Happiness is a term that gets thrown around quite often in the realm of financial independence. Many people are seeking financial independence because they believe it will make them happy, myself included. I have done a lot of research and have carefully thought about this a lot in my life.
So, will financial independence make you happy? Financial independence will not make you happy by default, It is simply a tool that can allow you to pursue happiness.
We often associate financial independence with having plentiful amounts of wealth to support us, but the money itself is not a source of happiness. Making yourself miserable on your financial independence journey is not going to aid you in finding happiness once you arrive at the destination.
What Is Happiness?
This is the easiest part. To define happiness we can simply look at a textbook definition to find other synonyms such as joy, bliss, delight, and contentment, but what do they all really mean? Psychology Today defines it best in my opinion; “happiness is a state of well-being that encompasses living a good life—that is, with a sense of meaning and deep satisfaction.”
I think you can already see where we are going here. Proponents of financial independence seek to live a good life. “A good life” however is very subjective. A good life for me might be miserable for you and vice versa. Having a sense of meaning in this world is important, we all want to feel like our lives are serving some kind of purpose. We can find that purpose in many different things such as our work, our hobbies, our family, our friends, etc.
One thing is for sure; happiness is something sought after by just about every human being on this planet. Philosophers and psychologists have been studying and trying to come up with a formula for how happiness is achieved and why it has been achieved, and who has achieved it. Unfortunately, there is no simple answer. It is one of those things in life that we may never find the answer to. Perhaps there is no one answer in the first place.
Much more qualified individuals than I have discussed what happiness is and how to achieve it. I wish I could give all of them credit for their tedious research into the subject. I at least want to scratch the surface of popular schools of thought on happiness. After all, we are trying to discover if financial independence will deliver happiness onto us.
How Is Happiness Achieved?
Like I said before, happiness is complicated, but there are some commonalities associated with people who experience it. Psychology Today notes that “much of happiness is under personal control.” What this means to me is that there are very few external factors that really influence our happiness. If it is a state of mind then we get to choose whether we are happy or not. The mind is the most powerful tool we have at our disposal.
Enough about what I think happiness is, The University of Pennsylvania has published an article on “authentic happiness” for which they claim that there are “3 traditional theories of happiness.” I want to briefly discuss those because there has been a lot of thought and effort put into the research of these theories. These theories have also held up for many years as a reliable insight to achieving happiness in humans. I think it is important to know some of these theories and be able to apply them to financial independence.
In very simplified terms, this theory of happiness argues that happiness is achieved when we maximize our pleasure and minimize our pain. These can come in various ways because pleasure and pain are subjective to the user. Overall, the idea is to get as much net pleasure as possible, which is pleasure minus pain.
Also in very simplified terms, this theory states that happiness is derived from getting what you want. It is completely left up to the individual’s desires whether that want creates pleasure or pain.
Objective List Theory
This theory is simplified as one where we are after worthwhile pursuits. It is focused on achieving “truly valuable” things in life such as career accomplishments, friendship, education, love, knowledge, etc. General important achievements in life are what lead to happiness according to this theory.
Does Financial Independence = Happiness?
How can financial independence bring us to this state of happiness? The simple formula we follow for achieving financial independence is: (annual expenses x 25) but this is not a formula we can use to gauge whether we are happy or not. We need to stop chasing financial independence as if it is a magical point in time where we will suddenly be content with our lives. If we are not too careful, I believe that financial independence could actually make us less happy if we don’t utilize it correctly.
Financial independence can contribute to happiness, it can provide us with a means to find fulfillment in our lives, and it can help us reduce unhappiness. I think too many people are focused on the last facet of financial independence. Escaping a job that you dislike that brings you unhappiness will surely improve your circumstance a little, but reducing unhappiness is just one small part of the overall picture of finding true happiness.
Being financially independent can provide us with a means to find fulfillment in our lives because we will have an abundance of time in order to do so. If we have nothing to replace that time, then it can be scary, especially when we are going from working 40+ hour work weeks with hour-long commutes and answering texts, phone calls, and emails at home. Gaining an abundance of free time won’t lead to happiness if you don’t have anything to fill that time with. We can see this downward spiral in some normal retirees that spend all of their days sitting around the house watching television watching re-runs and stressing about the news.
Contributing to happiness is not the same as happiness itself. I see happiness as a long term goal that starts with small wins and achieving a lot of short-term related goals. We often associate financial independence with money and wealth because it is a quantifyable goal. Having goals that are quantifyable are good, it means that you can track progress and know when you have reached them. Happiness is not one of those goals. You cannot quantify happiness overall, but you can quantify lesser goals that could lead to long term happiness.
The take away here is to look at financial independence as a means to an end. Financial independence won’t magically grant you happiness once you achieve it. However, you can use it as a powerful tool to pursue long-lasting contentment, satisfaction, and meaning.
How To Enjoy The Journey And The Destination
There are several stages of financial independence. The most notable stages are the journey and the destination. You want to be able to enjoy both of them. So while financial independence is very important to you and me, we must not lose sight of what we are after in the first place. There will be sacrifices along the way, that isn’t just with financial independence, but with life in general, but we do not need to make the journey at all costs.
Picturing the destination can be very motivating, but there is the future and there is the now. We should be as happy as we can in both. Think about what you really want to do once you become financially independent. Are you able to do any of those things now? My guess is that you can find a way, even if it is on a small scale. Whether it be pursuing a hobby, volunteering, or simply spending more time with your family. You can find ways to do those things today and still be on a streamlined path to financial independence.
Starting today and working on the things that you want to do once you reach financial independence will make the journey a lot more enjoyable. There are plenty of things to delay that will make your life better in the long run, but contentment, satisfaction, and true happiness are not one of them.
Happiness is a universal goal that has been studied for many years, and what brings us happiness is very subjective. Financial independence is often thought of as a way to achieve happiness, but it isn’t. it is simply a means to an end. Utilize financial independence as a powerful tool that can aid you in finding satisfaction, fulfillment, and content in your life. Enjoy the journey and enjoy the destination to financial independence, and I believe you will find your own way to true happiness in your life.