Are 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Neutral – not happy and not sad. Just sliding by and passing the time.
- Dissatisfied – feeling somewhat annoyed.
- 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! 😉
- 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.
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?
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.