Wealth – The Happiness Illusion?

Wealth – The Happiness Illusion?

Since the beginning of this blog I’ve ranted about my ultimate goal of financial independence, which I define as having enough wealth to sustain my lifestyle without working. In some way or form I think most people strive for this as well and commonly refer to it as “retirement”. Here’s how the equation looks:

Lots of Money = Retirement = Freedom = Happiness

Retirement is known as the golden years where work is no longer necessary and you’re free. After decades of toil the fruits of your labour finally blossom into…happiness?

That’s the main idea anyways.

I wrote an article on the lottery a couple months back and discussed a study that found the majority of lottery winners returned to their current level of happiness before winning the lottery within a short period of time. So if money doesn’t guarantee happiness what the hell are we all working towards here?

The basic principle behind retirement is work now, play later. That type of mentality is embedded in our minds and allows us to get up and drag our asses to work each morning whether we like it or not. Having to earn a living via work becomes the obstacle to the life we wished we had. However, it’s not only an obstacle; it’s also a convenient excuse.

The scary piece is once we no longer have that job to complain about we no longer have an excuse for living an unfulfilled life. A new identity of yourself needs to be recreated to fill the 2,000 hours you previously spent at your job. This is a common feeling of desperation amongst the newly retired.

Odds are someone who struggled with obtaining happiness through their working years will still struggle once they retire, perhaps even more so. However, that’s not to say financial independence is a recipe for unhappiness:

“Money can’t buy happiness, but neither can poverty” – Leo Rosten

The surest way to riches, both financially and personally, is to create a lifestyle that incorporates your values and beliefs into work and play. Safe to say this is no easy task as the realities of our modern day lives create an enormous amount of conflict and friction. Often there seems to be a trade-off such as a good paying job that’s not emotionally rewarding or having a rewarding job but struggling to fund a certain lifestyle. Often we know the answers to our problems, but lack inspiration or make excuses for our inaction.

It’s also important to recognize there is no ultimate finish line where the grass is greener; the joy is in the journey. You may not be able to create your ideal career and lifestyle overnight, but small changes over time can have a massive impact.

I’ve consistently preached about the joys of living a simple life which is great for accumulating wealth, but more importantly it helps put things in perspective. When you simplify your life you begin to see what’s important; what you want and need. Furthermore, you have the time and space to explore those things.

Financial independence will always be a goal of mine that I’ll likely chase for a decade or two more, and even then my own personal interest (personal finance, sports, etc.) will keep me engaged. For the last five years of my working career this goal has been first and foremost in my mind, however, I plan on focusing a lot more on a happy, sustainable lifestyle for the remainder of my career.

Below is the parable of the Mexican Fisherman and the Investment Banker which shares an important message that sums up my thoughts on career and life:

An American investment banker was taking a much-needed vacation in a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. The boat had several large, fresh fish in it.

The investment banker was impressed by the quality of the fish and asked the Mexican how long it took to catch them.

The Mexican replied, “Only a little while.”

The banker then asked why he didn’t stay out longer and catch more fish?

The Mexican fisherman replied he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs.

The American then asked “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”

The Mexican fisherman replied, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos: I have a full and busy life, señor.”

The investment banker scoffed, “I am an Ivy League MBA, and I could help you. You could spend more time fishing and with the proceeds buy a bigger boat, and with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats until eventually you would have a whole fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to the middleman you could sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You could control the product, processing and distribution.”

Then he added, “Of course, you would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City where you would run your growing enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But señor, how long will this all take?”

To which the American replied, “15-20 years.”

“But what then?” asked the Mexican.

The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You could make millions.”

“Millions, señor? Then what?”

To which the investment banker replied, “Then you would retire. You could move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”

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3 comments

  1. Tsk! Tsk! An American bill in the trap………well, maybe that’s where all that American cash belongs! I had that Mexican mentality thought my working life and now I’m retired and enjoying that too!
    Great blog!

  2. Great blog, Johnny.

    I really like the parable of the Mexican fisherman.

    Living in Malaysia, I often see many people living this type of lifestyle, and they do live happy lives within strong close knit commuities.

    You have touched on the idea of sustainability in this blog, and the UN will be holding the largest gathering of world leaders in history to hash out Sustainabl Development Goals later this year.

    It will be interesting to see if any limits to growth are substantively entertained.

    • Jonny

      Thanks Marc – experiencing other cultures gives great insight to different lifestyle choices.
      In North America everyone seems so geared towards efficiency and working themselves silly towards no end in particular.
      I’m hoping to get over to Asia soon to soak up some of that Malaysia living!

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