Would You Rather Be Happy More Frequently or More Intensely?

Would you rather be happy more frequently or more intensely?Recently, my son discovered the game – would you rather? It’s a pretty silly game when you play with an 8 year old boy. Usually, he asks something childish like this.

  • Would you rather punch yourself in the face or punch yourself in the penis?

Obviously, I don’t like either of those options. They are bad choices with no upside. I’d rather avoid punching myself if possible. But occasionally, he’d come up with some good ones. We’ll get back to his questions later. First, I got a good one for you.

Would you rather be happy…

Here goes.

Would you rather be happy more frequently or more intensely?

Let use a chart to help clarify the question. (When in doubt, make a spreadsheet.)

happiness chart

Let’s look at the blue line first. We can see that this person isn’t too happy (or sad) on most days. However, their happiness spikes up to 9 occasionally. It also drops to 3 once in a while. This person experiences happiness less frequently, but more intensely.

Next, we’ll look at the red line. This person is a little happier in general. Their happiness level is relatively stable. There are no big changes from day to day.

Which one would you choose?

Would you rather be happy more frequently or more intensely?

View Results

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For me, I pick “more frequently.” I’d rather be happy more frequently than more intensely. I don’t like my happiness to be volatile. Yes, I’d miss out on the peaks, but I’m okay with that. Life is easier when my mood is relatively stable. Anyway, the average is better with the “more frequent” line.

Reframe the data

Okay, I played a trick on you. Did you catch it? Here, let me chart the data in a different way.

happiness chart weeks

Heh, see what I did there?

The blue line was my typical week when I was working full-time as an engineer.

  • Sunday – Sunday was great, but my happiness was muted because Monday was coming up.
  • Monday – Ugh! I hated Monday! It was always difficult to wake up and drag myself into the office. The happiness level dropped to 3.
  • Tuesday to Thursday – Happiness at 5. You just have to steel yourself and soldier on.
  • Friday – TGIF! My happiness ramped up.
  • Saturday – Yes! The best day of the week. I can do whatever I want and don’t have to worry about work at all.

I think this is typical for a lot of people. It’s the “work hard, play hard” lifestyle. You have to try to have an awesome Saturday after you’ve been stuck at work for 5 long days. Mrs. RB40 used to like her job more, but now she fits the pattern to a T. She might be ready to retire sooner than I thought.

The red line is my current retired life. I’m happier overall, but I don’t have those Saturday highs anymore. Most days are pretty similar to the previous ones. It’s an unglamorous early retirement lifestyle and I love it.

That’s my experience. I know it won’t be the same for everybody. You might enjoy working much more than early retirement. You’ll have to make a chart and choose your own path.

That’s all I got today. This is a short one because we’ve been very busy trying to squeeze all the fun out of the last bit of summer break. School starts in 9 days. I can’t wait!

Okay, which one did you choose? Why did you pick that? Let us know in the comment.

Bonus from RB40Jr

Would you rather…

Crash into the rope swing on purpose or by accident?

??? I said by accident.

Make a goal from half-court in basketball or from midfield in soccer?

We both said basketball. It’s way harder.

Get $1 for 200 days or $100 now?

We both said $1 for 200 days. RB40Jr said it’s more money. Actually, this one is pretty interesting. If you don’t need the money, then it’s way better to get $1 for 200 days. But if you need the money now, you’d take the $100. This just shows that we don’t need money right away.

Be rich and everyone thinks you’re poor or be poor and everyone thinks you’re rich?

Be rich, of course! Who cares what everyone thinks.

Have a great week!

Starting a blog is a great way to build your brand and generate some extra income. You can see my tutorial – How to Start A Blog and Why You Should. Check it out if you’re thinking about blogging. 

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. After 16 years of investing and saving, he achieved financial independence and retired at 38.

Passive income is the key to early retirement. This year, Joe is investing in commercial real estate with CrowdStreet. They have many projects across the USA so check them out!

Joe also highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. They have many useful tools that will help you reach financial independence.

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45 thoughts on “Would You Rather Be Happy More Frequently or More Intensely?”

  1. I would definitely rather be happy more frequently. Although it’s great to feel pure joy, pure happiness, and etc., having those feelings on a regular basis is much better for well-being than only feeling them occasionally, at least for me personally.

  2. Haha, funny responses with Junior.

    More frequently for sure, but the highest spikes mean something great is going on.

    Like seeing the birth of your child, getting a great deal on a beach home, having a post go viral. Those are great times!


  3. “More frequently” is better. That would bring much more into my life than “one great shot”.
    This question is very interesting and I believe that I would be able to be a little bit happier with the right attitude.

  4. I’d say anyone who doesn’t normally look forward to going to work on Monday morning almost as much as they look forward to Friday evening isn’t in the right job for them. For most of my career I enjoyed going to work and I loved weekends also. I know it isn’t that way for everyone but I have always wondered why not? Work can be hugely satisfying and fulfilling if it is one of your favorite hobbies.

  5. “Would you rather punch yourself in the face or punch yourself in the penis?”

    Since I’m a girl, I definitely choose being kicked in the penis — that would be someone else’s I guess 🙂

    I picked intensity and then when you showed the work week, I felt like punching myself in the face, ha ha! But, I have to say, I believe the peaks are better and it’s why I love challenges and making myself do something hard for the reward. Now that I’m out of the work world, the hard stuff is self-imposed. That makes a big difference.

  6. Well then. I’m in the serious minority here. I picked more intensely, but I guess this would have to do with where the baseline sits. I’d rather be reasonably content much of the time with spikes of exceptionality, because too much of the same and that contentment goes down, I think. Of course, this is presuming base level of “okay” versus downright unhappy.

  7. “Would you rather punch yourself in the face or punch yourself in the penis?”

    Bwahahaha. *falls down laughing*

    It’s fun to play “would you rather”. As for the happiness question, I picked more frequently, though in my situation, I never felt the “highs” in my engineering job higher than the highs in retirement. So now it’s like more frequently and more intensely 🙂

    • The Saturday highs were artificial. After working all week, we tried to have a ton of fun on Saturdays. It was good when we were young, but I prefer a smoother curve now that I’m older.
      Thanks for stopping by!

  8. I love the graph and I have a best of both worlds solution. While you are living the red line of more average happiness but then find yourself missing the excitement of the highs and lows on the blue line have your son punch you in the penis. After the pain wears off he can say I love you and you can return to the red zone but still get some of that exciting rollercoaster of emotion…blue like the line and also your…well you get the idea 😉

  9. I would guess that there is one problem in being constantly happy. One adapts to this high happiness level and after a while the same level of happiness is not going to satisfy you anymore. Therefore, some level of fluctuation is good. In the case of your normal engineering week, the fluctuation was clearly too high, but I think that it’s ok to have bad days as well. The number of bad days just needs low enough.

    • I think of the higher level of happiness as contentment. So 7 is content for me. I’m very satisfied with that.
      You just have to train your mind to be content and avoid pushing higher constantly.

  10. Such an interesting framing, Joe. I wonder if there’s an upside to having some sort of ritualized variety in our weeks.

    Maybe a 2 day a week part time job would give a nice mix of both? Five day weekend?

    • Part-time work is good. It gives structure to the week. And your baseline happiness should be higher because you have more time for yourself. Five day weekend sounds too long, though. I’m not sure if I could go to work after 5 days off.

  11. Great question and hilarious intro 🙂 It’s kind of like asking would you rather take one epic vacation a year, or a dozen smaller close-to-home vacations a year. The first option is this one thing that you look forward to (the anticipation has been shown to be more happiness-inducing than the trip itself) and then the affect wears off Monday back at your desk. The second option becomes a LIFESTYLE (“we’re a lake family” or “we’re a beach family” or “we’re a camping family”).

  12. that’s funny. i’ve been putting something similar in some of my posts lately. “would you rather get hit in the head with a hammer or read another of these boring posts?” gimme the everyday above average happy.

  13. What an interesting question! Your happiness descriptions for the typical week when you still worked sound just like mine right now, except that I am unhappy not just on Sundays right before work, but on Saturdays too! During the work week, I can’t wait for the weekend, but when the weekend comes around, I am anxious because all I can think about is how I will have to return to work soon. Unfortunately, I just started my career, so I have at least 13 years to go until I can retire early with the husband. I’d love to be happy more frequently, but my mind refuses to ever forget about work. Even in my dreams there is no respite.

  14. When I was younger, I would have taken “more intensely.” There’s something about having all that testosterone and all that time ahead of you that lends itself to a “go big or go home” mentality. Now that I’ve acquired the wisdom of middle age, however, I would definitely pick “more frequently.” I love having a baseline that is relatively high and even-keeled, and we still do enough challenging adventures to ensure some swings now and then.
    BUT Joe…as someone who plays and loves both basketball and soccer, I must take issue with you and your son’s choice of the half-court shot over the half-field goal. Remember that the half-field shot has to get past the goalie, which makes it much more difficult and much more glorious. The half-court shot is mostly desperation luck at the end of a quarter, but a great half-field goal is a conscious, audacious choice that requires immense skill and makes you essentially an immortal if you can do it on a big stage. As evidence, I give you Carli Lloyd’s half-field goal against Japan in the 2015 Women’s World Cup final. No one who saw it will ever forget it. I’ve seen numerous half-court buzzer beaters over the years, yet can’t call any of them specifically to mind. Carli Lloyd, though? That will be part of her legacy forever!

    • Oh, I forgot to put the context. We were just shooting around in the backyard so no defenders.
      Thanks for mentioning Carli Lloyd. I haven’t seen that before. It was an awesome goal.

    • Ha! I enjoyed this article but also took issue with the soccer v. basketball. I think the midfield shot in soccer is much more difficult to pull off at higher levels of play (I’m thinking excellent teenage club teams, high school or college, not even pros) – it’s not only super difficult but also takes serious guts like FFF mentioned above! I also love basketball and would agree the drama is a bit higher because ppl are holding their breath and that shot is often followed by a loud buzz and when it does happen, it’s crazy exciting. Thanks for your contributions Mr. RBF.

  15. 100% more frequently for me. I try to keep my life pretty even keel. I am not looking for high risk, high reward situations with finances so I can’t imagine living my life like that with regard to happiness would end up good.

  16. For the ‘punch’ question it sounds like your son could stand to watch the 1983 classic movie Wargames, in which a computer comes to the realization that for some games “…the only winning move is not to play”. 😉

  17. My kids discovered and interesting “would you rather” when they were 4 and 5. We’d combine something really good and bad together. For example, their favorite Pokemon (good) punches them in the face (bad) or the boogey man (bad) gives them candy (good).

    For awhile it was fun to trick them into the bad thing happening, but they soon learned that the good thing happening (whoever it comes from) is best.

    We don’t get very far with two bad options. It’s always, “no… neither.”

  18. I picked more frequent happiness. I think a higher baseline of happiness is better than the peak one and it was a nice reveal of how it relates to working and being retired.

  19. My Vancouver friend Bob Molavi is a happiness coach and I often say to him,
    “Happiness is vastly overrated. Swagger is where it’s at.”

    What’s more, I am often reminded by these thoughtful words:

    “What’s the use of happiness? It can’t buy you money.”
    – Henny Youngman

  20. One of the most enjoyable aspects of FIRE is certainly not to live mainly for the weekends anymore. Your spreadsheet reflects my current situation pretty well. Therefore, your post motivates me to continue saving and investing diligently. Thank you very much!

  21. I definitely answered “more frequently” rather than “more intensely”. Big mood swings aren’t really the way I like to do things. While it might not have the ‘highs’ of the more intense route, it also lacks the lowest lows.

    That’s something I definitely want to avoid. After having dealt with some depression in my younger years, staying out of the darkness is the best path for me.


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