This is what I think of when I envision people describing themselves as “happy”:
Liars: people who are so unhappy, and so uncomfortable with being unhappy, that they feel the constant need to insist that they are in fact, happy (see: Social Media).
Self-unaware people: naïve people, people who don’t understand their own feelings, or what other less charitable commenters would call “grinning idiots” (but not me)
Salespeople: who tell you they are happy, ask if you are happy, then offer to sell you something that will make you happy, just like them
Pursuing happiness is a sucker’s game. Why? You will never be truly happy, because no one is in a perpetual state of joy, with the possible exception of bipolar people in their manic phases (and these never end well). There are, however, a few things that will help you enjoy life more – things that financial independence can deliver for you (or at least, they’ve delivered for me):
- Resilience: setbacks are easy to bounce back from; medical issues don’t come with the additional worries of lost wages; if you lose your job you can take your time getting a new one, waiting for the right one
- Positive environmental impact: I’m not talking about using less carbon, although a lot of FI-ers tend to favor Teslas. I’m talking about being less of a burden on the people in your life. For starters, of course, you don’t have to borrow money from anyone. But also, you can do what they want to do, regardless of cost. Want to celebrate someone’s milestone with a fancy meal? Sure why not? A destination wedding? We’re in! You can also treat with worry every now and then. Also, if you are someone’s child, you don’t need to mooch off your parents. And if you’re a parent, vice-versa.
- Calmness/a good night’s sleep – stock market down 20%? Layoffs at work? Need $10k in dental work? Who literally cares? With a passive income stream (or ample savings) covering your monthly expenses, you can blithely continue doing whatever it is you’ve been doing, without being bothered by minutiae like Fed decisions or the status of the China trade talks
- Experimentation – this is my favorite benefit of FI. With financial independence, you can take, nay embrace, risks. In your professional life, financial life, entrepreneurial life. You can stake your career on a risky new venture. You can place bets on high risk, high return investments. And sometimes they pay off. And even if they don’t, the mere possibility adds a frisson of excitement to life.
- Life satisfaction – tragically, one way in which we (and society) inevitably measure ourselves is through our net worth. And achieving FI means that on some level, you did something right in life. So there’s less time spent “proving yourself” – which itself can entail some pretty bad decision and embarrassing behavior (see: desperate humblebrag social media posts). No more of that needed when you become financially independent.
Which is not to say “achieve FI and you will be happy all the time”. As I said, life will still deliver ups and downs – and like everyone you’ll have good and bad days. But maybe a few more good days than bad, and maybe those bad days will be a little easier to take.
And if you still believe that you need to be happy, just look to the French. They are among the least happy people in the world, damn proud of it, and seem to be getting along just fine (miserably).
Have you abandoned the fools errand of pursuing happiness? And are you, ironically, happier for it? Tell me about it in the comments below.