How Pursuing Financial Independence and Happiness Leads to Total Failure

While I was away in August, I noticed a recent theme in many bloggers talking about happiness and even more dangerously, pursuing happiness. Since our emotions play a major role in building and sustaining wealth, I wanted to share our experience on how Financial Independence and Happiness have interacted in our journey.

This blog is about pursuing financial independence which is ultra healthy imo. Stepping onto this FI path inspires us and allows us to live our lives based on our values. So the best path is taking it step by step, and enjoy the road ahead.

Pursuing happiness


…that’s a different story altogether.

If we wrap ourselves in the pursuit of a feeling, then we won’t ever quite reach the feeling, since happiness isn’t a destination.

Financial Independence and Happiness

Definitions can be hazy and yardsticks can change, so it helps to have some clear intentions from the start.

Which leads to the first topic.

Define Your Metrics

If me and my fiancee had only imagined ourselves being happy with a freshly furnished new home, then we would still be unhappy since our benchmark has not been hit.

Sure, we could spend $1000’s more on furniture to “fill up” our new place, but we LOVE our minimalist mindset. It helps us keep things decluttered and we get to accelerate our student loans while investing as much as we can.

If we had set Net Worth targets in the past instead of a Savings Targets, then our happiness would constantly be at the whim to the market’s ups-and-downs. Not a healthy long term plan.

Words have precise meaning, so be careful what you attribute your happiness to. If it is external, such as receiving money, then that’s okay BUT, the deeper level of happiness might be receiving validation for our hard work, and/or knowing the money can be used for family needs.

The money is a symbol of that value in the instance above, but money shouldn’t be considered the SOURCE of happiness.

Instead, I encourage you to create your our own benchmarks, not dictated by society or friends or family.

This is similar to what many people say when they mention, “Pursue your dreams and the money will flow from there.”

Can We Be Happy AND Pursuing Financial Independence?

For anyone not interested in happiness and only focused on money, then just consider the overlap the two have when it comes to spending.

The happier we are with what we have, the less we need to buy anything else. Someone who wants more, will never have enough.

The wise man knows what he desires and pursues it to the ends of the earth, while the fool might lay content with the wooden sticks he found on the ground.

You may have also heard Ray Dalio’s famous line,

“We can have anything we want, but not everything.”

From this perspective, absolutely we can pursue building wealth at an early age AND be happy doing it. If we were trying to do everything (say furnishing our place right away to continue with that example), then we would be significantly less happy as we’re derailing the bigger picture.

Don’t Get Caught in the Early Retirement Rat Race

Some bloggers I see try to equate early retirement and financial independence with some permanent state of happiness. This can create a new trap. Running away from the desk job becomes an escape of pain, rather than a pursuit to something greater.

“Retire to something, rather than retire from something.” – every financial blogger ever (myself included)

That small distinction will go a long way in clarifying your pursuits and feeling happiness in your life.

How has happiness helped or hurt your path to financial independence? Did you have to rewire some negative or old patterns that previously led to unhappiness with money?


P.S. Pro Tip – Try Inversion to Identify What Makes You Happy and Saving More

If we can’t solve the maze by beginning at the Start, then perhaps we will have an easier time by working backwards from the end.

When it comes to money, Inversion becomes almost a game-changer overnight.

For example, instead of thinking “What makes me happy?”, try asking yourself, “What purchases do I later regret? Or- Which purchases bring that ping of stress down the road?”

By identifying the roadblocks we wish to avoid, it becomes easier to reach our goal.

8 comments… add one
  • Penny @ She Picks Up Pennies Sep 19, 2017, 6:35 am

    Defining happiness as a product of gratitude helps me a great deal. Even if I’m not where I’d like to be financially, I have so much to be grateful for. That allows me to enjoy the journey while I work towards the destination.

    • Distilled Dollar Sep 19, 2017, 7:15 am

      I love it! I think frugal people tend to have a higher sense of gratitude or maybe it works the other way around.

  • Mrs. Picky Pincher Sep 19, 2017, 7:41 am

    I think you can pursue FIRE and happiness, but I wouldn’t confuse the two as the same goal. Happiness isn’t an automatic result of FIRE, either. We need to do a lot of things throughout the day to feel fulfilled, purposeful, and happy.

    • Distilled Dollar Sep 19, 2017, 7:51 am

      Exactly! When people overlap the two, it becomes dangerous. And when we fill up our day with hobbies/interests/work-we-love and focusing on the things you mentioned – fulfillment, purpose, and happiness – then it becomes easier to move closer towards FIRE.

  • Melanie, Mommy Finance Sep 19, 2017, 5:00 pm

    Although there are things that make me unhappy like not having a lot of money lol, I do have to say that in a way I am happy. I’m happy that I am able to start this journey and a blog to go with it. And I am also happy that I get to meet a lot of great people along the way. It opens up new adventures on this journey.

    • Distilled Dollar Sep 19, 2017, 9:20 pm

      Well said! I’m on the same boat in that regard, as blogging helped enable us to pursue this crazy lifestyle full-time. With new corners ahead, I’m excited to be writing and sending out more content.

      Tying it back into the article, we didn’t tie our happiness with the blog to “making money” and focusing first instead, on helping readers and individuals out along their path. Thanks for the comment!

  • SMM Sep 20, 2017, 10:28 am

    I’m not sure whether or not FI will make me a WHOLE lot more happier. Now I focus on finding happiness in almost every single thing – why wait for it: going to work using a scenic route instead of the highway, enjoying coffee on a quiet Saturday morning while everyone is still asleep, waiting for my car to get really dirty so I’m extra happy when I clean it – probably sounds weird 🙂

  • Chris @ Keep Thrifty Sep 21, 2017, 9:17 pm

    I try to focus more on “fulfillment” than happiness. Living with purpose and intention is something I can have control over and can be true regardless of my financial situation.

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