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Why The Pursuit of Happiness is Misguided

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Why Chasing Happiness is MisguidedAre you happy? I mean right now as you’re reading this. Don’t think about it, just note it down. Hint – if you shrugged or rolled your eyes, you’re not in a happy mood. I’m going to take a wild guess that most of you are not quite happy as you’re reading this. As for me, I’m getting into the flow as I’m typing and I’m feeling pretty good, maybe even content. But not happy. Happiness is a high bar. I’m happy just a few times per day if things are going swimmingly. That’s okay because I’m at a good spot in my life. I’m content most of the time and that’s more than good enough. Anyway, I’m beginning to think that the pursuit of happiness is misguided. Oh, the horror! Someone disagreeing with our founding fathers. It is okay, we’re all entitled to our own opinions. To me, contentment is much more achievable than happiness. I’d like to hear your take, too. Leave me a comment at the end of this post.

Happy States

I’m not going to overthink happiness and contentment. I’ll just go by what it means to me and avoid researching too much. First, let’s just simplify our daily moods into 5 simple states.

  1. Happy – this is a high bar for me. Think being in love in your teenage years. You’re happy when you’re walking around grinning like a fool.
  2. Content – feeling pleasant. Going out for a walk with the family or just hanging out with friends. This is where I am when I’m in the flow. Time flies by in this state.
  3. Neutral – not happy and not sad. Just sliding by and passing the time.
  4. Dissatisfied – feeling somewhat annoyed.
  5. Miserable – Ugh! This is like being stuck in rush hour traffic for 45 minutes.

These are pretty self-explanatory. Our mood is parked in one of these states most of the time and it spikes one way or another as the day goes by. According to JD Roth @ Get Rich Slowly, happiness is 50% biological, 10% circumstantial, and 40% intentional activity. That’s quite interesting. It means we can control a good portion of our mood.

My moments of happiness

The happy state is very fleeting for me. Nowadays, I’m mostly in the content state and spike up to happy once in a while. Those moments of happiness aren’t that big either. They are just small doses of happiness from everyday life. Here are some of these moments from recent days.

  • RB40Jr scored a goal in a soccer game I was coaching. Goal!!!! That was awesome.
  • I ran the numbers and found that our net worth is closing in on our cumulative earnings. Our Lifetime Wealth Ratio is 91%, that’s the highest it had ever been. This made me happy as a money nerd. It was just a few seconds of happiness, though. Life goes on.
  • I made a fantastic Okonomiyaki (Japanese cabbage pancake), enjoyed it with an IPA (ahhh…), and posted the picture on Instagram. While these are all enjoyable, the kicker is I got a like from Donnatella Arpaia. She’s a recurring Iron Chef judge and famous food personality. Wow! That felt great. I guess this is why Instagram is addicting. Of course, I’m happy that @finsavvypanda, @genymoney, @youngfireknight, and everyone else likes my pictures, too. Thanks for the little shots of dopamine! 😉

okonomiyaki

  • I randomly discovered a new song on YouTube – Symphony by Clean Bandit. They’re good!
  • Our son got a good report card from school. Whew! He’s doing very well and we’re so proud of him. He has come a long way since he punched his kindergarten teacher in the …
  • Just lying in bed at the end of the day and chatting with Mrs. RB40 about little things. It feels great to have a partner to face life’s challenges together.

These are all little things and they made me happy in that moment. Bigger wins are great too, but those are much rarer. For example, it felt euphoric to hand in my two week notice. Driving away from the office for the last time was even better. Those big wins are very rare so I don’t count on them.

Happiness after early retirement

I’ve been thinking about contentment and happiness for a few weeks now, but I put off writing about it. Carl’s post Are You Happy? finally gave me the push to work on this. He shared how he’s not any happier after early retirement. That’s mind blowing because my life became so much better after I quit my full time job. Check out this chart I made.

Happiness Chart

The blue line was me as a corporate wage slave. A typical day started out neutral and then dropped down into simmering dissatisfaction as I arrived at work. I exercised at lunch and usually felt good for a bit. The dip into misery happened at least once per day. Then the work day closed out with a crappy commute home in rush hour traffic. Of course, I’d get into the happy state once in a while at work. For example, I was happy whenever I completed an assignment. Unfortunately, that feeling of accomplishment wasn’t a daily occurrence or even weekly.

The green line is my current life as a SAHD/blogger. Generally, I feel content throughout the day. Exercising is always good. It’s an easy way to get the blood pumping and lift your mood. I’d occasionally drops down into neutral or dissatisfied when I have to deal with some unpleasantness. These days, it’s mostly due to my mom as she is getting older and needs more help. My mood would also go up to a 5 for a bit whenever something good happens.

These two lines are pretty interesting. You could say I’m not much happier today because I still average about 2-3 moments of happiness per day. That’s the same as when I was working full time. However, that’s not looking at the whole picture. My steady state improved significantly. Instead of hovering in the dissatisfied state, I’m content most of the day.

Chasing Happiness is misguided

My conclusion is that chasing happiness is the wrong way to live. It’s not possible to be up at the happy level for any length of time. Our brain chemicals can’t maintain that elevated state. We’ll come down to one of the more neutral states even if we keep winning in life. It’s pretty much impossible to be happy all the time. That’s why I think aiming for contentment is better. It’s way easier to feel content even without a lot of stimuli.

Look at it this way – Contentment is a state of being. Happiness is a moment.

It’s nice to have happy moments, but it’s even better to be content. The pursuit of happiness will leave you dissatisfied.

What do you think? Is it misguided to chase happiness? 

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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, he hated the corporate BS. He left his engineering career behind to become a stay-at-home dad/blogger at 38. At Retire by 40, Joe focuses on financial independence, early retirement, investing, saving, and passive income.

For 2018, Joe plans to diversify his passive income by investing in US heartland real estate through RealtyShares. He has 3 rental units in Portland and he believes the local market is getting overpriced.

Joe 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 every investor analyze their portfolio and plan for retirement.

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{ 68 comments… add one }
  • Lily | The Frugal Gene April 26, 2018, 12:29 am

    AHHHHHHHHH Joe this is brilliant!!! I think you explained it really well. I think contentment is a very under used word. I guess happy sounds cute and being content sounds like a bad word in comparison.

    My entire life is contentment. I know how lucky I am. My husband is a caring fellow. He comes home from work, gives me a cheek peck, and send feelers out to see if I’m happy in the marriage from time to time. I really don’t think happy is the right word to label my feelings so I tell him I’m fine. He then gives me a mildly sad look as if I said something bad. He’s silly. I should send him this blog post.

    Happiness is a temporary state Jared.

    • retirebyforty April 26, 2018, 8:45 am

      Happiness is oversold. It’s just sounds so much better than contentment.
      You have a great life. You should tell him you’re content. 🙂
      Fine is more like neutral. I hope Jared enjoys this post. Thanks!

      • Mr. Tako April 26, 2018, 1:52 pm

        I think your dead-on about this one Joe. People throw around the word happy like it’s a permanent state of being, but it really isn’t.

        After I quit my job and “retired” I felt way happier but not “bounce up and down” happy. Mostly because there were a lot fewer of those bad work moments.

        Today I feel like the word “content” is a very good descriptor of my life. I’ve got everything I need. Improving life would actually be pretty hard.

  • Joe April 26, 2018, 12:50 am

    This is gold… 🙂

  • Accidental Fire April 26, 2018, 2:04 am

    You nailed it Joe, contentment is a better description of something to shoot for most of the time. I think many people that constantly portray an outward appearance of always being smiling and happy are often putting on a facade. Kind of like the song from Smokey Robinson, Tears of a Clown. I’m not saying that they’re not happy sometimes, but I think it’s an unreachable goal to be happy all the time, plain and simple. Also, if you don’t have any challenges in your life that bring frustration, you might not be growing like you should be.

    • retirebyforty April 26, 2018, 8:54 am

      I know a few people like that. They’re happy most of the time and they take frustration in stride. I should talk to them more and see if it’s just a facade. Some people are like that, though. They’re at a happier level more due to genetic or something.

  • Olivia April 26, 2018, 3:03 am

    I love this article. I think you’re right, as long as you’re content and happy with your life that’s all that matters. You don’t need to be balls to the walls happy all the time. Its just a usual state of being I feel 🙂

    • retirebyforty April 26, 2018, 8:56 am

      Thanks! Being happy all the time is impossible for most of us. Contentment is a much smoother state. I think it might have to do with western thinking too. Buddhism is much more mellow.

  • [email protected] April 26, 2018, 3:31 am

    Well written Joe. I think you’re right that constant happiness is impossible and being content the rest of the time is a great alternative.

    I think the founding fathers knew what they were talking about though. The persuit of happiness is exactly what we need. It’s not about being happy all the time. It’s about having the chance to make changes. It’s the freedom to chase FIRE and take a trip around the world. It’s be persuit that is (thankfully) our right. Don’t be upset if you are content and not happy all the time. Be thankful you have there freedom to try to attain those moments of happiness.

    • retirebyforty April 26, 2018, 1:35 pm

      I’m still undecided about the pursuit. It’s good that you have goals to shoot for, but we probably shouldn’t take it that seriously.

  • Chris Urbaniak @ deliberatechange.ca April 26, 2018, 3:40 am

    Good morning Joe,

    What a great article. Thank you for promoting that being happy all the time is not achievable. We should be aiming for continuous contentment.

    That’s similar to my own perspective, which is: happiness is a *feeling*, but contentment and joy are a *choice*. Regardless of our situation and how unhappy we might be feeling, we can choose to be content and experience joy in all things.

    That’s pretty bold when the “things” we’re experiencing really suck, but if we can get our minds to think that way, our lives will be so much more fulfilling.

    Of course, being content doesn’t mean sitting on your laurels and not moving forward out of a bad situation. But it does mean enjoying life and seeing the glass half full regardless of where you are, and then using that positive energy to help improve your situation.

    • retirebyforty April 26, 2018, 1:36 pm

      Thanks! That’s a good way to look at contentment. If you’re in a bad situation, then you probably aren’t content anyway.

  • Pennypincher April 26, 2018, 4:26 am

    Joe, you hit the all time lows on your funny graph- general drudgery (ha!ha!), work related BS and traffic. You forgot parking issues.
    There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way.
    Excellent post as usual!

    • retirebyforty April 26, 2018, 1:37 pm

      Thanks! Yeap, work was mostly general drudgery with very few moments of accomplishment. 🙂

      • Joe April 27, 2018, 10:37 am

        Maybe you should have changed companies, maybe even tried a start-up. I worked with some designers from Intel a long time ago, trying to convince them to fix some chipset bugs. Honestly, I don’t know how they ever got their projects done. I went to their state-of-the-art lab in Folsom, none of the engineers even knew how to work their multi-million dollar equipment! We ended up bringing our own. The bugs were some basic ones, should have been easily caught during chip verification. Even getting past security measures was a big hassle.
        I think their departments are so big, it’s hard to wade through all the bureaucracy to get stuff done, and no one needs to take initiative or responsibility.

        • retirebyforty April 27, 2018, 10:57 am

          Heh heh heh, I knew those chipset guys in Folsom.
          Yes, I should have changed employer, but there wasn’t a lot of employment options in Portland.
          The timing wasn’t right. Anyway, early retirement is working out really well so I’m happy.
          My friends at smaller companies are doing better with their employer.

          • Jeff DeWitt May 12, 2018, 7:26 am

            “Anyway, early retirement is working out really well so I’m happy.” – You mean content. Ha! RB40 – As evidenced by the earlier comments, you’ve nailed this discussion and topic! I’m actually in the middle of a book on happiness and I really like how you’ve broken out the 5 states of being and thought through this. More insightful than many books; well done!

            I’d argue most people mix up happiness and contentment. When someone asks are you happy, they are typically only thinking in terms of 2 states; yes things are going well or no, things are not going well. As you point out and even put into a great chart, in reality we are mostly in states somewhere in between the two extremes. Awesome job!

  • FullTimeFinance April 26, 2018, 4:41 am

    I guess I view of them as roughly analogous. Happiness is a scale to me. From pure joy to contentment to unhappy to miserable. To me life is about moving further along the scale as an average. But happiness is always relative to what came before or since. So I don’t believe I’d see a significant change on the pure joy end of the scale.

    • retirebyforty April 26, 2018, 1:39 pm

      Interesting take on on happiness. I guess we have to compare our current experience to something. Is that why rich people aren’t much happier?

  • Tom @ Dividends Diversify April 26, 2018, 5:03 am

    Good morning Joe. I had never really broken in down this way, but there is much wisdom to what you say. I like the chart comparing FI vs. slave work. It brought back memories. I’m always striving for what I call “inner peace”. It’s somewhere between contentment and happiness. It is very elusive. Lately, I have come to say if wife and I roll out of bed and have our good health for the day, everything else is mostly irrelevant. Tom

    • retirebyforty April 26, 2018, 1:40 pm

      Have you tried meditation? I heard that’s very good for inner peace.

  • Mr. Freaky Frugal April 26, 2018, 5:23 am

    “Anyway, I’m beginning to think that the pursuit of happiness is misguided. Oh, the horror! Someone disagreeing with our founding fathers.”

    That reminds me of a story. When I was in High School, I had Mr. Bauer for History. For some strange reason, he called anybody with long hair a “bip”. 🙂 Anyway, whenever he taught about the Declaration of Independence, he state the line your referencing above as “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Property.” I guess he thought Happiness = Property/Stuff which I now know is generally wrong.

    • retirebyforty April 26, 2018, 1:41 pm

      That’s hilarious. Maybe he’s trying to be ironic.

  • Eclipse On Fire April 26, 2018, 5:45 am

    Nailed it. This is why I love your blog Joe! Other’s sometimes paint FIRE as this fountain of Instagram style joy and it can lead to more pragmatic people believing that they are trying just a little too hard to seem happy, aka they are actually more miserable than I am. But this post makes me confident that chasing FIRE is still the right thing to do. Being content more frequently seems far more realistic than having to be happy all the time, and far more desirable.

    Awesome Post!

    • retirebyforty April 26, 2018, 1:42 pm

      Right, don’t believe everything you see on Instagram. Those people must have some issues too.
      Thanks!

  • Mike Drak April 26, 2018, 5:59 am

    Joe recently I started using a daytimer to track my workouts, nutrition etc I’m going through a period of significant habit change at the moment and in the evening I rate each day and if it was a good day for me and I was happy I give it a gold star. I love awarding myself a gold star and it makes look for things that will make me happy and also keeps me away from things that will make me unhappy. Some things that make me happy, seeing my wife smile, my son getting a good report card, going fishing, traveling to a new place, learning something new experiencing something new, taking the kids to a concert. Helping people always makes me happy. The line between contentment and happiness is blurry but both feel pretty good!

    • retirebyforty April 26, 2018, 1:43 pm

      That’s great! Keep building good habits and it will pay off. It sounds like you’re doing very well in retirement. Best wishes.

  • Ms. Frugal Asian Finance April 26, 2018, 5:59 am

    I like laying in bed and chatting with hubby in bed at the end of the day too! It’s just so relaxing and soothing for me (unless we have an argument about something).

    I’m not surprised RB40 Jr. got a great report card from school at all, considering how smart his parents are hehe. I can’t wait to get report cards for our son. I think it might be stressful, but it’d be nice to know that our kids are doing well at school 😀

    • retirebyforty April 26, 2018, 1:44 pm

      RB40Jr has problems too, but so does every kid. Nobody is perfect. I’m just happy he’s not getting sent to the principle office anymore. 🙂

  • Financial Samurai April 26, 2018, 6:44 am

    Very insightful Joe. I like the differentiation between happiness and contentment. I’m a pretty happy go lucky type of guy to begin with, so that’s genetics I guess.. I’m always joking around and poking at people to Their dismay sometimes. Actually, I joke around so often with content on my site that people actually get really pissed off!

    Work provides a lot of fulfillment, so that’s definitely something to guard against.

    I actually need a vacation from full-time parent hood and blogging. More appreciative now, but I wouldn’t say I’m happier compared to when I was working.

    Sam

    • retirebyforty April 26, 2018, 1:50 pm

      You’re lucky to be a happy go lucky guy. I’m like that usually, but bad things bring me down pretty quickly too. If everything is going well, then I’d be in the content zone.
      Yes, you should take some time off. Maybe go visit your parents for a few weeks or something like that.

      • Financial Samurai April 26, 2018, 4:02 pm

        Parents are visiting for a week right now 🙂

        It’ll be nice to travel again once our son turns 3 or 4. Hard to remember anything before then supposedly.

        • retirebyforty April 26, 2018, 4:17 pm

          That’s great! I bet they’re having a great time with their grandkid.
          Yeah, 3 or 4 is good. Not much point when they’re a baby. Too much trouble and you have to haul all kind of stuff.

        • Joe April 27, 2018, 10:46 am

          Sam, actually a great time to travel is before they turn 1. They can’t walk around and get into trouble yet!!

          My kid is 5 now and I can easily take her traveling by myself. As a family, we’ve traveled to China, Japan, Singapore, France, and by myself I’ve taken her to Italy, Mexico, and some ski trips. She remembers stuff pretty well, plus you always have pictures to show your kid.

  • [email protected] April 26, 2018, 7:06 am

    “Contentment is a state of being. Happiness is a moment” What an awesome quote! I’m often think that I’ll finally be happy if I reached FIRE…but like you said, that is a high bar to reach. We can’t constantly stay at that level. And of course, we’re not meant to be otherwise we’d want to an even higher level, so contentment is where we should strive to be.

    • retirebyforty April 27, 2018, 9:33 am

      Thanks! FIRE helped me change my life, but it’s just a tool. Don’t expect too much. 🙂

  • Helen April 26, 2018, 7:12 am

    Joe,
    Excellent article. I see your point, and it makes great sense. It really depends on how we define happiness. If it’s defined as a state, and it blurs with contentment. Anyway, being content and/or happy is great, and that’s what I pursue every day.

    I have been tracking my overall happiness index. 5 is the maximum:
    – while working, my number was 2.7. Not great, kind of miserable.
    – after retiring early, it becomes 3.9. Quite a jump. I love my retirement life.
    – one day, if I win the lottery, it would be 4.3.

    • retirebyforty April 27, 2018, 9:34 am

      I like your happiness index. It looks like early retirement worked out really well for you and I.
      I’m not sure about lottery, though. It probably won’t change my happiness level all that much.

  • Nate April 26, 2018, 8:07 am

    Stuck in traffic for 45 minutes is a breeze. Try 3 hours – WELCOME TO ATLANTA !

  • DocG April 26, 2018, 8:44 am

    I’m right on board with you. The goal is to be content and not unhappy. True happiness is a brief hit! And yeah, Clean Bandit rocks!

  • aGoodlifeMD April 26, 2018, 9:16 am

    RB40,

    These conversations about happiness (and I’ve had many) always boil down to definitions. Define Happy? To me, that is what your post is doing. You are defining happiness, saying you don’t think it’s worthy as a pursuit, and replacing it with contentment. That’s fair and I see your definitions and agree.

    However, your argument just breaks down next time you have this conversation and someone has a different set of definitions. It’s the Tower of Babel, we need to speak the same language in the realm of positive psychology, and thankfully there is a language.

    The positive psychology literature uses the term “subjective well-being” as synonymous with happiness. A scientifically accepted definition of happiness/subjective well-being is frequent positive affect, high life satisfaction and infrequent negative affect. They can be objectively measured and thus tested.

    You quote JD Roth “happiness is 50% biological, 10% circumstantial, and 40% intentional activity.” I read the referenced post. Thankfully he gives credit to Dr. Sonya Lyubomirsky who wrote the paper “Pursuing Happiness: The architecture of sustainable change” Rev of Gen Psych 2005 and spun it off into a book.

    I wrote a 3 part post series reviewing that paper if interested:
    https://agoodlifemd.com/pursuit-happiness-part-1-can-change-happiness/

    I like your post, but I argue that your “contentment” is just part of happiness. Happiness as you define it is elation, euphoria, ecstasy, jubilation, whatever… I would argue that your “contentment” is just the “frequent positive affect” part of the accepted scientific definition of happiness. Therefore, your pursuit of contentment is the pursuit of a part of happiness. I agree that one can’t and shouldn’t pursue constant euphoria.

    I prefer to go to the source for these things. I’m not expert but love to learn. There is plenty of research on this issue if you’re interested and an an engineer I thought you might appreciate some data:

    Pew Research center at pewresearch.org
    Elizabeth Dunn
    Timothy Wilson
    Robert Emmons
    Michael McCollogh
    Daniel Kahnneman
    Erzo Luttmer
    Richard Ryan
    Edward Deci
    Leaf Van Boven
    Thomas Gilovich

    If you want some papers I can email you, just let me know.

    Great topic. I especially like your line chart. I’m sure you learned a lot about yourself writing these types of posts. Things get deep quickly!
    ~GLMD

    • retirebyforty April 27, 2018, 9:40 am

      I like the term “subjective well-being” as synonymous with happiness. That’s pretty good for academia.
      Actually, my contentment is the high life satisfaction part of the equation.
      The peaks in happiness are the frequent positive effects part. I guess it’s too many things crammed in together. Well, I said at the beginning that I wasn’t going to research much for this one. It’s just off the cuff from me.
      Thank you for your input. I will read up on the sources. I like the chart too. It was fun to make.

  • LeisureFreak Tommy April 26, 2018, 9:20 am

    I’m so happy to be content! Love your happiness graph. It made me reflect on my highs and lows of rat-race-past compared to today. I will have to think some more on whether happiness is only some kind of climax event and contentment the ride and the more worthy pursuit. At the moment I am still thinking that pursuing a happiness focused life ultimately leads to having more of both contentment and happiness over the not so pleasant alternatives.

    • retirebyforty April 27, 2018, 9:41 am

      See, that’s why I can’t understand why some people aren’t any happier after ER. I guess we’re all built differently.

  • GYM April 26, 2018, 9:20 am

    This is one of the best posts from RB40 that I have read lately!! I really like the chart/graph you had ‘general drudgery’ and ‘BS meetings’. Thanks for sharing, I was just reflecting on my state of contentment while washing dishes for the third time in one day at 2pm (you know because I have to use separate dish soap for baby’s dishes like the crazy mom I am haha) and I thought that it still feels like ‘the daily grind’ having to cook, clean, wash dishes but I guess it’s not bad since I would have to do the daily grind AND work which detracts away from general contentment.

    I am my happiest and content (like top of the chart/graph all day) when I am traveling.

    • GYM April 26, 2018, 9:22 am

      Oh PS thanks for the shout out, love following your Instagram, you cook amazing dishes for the RB40 household! I know the Instagram feeling though- I once tagged @rasamalaysia (I use her recipes all the time) and she wrote a comment, I was star struck! Haha

    • retirebyforty April 27, 2018, 9:43 am

      Thanks for the compliment! 🙂 It sounds like you’re doing pretty well right now. That’s great.
      I like traveling too, but I’m sure the graph will normalize if we travel too much.

  • Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life April 26, 2018, 9:39 am

    Yes! I wrote about this 3 years ago, and then again last year (http://agaishanlife.com/2017/04/at-the-intersection-between-money-happiness-and-fulfillment/).

    I’m not happy all the time every minute and that’s normal. I’d rather be human and experience the full range of emotions knowing that what I truly need is to be content overall. That feeling of satisfaction is the bedrock on which my day to day happiness rests – that feeling that even if today sucked or yesterday sucked, tomorrow may well be better but if it’s not, I’m still content with our overall state of life. My family is generally healthy and safe, we have jobs that pay a living wage for now and that financial security as far as it goes is good, we are saving and investing to secure our future, we have wonderful friends to lean on and share our ups and downs with.

    • retirebyforty April 27, 2018, 9:44 am

      That’s a great way to look at it. I will check out your post.
      Health and safety are the foundation that happiness is built upon. You’re doing very well.

  • JasoninVancouver April 26, 2018, 10:28 am

    Re: “Happiness is a moment”… The problem I have is that I have difficulty being able to live in the moment and enjoy what’s currently happening. Part of it is due to distractions and stresses of meeting goals and the activities to support the goals. One of my key goals is a very secure financial situation. I don’t just strive for my retirement goal for the sake of early retirement but rather the things that it should hopefully represent: Being financially secure, being able to spend time with family and friends. This I hope would allow me to enjoy living in the (happy) moments more frequently.

  • jim April 26, 2018, 11:14 am

    I like the chart.

  • Steve April 26, 2018, 11:50 am

    I think you explained this very well. I too, am typically content in my life. I believe that the wanting to be happy comes from a lot of life coaches or motivational speakers that push the idea that you have to be happy all of the time to be living a good life. Could be wrong, but it seems that way. Glad to see someone agrees with me that happiness is just a bit misguided and a moment vs. a constant.

    • retirebyforty April 27, 2018, 9:45 am

      Right. You don’t have to be smiling all the time. Contentment is a good state.

  • Bob April 26, 2018, 12:14 pm

    James Madison reflected that Happiness must include Morality, and doesn’t mean everyone gets everything they want.
    “There is no maxim in my opinion which is more liable to be misapplied, and which therefore needs elucidation, than the current one that the interest of the majority is the political standard of right and wrong. Taking the word “interest” as synonymous with “ultimate happiness,” in which sense it is qualified with every necessary moral ingredient, the proposition is no doubt true. But taking it in its popular sense, as referring to the immediate augmentation of property and wealth, nothing can be more false.”

  • Wade April 26, 2018, 12:25 pm

    I am happy with our financial accomplishments. I feel we are “ahead” for our ages. 47/48.

    However, I am trapped by my job (good paying, good benefits, still work, much time).

    We are also trapped by poor weather. We live in an area that has really bad weather most of the year. This is wearing on me more and more as I head toward 50. Life is too short for long stretches of awful weather (winter).

    That said, all our family is in this area. Kids are entrenched in their schools. Oldest will attend the local state college next fall. No end in sight for the traps.

    Happiness level = Slightly dissatisfied.

    Not much to do but soldier on.

    • retirebyforty April 27, 2018, 10:08 am

      Sorry to hear about the trapped feeling. I felt like that for many years too.
      Entrenched kids is the hardest part. You’ll probably have to wait until they’re all gone. We have 10 years left here too. Try to make the best of it and find more fun things to do in the meanwhile.
      Maybe you can take a sabbatical and see if working less is a good move. Good luck!

  • Steve @ familyonfire.org April 26, 2018, 2:32 pm

    Yes fully agree. I’m not ecstatically happy all the time but I am content. If I was permanently happy what would I have to strive for?

  • Kris April 26, 2018, 4:49 pm

    Really agree on this one. I mean it sounds great to pursuit happiness but you would like to feel moments of happiness and not be constantly be in that state of mind. Shooting for contentment is what many should strive for most of the time.

  • David @iretiredyoung April 26, 2018, 11:56 pm

    As I started reading, I thought I was going to disagree with you, but it made sense exactly how you explained it. I definitely spend most of my time in the contented and happy part since achieving FIRE and retiring early. I was OK before, but for sure spend much more time in the contented and happy area now.

  • Allen April 27, 2018, 3:29 pm

    The actual pursuit itself is the fun part, but when you actually get there, it’s not all what you pictured in your mind to be.

  • Harry Bush April 27, 2018, 4:21 pm

    Random Fun Stuff……Can you be more specific…

    Does that include exercises in the bedroom?

  • Adarsh April 28, 2018, 1:34 am

    Contentment/Peace/Calmness is the ultimate destination, it’s not happiness. It is like the central position of the pendulum which is still. If the pendulum swings to one side, it has to come back the same length in the other side. If you go happy for some time, you have to feel sad also. This is the law.

  • Lily April 28, 2018, 9:43 am

    It’s interesting that you post this topic cuz that’s what I have been trying to do for years. You know I’m emotional by nature so when we were in our younger days, my mood swings up and down a lot. After becoming a mom, I knew I need to reach ‘inner peace’ in some way to give myself a break and thus for my family. I have been content for a long time and I’m very grateful until, well you know, my mom is now fighting cancer again. But we will fight together and this time I’m better prepared for her (and myself). It just so happens that our local library is offering free beginner mediation classes starting next week (talk about timing). Looking forward to catch up with you more on ‘life’ while having a beer in June. 🙂 Take care.

    • retirebyforty April 28, 2018, 10:17 pm

      Our son is very emotional too. Kids have a lot of swings. I’m trying to help him moderate it, but it’s hard. Everyone is different. Meditation is good. It helps calm me down when I used to do it. No time now, though… Talk to you soon.

  • Financial Sloth April 28, 2018, 2:53 pm

    Thanks for saying this RB40. Here is a link to a YouTuber I like that touches on this idea pretty well (explicit… but funny as hell). https://youtu.be/yWkq7btSQvs

    The point is that happiness is not the end all. We are all trying to get the most out of this life. If we somehow reached this nirvana and never deviated from that, well… that would be super boring. In fact, life without challenge or change or accomplishment is about as close to a living hell as I can imagine.

    My personal goal for FI is to allow more time and freedom to explore, challenge myself, and achieve. The more FI we are, the more guts I have to take risks and fail. Failure is fun if I learn something and get better. Being a slave from 9-5 is terrible because it forces consistency. There is little room for “big wins” and “big wins” rarely come without “big losses”. My personal FI also allows me more time to be present and witness all the different levels of emotion my children will go through. I want to experience that rollercoaster with them as they start to experience to wide and beautiful range of human emotions.

    So yeah… thanks for pointing out that happiness is overrated. At least the pursuit of it is. Happiness is great, but it is relative. Relative to all the sadness, complacency, contentment, etc. Here’s to the pursuit of life and all it has to offer. Good, bad, ugly, and happy. – FS

  • Ann M Stokman May 7, 2018, 4:50 am

    LOVE this article! So true..

  • Linda at Brooklyn Bread July 12, 2018, 10:30 am

    Wow… there is so much wisdom in this simple premise. Books and volumes and philosophy courses could highlight this one idea, and still there would probably be more ways left to contemplate it. Excellent post.

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