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Are You A Lucky Optimist?


Are You A Lucky Optimist?Are you lucky? I don’t mean lucky in a completely random way like winning the lotto, but living a happy life kind of lucky. Do you know that 70% of lottery winners will use up all their winnings in 7 years? (This might be a made-up statistic.) Lots of people can’t hold on to their good fortune. The really lucky ones are the people that can leverage random opportunities and make a better life for themselves and their families.

Lucky Guy

I’m a very lucky guy. My life is almost ideal at the moment. I retired from my stressful engineering career in 2012 to become a stay at home dad/blogger. I spent a ton of time with our son and earn a little money online without having to answer to anyone. It isn’t perfect because life will continue to improve. Once Mrs. RB40 retires and our son goes off to college, then I’d probably stop working completely and travel a lot more.

Anyway, life is already much better than when I was stuck in a job I dislike. I was making pretty good money, but I wasn’t happy. Work was stressful and it messed me up physically and mentally. But, you know what? Even when I was mildly depressed, I still felt lucky. Life in the US is very comfortable compare to many other parts of the world. My parents and grandparents struggled a lot more than I ever did. Let me tell you a bit about them.

Lucky History

My parents came to the US in 1986 with $300 in their pockets. They managed to send 3 kids to college and they are living a comfortable lifestyle back in Thailand now. This is pretty amazing considering my dad went through a ton of obstacles when he was growing up. He was orphaned at 8 and he went to live with his uncle. The guy took 3 boys to work at his business (in exchange for food and lodging) and left 2 girls to fend for themselves. They wanted my dad to quit going to school so he can work from 5 am to 6 pm. However, he refused to quit and they withheld some meals. If you don’t work, you don’t eat. Luckily, his teachers helped him with lunches and the maid also snuck him some food. My dad persevered, placed very high in the nationwide entranced, and attended the most prestigious university in Thailand. That’s pretty amazing. My dad went through many more iffy situations than I ever did. Compare to him, my life is easy.

My maternal grandparents immigrated to Thailand with nothing in their early 20’s. Things were pretty bleak in China back then because there wasn’t enough to eat. They worked hard and purchase one ticket at a time for their parents and siblings to join them in Thailand. My grandpa started a fabric business and put 9 kids through college. He made some mistakes and lost his business when he was older, but I think he was still very lucky compared to a lot of his contemporaries. Some of his family members didn’t make it out of China. They had to endure wars and the whole Cultural Revolution mess. My grandpa was a teacher so it would have been really bad for him if he stayed in China.

For us, life is much better than for the previous generations so I can’t complain even when things are tough. 2020 is a difficult year for all of us. However, it’s only temporary. The vaccines will be available next year and life will return to a new normal. We need to stay optimistic and look forward to better days ahead.

Optimists Are Luckier

Luck is mostly about being in the right place at the right time. There are great opportunities passing by every day. Optimists keep an eye open for such opportunities and try to take advantage of them.

In 1989, my dad was working night shifts at a gas station when my mom found a listing for a tiny Thai restaurant in the newspaper. She dragged him to look at the place even when he didn’t want to go because he was sleepy. He walked in, walked through the kitchen, and decided to go for it. The previous owner wanted to focus on another business and was willing to work with an installment plan. The stars aligned and my parents were able to improve our lives immensely by becoming business owners again. (My dad was a business owner before immigrating to the US.) If he had been a pessimist, he probably would have just said it’s not worth the 45-minute drive and went to bed.

My life is fantastic after 8 years of early retirement. I’m lucky, but it took a lot of hard work to get here too. I started blogging about FIRE in 2010 and retired early in 2012. At a glance, it might look like I accomplished my goal in 2 years. However, that’s not the whole story. I worked hard, lived frugally, and invested for 16 years. The last 2 years were intense because I was blogging, working a stressful job, and we had a baby. I didn’t get much sleep back then. Luckily, Retire by 40 generated a little income and gave me the confidence to quit engineering. It wasn’t all luck, though. Anyone could have started a FIRE blog in 2010, but not many people did. I got in early and had a nice headstart.

*It isn’t too late to start a blog. Check out my guide – How to start a blog and why you should.

Control your destiny

Optimists believe they are in control of their destiny and they work hard to improve their lives. Even when things are bleak, we know there will be better days ahead. We just need to be willing to work hard, take some chances, and make some radical changes if needed. Don’t be a pessimist. The best days are ahead of us, not behind.

Did you know that optimists tend to outperform pessimists in all aspects? They are also healthier and luckier. Optimism is a learned trait, so why choose pessimism? Are you a Lucky Optimist?

Here is a book that can help you become more optimistic – Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life

Here is a bonus song to help cheer you up! 😉

Image credit – Oleg Magni

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. He spent 16 years working in computer design and enjoyed the technical work immensely. However, the job became too stressful and Joe retired from his engineering career to become a stay-at-home dad/blogger at 38. Today, he blogs about financial independence, early retirement, investing, and living a frugal lifestyle.

Passive income is the key to early retirement. This year, Joe is increasing his investment in real estate with CrowdStreet. He can invest in projects across the U.S. and diversify his real estate portfolio. There are many interesting projects available so sign up and check them out.

Joe also highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. He logs on to Personal Capital almost daily to check his cash flow and net worth. They have many useful tools that will help DIY investors analyze their portfolio and plan for retirement.

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{ 51 comments… add one }
  • Peter November 29, 2020, 7:50 am

    A very inspiring story, especially what did you dad go through …
    I totally agree optimists are way better positioned to take the most out of every situation and apply that learning in their life. Combination of curiosity and opportunistic behaviour I guess 🙂

  • Mr. Tako November 23, 2020, 1:47 am

    I’m what you might call a very unlucky optimist. It’s great to see people like yourself doing well Joe, but please remember that there are optimistic folks out there that have been beaten down hard by life… despite our optimistic view on life.

    I’m one of those folks. I try not to dwell on the bad stuff, but it hasn’t been easy. I’ve been really unlucky, and I still keep trying.

    If I wasn’t an optimist, I would have given up years ago.

  • David @iretiredyoung November 22, 2020, 7:17 am

    It’s an interesting comparison to the lottery winner. I imagine that someone who is suddenly presented with money through winnings isn’t necessarily prepared for it and therefore may not manage those circumstances well. On the other hand, someone who has worked for many years to achieve financial independence is probably more prepared, values the freedoms and changes it can provide and is likely to take steps to protect it.

  • WTK November 22, 2020, 4:59 am

    Hi Joe,

    Apart from luck, continuous effort with sheer determination of refusing to give up despite roadblock, also play a part in the journey.


  • Papa Foxtrot November 21, 2020, 8:24 am

    I personally believe in what Benjamin Franklin said: I am a strong believer in luck and I find the harder I work the more I have of it. Luck is never a truly random event, it requires persistence and tactical patience meaning you need to know when to go for a certain opportunity.

  • drplastickpicker November 21, 2020, 5:05 am

    Love this post. Wow. That is an amazing family history. Perspective is everything. There is a nurse who works in our clinic and she is amazing. Anytime anyone complains about anything, she yells back “I lived under the Communist! This is nothing!” She is definitely a lucky person. I fell lucky as I went beach cleaning the other day and found a $180 pair of almost perfect women’a Ray Ban sunglasses. I don’t even really know the brand but I sometimes like to look them up on the internet. Anyway, my mother in law is now sporting a super fancy pair. I always feel lucky too!!!

  • Katie Camel November 20, 2020, 7:03 pm

    Wow! Such an incredible story. Thank you for sharing. Your parents are certainly an inspiration for what people can accomplish in life if they’re willing to put in the effort and have the determination to achieve something. Like you, I feel quite lucky. My life hasn’t been all roses and daisies, but it’s pretty damn good these days despite all the COVID nonsense. I smile and laugh most days at work and feel blessed my gift of helping people is put to use consistently. And I get paid for it! So, yeah, I’m lucky. Happy Thanksgiving to you and here’s to optimistic outlooks, even in this dismal year!

  • Xrayvsn November 20, 2020, 3:00 am

    I think calling it luck is underselling your achievements. You were prepared and had the skills necessary to take advantage of it when the opportunity presented itself. Same with your previous generations.

    Think of how many people had the same opportunity but chose to remain complacent?

    You are right that anyone could have started a blog about FIRE back then and get a leg up on competition. But you were one of the pioneers to actually capitalize on that opportunity.

    For me I was asked by colleagues to start blogging 2 years before I actually did because I procrastinated. Who knows where I would be now if I just went ahead and did it.

  • Steveark November 19, 2020, 11:45 am

    So lucky, I’ve always felt that way. A great wife for the last 42 years. A fun and overpaid career for over 30 years. A great slightly early retirement for 5 years. Three brilliant self supporting grown kids. No debt and too much money. Lots of fun active hobbies shared with spouse and friends. Life is an undeserved awesome gift!

  • compsci2fi November 19, 2020, 8:45 am

    Definitely need to count your blessings. I’ve been extremely lucky and I like to attribute it to the choices I’ve made, but at the same time optimism that things will always work out is the key to success. Great Article

  • FullTimeFinance November 19, 2020, 8:44 am

    Not particularly lucky, more a realist with an extreme internal drive to overcome any hurdle. 2020 has been real rough for us. Has little to do with covid not that 3 kids in virtual school makes thing easier.

    But like anything else, 1 day at a time no problem lasts forever, 1 foot in front of the other. Probably not as happy as an optimist but not unhappy either.

    • retirebyforty November 19, 2020, 9:36 am

      Right. We just have to take it one day at a time. Things will get better.
      Also, I don’t know much about realists. I’ll do some research. Thanks.

  • freddy smidlap November 19, 2020, 7:15 am

    i was lucky to be adopted. i feel worse for my dad. i had opportunity by the time the world had changed from when he grew up in the 50’s. he had ability and intellect but just followed the predicted blue collar path expected.

    you’re right about the opportunities being there if you keep you eyes open. even the small ones can grow into something significant.

    • retirebyforty November 19, 2020, 9:33 am

      I think every generation has a ton of opportunities.
      Boomers – Real estate was super cheap. I would have loved to buy a nice house in CA at those prices.
      Gen X – College was affordable. The start of internet/tech.
      Xennial (?? 75 to 85) – Tech boom.
      Millenials (80 to 94) – Eh… Internet dating? I guess some generations are not as lucky as others. 😀

  • Lazy Man and Money November 19, 2020, 6:14 am

    Is it possible to be a lucky pessimist?

    I’m certainly lucky, but I’m not optimistic or happy all the time. I don’t feel like I control my destiny much. Lots of responsibilities with the kids and household limit the big chunks of free time I have. I don’t feel very much in control of my career with Google’s algorithm largely in charge of website traffic (and social media eating into every year). With COVID, I realized that I didn’t have much control over my dog sitting business.

    All of these things do add up to an overall sense of control that money will be coming in (one way or another).

    • retirebyforty November 19, 2020, 9:28 am

      I still think you need to be a little optimistic to take action. You started blogging way earlier than most people and also started the dog sitting business. A lot of people are too pessimistic to start anything, IMO.

  • Financial Fred November 19, 2020, 5:36 am

    I am definitely an optimist. To your really great stories, thank you for sharing by the way, by simply being born in Canada I feel I have won some sort of sperm lottery. I have always found to be lucky you have to be in the right place at the right time but as you were indicating you have to be optimistic to even get to that right place.

    Thanks for sharing the book recommendation. Another book to help is: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. It has some great examples and tries to help you teach others to change their mindset.

    • retirebyforty November 19, 2020, 9:26 am

      I feel very lucky my parent immigrated to the US. Although, I also think I would have been perfectly fine in Thailand.
      It’s a pretty good country to live in. Building wealth is harder there, though.
      Thanks for the recommendation. I’ll put it on my list.

  • Pauline @RFIndependence November 10, 2013, 6:20 pm

    I don’t know if I am an optimist but I am certainly not afraid of failure. Your parents weren’t either and decided to trade the safety of a paycheck for the great unknown, because they probably knew that if things didn’t work out it was no big deal, when you are hard working there is always a job for you somewhere.

    • retirebyforty November 11, 2013, 5:36 am

      When you’re making minimum wages, the only way is up. 🙂

  • Paul @ The Frugal Toad November 10, 2013, 10:40 am

    I’m an optimist at heart and have always believed that there is infinitely more good around you than bad, you just have to open your eyes because it is right in front of you. As far as luck I’m not a big believer in blind luck, I tend to believe you make your own luck! Hope you have a great weekend Joe!

  • Bryce @ Save and Conquer November 9, 2013, 9:19 pm

    I had the incredible good luck to meet my wife. I have also been lucky in my upbringing, education, and social status. Like you said, life in the US is comfortable. I have also been very unlucky when it comes to health. I’m thankful for the lucky breaks I’ve had, and I try to not let the bad things get me down.

    • retirebyforty November 11, 2013, 5:35 am

      Sorry to hear about your health. I’m very thankful for my wife and education too.

  • Dividend Mantra November 8, 2013, 6:15 pm


    Nice post.

    I think luck is important, and it’s unfortunate that we don’t all get our fair share. I think I’m incredibly lucky just to be born in the U.S. during one of the most prosperous times in human history. I mean to keep perspective here: living a life of at the expense level of the U.S. poverty line likely offers you a better lifestyle than the mightiest rulers of centuries past. For instance, I’d rather work at McDonald’s and make $9/hour and have electricity, the internet, modern transportation, access to world-class medicine, etc. than trade places with Julius Caesar.

    I look at my own situation and I’m on track to completely retire by 40 years old. You place me in a working class spot 300 years ago and I can assure you that would not be possible.

    Let’s hope our incredible luck just to be able to blog about financial success and building wealth continues! 🙂

    Best wishes.

    • retirebyforty November 9, 2013, 1:39 pm

      I think we are really lucky to live in the US too. There are so many opportunities here.
      We have our problems, but it’s mostly surmountable.
      Let’s hope our lucky streak continues. 🙂

    • insourcelife November 11, 2013, 6:53 am

      Don’t forget that 300 years ago you would probably be dead by 40. I bet a don’tdieby40.org would be more appropriate back then 🙂

      • retirebyforty November 11, 2013, 5:23 pm

        That’s true. We are living in a prosperous era. Hopefully, the world will continue to get better after we’re gone.

  • Micro November 8, 2013, 2:45 pm

    I feel I’m a lucky person in general. I think the best phrase I ever heard was luck favors the prepared. I really think that holds true because those that prepare know how to capitalize on a situation when it presents itself. Someone else could have not felt they were ready to handle running a restaurant. The preparation of being previous business owners let you parents feel comfortable jumping right in.

    • retirebyforty November 9, 2013, 1:36 pm

      That’s a fitting description. Luck favors the bold too. Sometime you just have to take a chance.

    • Paul @ The Frugal Toad November 10, 2013, 10:42 am

      Louis Pasteur – Chance favors the prepared mind One of my favorite quotes!

  • This Life On Purpose November 8, 2013, 11:50 am

    I’d say I’m a fairly optimistic person. Love hearing about your family’s challenges and successes! Very inspirational.

  • SavvyFinancialLatina November 8, 2013, 11:46 am

    We’re young but accomplishing a lot. I’m very thankful for my hubby, family, and friends. We’re about to buy our first house, and it’s both scary and exciting!

    • retirebyforty November 8, 2013, 2:09 pm

      Congratulation! I still think a house is a great first step to build wealth.

  • insourcelife November 8, 2013, 9:45 am

    I believe you make your own luck and your family story, including your own, is a great example of that. Your chances of becoming lucky are absolutely increased if you are an optimist! I consider myself an optimist and I can’t complain where I am now. While some may attribute it to luck, I know most of it came from being optimistic thus taking chances on opportunities. Those opportunities present themselves to everyone, but you need to be an optimist to act. Most people are too busy worrying about everything to even notice and then complain about “luck”.

    • retirebyforty November 8, 2013, 2:10 pm

      I think we make our own luck AND sometime we just get lucky too. 🙂 If you make your own luck, then you’ll get lucky more often than just waiting for a random chance.

  • davidmichael November 8, 2013, 9:13 am

    Joe, another great column. Fun U-Tube video.

    Today is payday at Amazon Fulfilment Center in Fernley, Nevada. The sun is out and I am still vertical and breathing after five weeks on the job. I loaded 18,000 bins last week so Santa can get a head start on Christmas. No aches and pains to report so far. Meeting lots of fascinating people who are workerbees just like me (ages 50-80’s) from all over the country. My wife and I, with new friends, celebrated last night at the Pioneer Casino with brerakfast at 7 P.M., a Bourbon and seven, and five minutes at the slot machines. Yeah! Life is good.

    • retirebyforty November 8, 2013, 2:06 pm

      I love payday. 🙂
      Your attitude is great. We have to enjoy life while we can. Do you have any plan for after the assignments are over?

  • Done by Forty November 8, 2013, 7:42 am

    Hi Joe. Thank you so much for sharing your family history and your perspective on attitude. (My mother’s side of the family has some similarities to yours.)

    I do feel incredibly lucky with my life. I have a loving wife and a good job, two dogs and caring friends, with some wealth to boot. It’s unfair how good it is, but I am not going to give any of it up just because I don’t deserve it. 🙂

    • retirebyforty November 8, 2013, 2:06 pm

      Sure, I’m glad to share. It’s fun to hear these history. I’ll tell them to our kid to make them grounded. I’m lucky with my family too. 🙂

  • Jane Savers @ Solving The Money Puzzle November 8, 2013, 7:40 am

    I am a glass half full type of person and I consider myself extremely lucky because my sons and myself are healthy and live in a good safe country (Canada).

    I would like to change a lot of things about my financial situation but I own my own home, my belly is full and the lack of retirement savings will work itself out eventually.

    Some people see the bad side of everything and I choose to distance myself from them. They will never change.

    • retirebyforty November 8, 2013, 2:05 pm

      I agree. Our lives are so much better than others, but sometime we lose sight of it. Our day to day problems are nothing compare to people in 3rd world countries.

  • Greg November 8, 2013, 6:39 am

    During my working life, as I would lead sales meetings, I would ask for a Pony Story. Basically the crux is this – Scientist were studying optimist and pessimism so they grabbed a kid that was always pessimistic and one that was always optimistic. They put the pessimist in a room with toys and candy. When they check on him he was crying. They asked him why and he said he was sick from all the candy and he had to read all the instructions for the toys and they all broke easily. Meanwhile, the scientist put the eternal optimist in a room full of horse manure. When they checked on him, he was laughing and dancing and flinging manure all around. Why are you so happy? The boy responded – with all this shit there has to be a pony in here somewhere.
    Attitude invites luck.

    • retirebyforty November 8, 2013, 2:02 pm

      Heh heh, I heard that one a while back too. I don’t think I’m that optimistic. 🙂

  • Justin @ RootofGood November 8, 2013, 6:07 am

    Life is pretty amazing. And your luck is incredible when you think back on it.

    My wife’s family escaped (literally running through the jungle) from Cambodia into Thailand and eventually made their way to the US. She was seven when she arrived here speaking no English. That didn’t stop her from pursuing a doctorate and landing a solid job. And she’s about to join me in early retirement!

    Life in America has problems. But overall, it is a rather easy life. Everything is inexpensive compared to salaries here. Cars, houses (in most places), food, gas, technology. The fact that I can retire at 33 speaks testaments to how lucky we are in the US.

    • retirebyforty November 8, 2013, 2:02 pm

      I think I’m incredibly lucky. 🙂
      Your wife’s family had a rough time. Luckily, we never had to deal with the refugee situation either.
      That’s another part that I didn’t talk much about. Not having bad things happen is incredibly lucky too.

  • Well Heeled Blog November 8, 2013, 5:29 am

    One of the best pieces of advice I’ve gotten is this: “To be successful you have to get lucky, but luck is not randomly distributed.” Which to me, means we need to 1. have the humility to acknowledge the role of luck in our successes and 2. be prepared for when we get lucky so we can take advantage of the opportunity. Another way I’ve heard it put is “luck = preparation meets opportunity.”

    • retirebyforty November 8, 2013, 1:58 pm

      That’s an interesting comment. I don’t think luck is randomly (or fairly) distributed either. Seems like rich people has a lot more luck, but poor people has some too.

  • Maverick November 8, 2013, 3:11 am

    Would like to hear more of your family background / immigration. My manager grew up in Vietnam who’s dad was a wealthy businessman running furniture, movie houses, and motorcycle sales. When the communists took over they were told what to show in the theaters, skimmed off money from all private businesses and changed currency which practically wiped them out. My manager, the son, boarded a small oar boat in the night with his wife and small child and left communist rule. He started over in the US with just a few dollars in his pocket.

    • retirebyforty November 8, 2013, 1:56 pm

      That’s a good story. I know some Vietnamese family like that too. It’s tough to start over, but many of them are doing well now. Luckily we never had to deal with wars. That’s really tough.

  • Frugal Sage November 8, 2013, 2:29 am

    I am fairly optimistic and i’d say i’m lucky. But I am a lazy person, who is fairly blasé about most things. I do not make too many mid to long term plans (beyond finance) and just take it a day at a time.

    I know what my final goals are and I know what I have to save and do, to get there. I leave the rest up to fate, and things just seem to always fall into place for me.

    This is a tough one. I think its very much a chicken and the egg sort of situation.

    For those who are financially savvy and save for a rainy day, small annoyances like a refrigerator blowing up or the car breaking down are just a mild inconvenience that you can take in your stride.

    But if those same things were to happen to someone who is struggling to make ends meet and is living from one paycheck to another. These small annoyances would quickly become a catastrophe. I can easily see how someone who goes from one disaster to another would think the world is out to get them and would become a pessimist.

    • retirebyforty November 8, 2013, 1:54 pm

      Yeah, having a little reserve is good for everyone. I can see your point too. Life is good in the western world and if you just adhere to some good rules, you won’t go wrong.

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