s no doubt that finding happiness once you leave the rat race is going to be a different journey for everyone. Some folks will be content with less on the agenda whereas some will need more. Some people will be content with keeping things as they are while others want to experience more adventure.
In my case, I thrive on change. I think it’s the only way to grow and become a better person. Lisa, however, doesn’t like change – she’s good with it when she does it but would usually prefer not to take the plunge at all.
Moving to Panama is a perfect example. I came up with the idea but I left it alone after our visit in 2017. After a few days back in the U.S., Lisa randomly just said, “Yeah, I think I could do this. We should try living in Panama.”
That was a lot for her… but it’s all about compromise. That’s also why I suggested that we take things just one year at a time. It’s all about balance and compromise.
It’s also the reason why I still have so many things I want to carry out in early retirement but feel like it’s going so slow. If you have a lot you want to accomplish and also have kids you want to spend an abundant amount of time with, you’re going to struggle trying to fit it all in.
Finding happiness means finding the right balance and enjoying the moment… every moment you can. If you master that, you’ll one day die with few regrets and a smile on your face.
Financial independence doesn’t guarantee happiness – the ball’s in your court for this. But taking the money factor out of the equation knocks out part of the battle. We all want to be happy in life but it’s up to you to figure out what you need to do to make that happen.
I thought I’d end with a quote that sums up a lot of why we enjoy doing new things on our journey of happiness…
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”— Mark Twain [Samuel Clemens]
Do you think finding happiness after leaving the rat race can be easy or is it something you need to work at to make happen?
Plan well, take action, and live your best life!
Thanks for reading!!