But are you happy?
It’s such a seemingly innocent yet heavily loaded question to ask yourself, because what if the answer is no? Will you actually act on the “why’s” that might turn it into a yes?
I’ve been reflecting on my financial views and goals a lot the past week as I write my year end financial update post. Happily my finances have improved a lot! While it’s easy to attribute that to my income increasing slightly with stable hours, it’s actually more reflective of the choices I’ve made the past year. So why did I make those choices?
I obviously love personal finance (otherwise why would I blog about it on my days off?). I get excited about reading new concepts & ideas on how to improve my financial future, and then I blog as a way to hold myself accountable and open a discussion/share the ideas with others.
It sunk in recently that my obsession with finance isn’t just because I (obviously) love numbers though. While I think about it as improving my financial future, I believe it goes deeper to thinking it’ll improve my whole future.
Let me explain..
If there’s one topic in particular to explain my focus on money this year it’s: Financial Independence.
I previously wrote a post that goes into great detail explaining the principles of financial independence and how to achieve it, but the basic tenet is that you hold enough passive income generators (rental properties, investments, etc) that you’re financially set. You generate enough passive income to cover all your monthly expenses, so you’re free from needing to earn a paycheck to live your life.
As someone who has always grown up feeling that money is a limiting factor, the concept of quieting that part of my brain feels like bliss.
I can envision the feelings that go along with financial independence:
Freedom? Of course.
Safety and Security? Absolutely.
But the ultimate pursuit??
It’s so easy to feel like you will be happy once you’re financially free to do whatever you want. At that point you can afford (both financially and time-wise) to do whatever you wish. There’s a power in that that should not be underestimated!
However, when you’re in the “accumulate savings/pay off debt” phase it’s easy to become a money squirrel and lose sight of being happy now. Many of the blogs I read on financial independence or debt payoff focus so strongly on the numbers and how to cut spending or increase income to achieve it faster. I truly enjoy reading them because many have great suggestions.
However, I always try to get a sense of the person behind the blog and whether they’re enjoying their life during the pursuit. It’s true that there are some free ways to happiness such as actively appreciating what you have rather than always focusing on what more you want. However, no matter how frugal you are it’s unlikely that your favourite hobbies or passions are completely free. Are the writers still allowing time and money for the things that matter most to them? When you only focus on the perceived finish line, you miss the journey.
That journey happens to be your life.
Are you happy now?
I think it’s valuable to get to know yourself and what makes you happy.
I get extreme happiness through pursuits like summiting mountains. There’s something incredible about the self-actualization of achieving a physical feat you weren’t confident you could. For me, it’s hard to get that high anywhere else.
I also get bucket-loads of happiness from hanging out with my corgi-cross doggo. I’ve never had a dog with such a bizarre personality and habits. She literally makes me burst out laughing daily. Who couldn’t use that in their life?
While both of the “happiness inducers” above cost a bit of money, I cannot imagine life without them so it’s money well spent. I’ve been very conscious with my spending this year and cut out all the “upgrades” that didn’t bring much benefit to my life, but I’ve also purposely kept costs associated with things I love.
All of these examples have something in common: they focus solely on YOU.
It’s really easy to get wrapped up in our busy lives and focus on what we want/need for ourselves. I’d go so far as to argue most of the time this human trait is healthy. You need to take care of yourself.
Have you ever been on a plane and listened to the flight attendants story of putting your own air mask on first in case of emergency? It’s good advice, and applies to real life too! If your world is a disaster, take care of that first. You won’t be useful to anyone (including yourself) until you do.
No where in the attendants speech does she say to sit back and just enjoy the oxygen after putting your mask on though. Nope; once you’ve gotten yourself taken care of your supposed to help those around you to do the same.
In a fascinating way, this will also help your pursuit of happiness.
Many studies have shown that generous behaviour (AKA the investment of your own resources for the benefit of someone else) is strongly correlated with increasing your own happiness.
I 100% agree.
The researchers use the term “warm glow” to explain the positive feeling you get from happiness. While writing this I pondered what one of my strongest feelings of “warm glow” was, and my brain arrived at the same moment it usually does. Hilariously, it was a moment when I was temporarily giving up something I really wanted so someone else could have something more important.
I was waitressing during the time I was attending my first university in Kamloops. During a rare break I went to the back room (to eat fries, if you must know). A coworker who I vaguely knew was trying really hard but failing to hold back tears, so I asked why. She explained that her dad was in the hospital in Toronto (her hometown) and they didn’t think he’d make it. As much as she wanted to go home and say goodbye, she couldn’t afford it. She was a single mom barely making ends meet already.
We only had a few minutes to chat before I had to go back to my tables, but it troubled me the whole shift. Deep down I knew I could help but it would cost me.
As I previously wrote, I’ve forever wanted to see gorillas in Africa. Call it strange, but it’s a “top of the bucket list” thing for me and has been since I can remember. I worked hard in high school to save up for my first trip to Africa, but I was too young to see gorillas during that trip. As soon as I returned from Ghana, I began plotting how I would get back to see gorillas. I took out a travel credit card and saved all my points to one day cover the flight costs, and started putting small amounts of money aside for the permits.
The points and savings were far from enough to get me to gorillas yet, but they were enough for tickets to Toronto for her and her kid.
By the end of my shift I knew she needed them more than I needed to see a gorilla. I wanted to surprise her with them, but I needed her information to book anything. She protested at first, but we both knew she wasn’t in a position to turn down the help. She cried and thanked me profusely, and we agreed to never discuss it again.
It’s been over a decade since that day. I’ve never regretted my decision. I know in my bones it was the right choice.
As much as I hope it helped her, it likely helped me just as much. How many decisions give you “warm glow” over a decade later?
It doesn’t have to be money that you give. Generous behaviour is defined as giving your own resources. Give your time, give kind words, give your skill set to help someone with a specific problem you can alleviate, give items that you own. Choose your own adventure when it comes to generosity.
[Side note: I have since returned to Africa, but still have not seen a gorilla. Third time will be the charm!!]
My advice for happiness? Have wildly large, audacious goals that you want to get for yourself. By all means, take the time to decide what your personal goals are and then pursue them actively and doggedly. You can and should go after the things you believe will bring you value and happiness.
Just remember that life is a long journey, and no finish line will bring you lasting happiness forever. Make time & money for the things you love along the way, and remember to think about what you can give rather than just what you can get.