A Lifetime of Happiness

A Lifetime of Happiness

Most personal finance advice hinges on the idea of delayed gratification.

Don’t buy that latte. Save the money instead.

Keep working at that job. You’ll be able to retire and enjoy yourself later.

Cut a few more expenses. Spend a few more nights in. Save a little bit more.

It might be hard now but you’ll appreciate it later.

It’s well-intentioned advice, and in fact I’ve given versions of it plenty of times myself.

But when you hear it enough times, it can start to feel like your life is supposed to be one big grind until some abstract future point in time when you’ll finally be allowed to enjoy yourself.

That doesn’t sound right. Does it?

The flip side

One normal reaction to that advice is to rebel against it.

Screw delayed gratification! I’m alive now and I’m going to enjoy myself! The future will take care of itself. #YOLO

It’s understandable, but of course that doesn’t work either. You might enjoy yourself today, but if you never save any money you’ll be in a tough spot later on.

It’s no longer delayed gratification. It’s more like delayed hardship.

A lifetime of happiness

“How late it is to begin to live just when we must cease to live. What foolish forgetfulness of mortality to postpone wholesome plans to the fiftieth and sixtieth year, and to intend to begin life at a point to which few have attained!”

-Seneca, On the Shortness of Life (found on the Farnam Street blog)

Instead of falling victim to either extreme, I would encourage you to work on creating financial habits that allow for a lifetime of happiness.

Your money SHOULD allow you to be happy today. You should be able to do work that’s fulfilling and enjoyable. You should have the freedom to be a stay-at-home parent, coach your kid’s soccer team, travel, or anything else that brings you joy.

You shouldn’t always be working for some future date when you’ll finally get to relax. That’s not a life worth living.

At the same time, planning for your future is just as important for happiness as enjoying the present.

Having money set aside allows you to handle unexpected expenses with ease, take advantage of opportunities that present themselves, and support yourself when you either no longer want to work or are no longer able to.

In other words, good financial planning is about facilitating happiness at all stages of life.

Creating your happiness

Finding this kind of balance isn’t always easy. Most of us don’t have an unlimited amount of money, which can make it difficult to spend on things that make us happy today while also saving for the future.

The good news is that it doesn’t actually require a whole lot of money. It might simply require a different outlook.

In fact, the research shows that we may actually be happiest when we spend less on a day-to-day basis and more on infrequent treats.

So, how can you use your money to create a lifetime of happiness for yourself? Here are a few steps to get you started:

  1. Get clear about what’s important to you and what isn’t.
  2. Build a system that allows you to take control of your money.
  3. Step-by-step start directing your money towards the things you care about and away from the things you don’t care about.
  4. Check back in on a regular basis. Re-evaluate your priorities. Re-direct your money as needed.

As with all things, it will take some trial and error. Both to find the things that truly make you happy and to use your money to get more of those things in your life.

But if you stick with it, you CAN create a financial plan that allows you to enjoy today while also building towards a bright future.

What does a lifetime of happiness look like to you? What are you doing to make it happen?

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22 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • Lisa April 25, 2016

    Most people in the PF world like to focus solely on the “future self” – myself included. But it is important to create happiness for the present self, too. Great post as always!

  • Physician on FIRE April 29, 2016

    Finding the balance is key. I envision a nice Venn diagram with circles of frugality, targeted spending (experiences over things), perhaps a dose of minimalism. The overlap will be a bit different for everyone.

    We find it difficult to let go of some of our frugal ways despite having achieved Financial Independence and earning a generous salary. I call it “Frugal without a Cause”. It works for our family, and we’re happy, so we’re good with the status quo.

    • Matt Becker April 29, 2016

      Haha, it’s a good problem to have but not necessarily an easy one! And I actually think that frugality is a good quality even when you have plenty of money. You certainly don’t have to be stingy or deprive yourself, but my guess is that increasing your spending just because you can wouldn’t actually make you any happier. Sticking to the things you’ve valued all along and simply using the extra money for big treats (like you talk about with experiences) is likely a good path to happiness.

  • Ms. Montana April 29, 2016

    We try to optimize our value for things we enjoy. Finding ways to get the same end result but just spending less. A day swimming at the lake, inviting friends over for BBQ, going to see the baby ducks at the park. There are so many ways to enjoy life. If 80% of our fun can be free or low cost, the other 20% can be more expensive. Like paying for friends to come to a theme park with us.

    • Matt Becker April 29, 2016

      Great examples! We’re lucky to live in a place with lots of free beaches and we take advantage of them all the time. But no matter where you are there are always ways to enjoy yourself for free or on a budget. It doesn’t all have to be fancy paid activities (though as you say those are fun sometimes too!).

  • Kristy April 29, 2016

    I’ve come to realize that I need to have balance in my life now instead of waiting to live until I retire like I saw my parents do. I save a good chunk for retirement, take an international vacation fueled by travel miles every two years, and live moderately in between those trips. This mindset has allowed me to become debt free, save for future me, and live a life of adventure.

    • Matt Becker April 29, 2016

      That’s great Kristy! That mindset is so important. Life should be enjoyed, not delayed.

  • Liz April 29, 2016

    couldn’t agree more- I’m in the midst of a daily struggle between ‘pay of some debt NOW’ and ‘live life NOW’. $160 towards debt, or $160 for desperately needed running shoes?

    $160 less debt is the right choice for future me, $160 running shoes allows me 10-15 hours of happiness every week for about 12 weeks, improves my health, provides some life balance and a sense of accomplishment.

    Somewhere in the middle is the answer.

    • Matt Becker April 29, 2016

      Not always easy to find that middle ground…

  • Kurt April 29, 2016

    Right on! And I think a key to meeting both aims–have a great life now while saving for a great life always–is recognizing and then rejecting the modern cultural maxim that having fun = spending money. It does not! 🙂

    • Matt Becker April 29, 2016

      It certainly doesn’t have to in all cases. On the flip side though, traveling to see family is something that’s really important to us and that costs money. Even more now that we have two children over 2 (no more lap infant!). So I 100% agree with you on the value of finding joy in free/inexpensive activities and we do a lot of that. But other things that bring happiness do cost money and I believe that it’s important to make room for them where you can.

  • Lake Girl April 29, 2016

    Well said!

  • FinanceSuperhero April 29, 2016

    I like the middle ground you have struck with this article! Finding a happy medium between a scorched-earth, no-spending lifestyle and the YOLO, spend-everything approach is critical to enjoying the process of achieving financial freedom. Many people make the mistake of tightening the belt too tightly, so to speak; apathy sets in, and they return to their old spendy ways.

    Another important distinction to note is that money and things are not always necessary ingredients for enjoying the present. Just like the best things aren’t always things, the best experiences aren’t always costly.

    Awesome post!

  • Isabella April 30, 2016

    Great post! This is so hard for me…I want to travel now while I’m young(ish) and healthy, but I’m also a saver by nature. I am trying to find that middle ground. I can live without designer clothes and Starbucks but I’m afraid I will regret missing out on experiences if I can’t let myself spend sometimes.

  • Mortimer April 30, 2016

    Couldn’t agree more! I think the PF community could benefit a lot from the growing body of positive psychology research–the two really go hand in hand. If you haven’t read Shaun Achor’s book The Happiness Advantage, it’s right up your alley. Great post!

    • Matt Becker May 1, 2016

      Thanks for the recommendation! I’ll have to put it on the list.

  • Your Free Cash Flow May 1, 2016

    Very well said! It’s about balance and doing what you are passionate about. Some might say international travel, while others splurge on experiences. Me, it’s angel investing in startups!

  • This is something I have been working on recently. I have been so focused on the future and the happiness that I will have once I reach my financial independence that I was forgetting about my happiness now. It is all about finding the balance that is right for you so that you can have both.

  • ZJ Thorne May 8, 2016

    This is such a wonderful framework. Money is not the real goal for me. I want to be able to walk away from the W2 job to only do the work I enjoy at my LLC. I’m focusing on making that profitable enough to maintain me, in part, because only working at my LLC would give me the gift of more time.

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