The Secret to True Happiness Revealed in 3 Big Lessons

What is the secret to true happiness? How can you tell that you’re on the right path to living a happy life? My wife and I have been fortunate enough to reach financial independence at a young age (31 and 42, respectively). By achieving FI, we have put the biggest downpayment on our happiness. We came to the realization that to do the things that make us truly happy, day in, day out, we needed to buy our time back, instead of buying material possessions or being in a constant pursuit of “success” by climbing never-ending corporate ladders.

What fuels our true happiness?

To reach the FI stage, we didn’t just zero-in on our goal of reaching FI by trying to save every penny or by stressing ourselves out and having more than one job to bring in additional income. (Not that we have anything against people working several jobs to make ends meet.) We made sure that we were happy as we went along by stretching our dollars and saving without deprivation.

It’s important to enjoy life’s journey. We didn’t rush to get to FI if it meant not enjoying the journey along the way. For example, we’re okay spending more on high-quality groceries if that results in living a healthier life. We’re okay flying a few times a year if that involves spending more time with family and seeing the world. We understand that part of our happiness comes from these experiences.

Our true happiness doesn’t come from becoming overachievers at work and putting in long hours. If our hearts are not in it, then success from these activities means nothing to us. Our true happiness doesn’t come from upgrading to luxury vehicles or mortgaging the biggest house our pockets could afford. And it will not come from amassing a fortune. An abundance of money beyond our needs and a few wants will not make us any happier. That’s why our slogan is ‘true happiness fueled by financial independence” and not “true happiness fueled by millions of dollars”. We wanted to have at least enough money to not worry about paying our bills forever. The financial independence that we achieved gives us options, lots and lots of great FU money options.

Other actions that brings us happiness is being able to take unlimited amount of time out of work to spend it reading, writing, taking long walks by the beach and just sipping coffee without a rush while the sun warms up the day. That’s why we’re working on our plan to retire early, so that work would no longer be a big block of time that gets in the way of being truly happy.

 A major study on happiness

We believe that relationships are important to our overall wellbeing and Harvard did a study that re-affirms our beliefs. The major finding of the study is that “good relationships keep us happier and healthier”. This is one of the longest studies, if not the longest, ever conducted on happiness, long enough to have gone through several directors. Robert Waldinger is the director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, and for 75 years, Harvard tracked the lives of 724 men in 2 cohorts. Sixty of these men are still alive and participating in the study. The first group consisted of 268 Harvard sophomores and the second group consisted of 456 teenage boys who grew in inner-city Boston–two groups from different backgrounds.

Throughout their lives these men have been reporting on their social activities, job satisfaction, and the quality of their marriages and relationship. In the TED Talk below, Mr. Waldinger describes the secret to true happiness based on their findings.

3 big lessons about relationships from the study

1. Social connections are really good for us.

People that are more socially connected to family, friends and community are happier, physically healthier and live longer. Loneliness is a killer and turns out to be toxic. Isolation leads to health decline earlier in life and shorter lives.

2. It’s the quality of close relationships that matter.

It’s not about having a lot of friends but having good quality friendships that matter. Living in a high-conflict marriage without much affection can be worse to the health than divorce. Living in the midst of good warm relationships is protective.

3. Good relationships protect our brains.

Being in a secure, attached relationship with another person in your 80s is protective. Those men in the study who feel that they could count on others in times of need have a sharper memory, while others who couldn’t count on others had sharper memory decline.

Where to put our energy after early retirement

The presentation makes a very good point on where you can put your energy to become happier. We’re planning to retire within the next couple of years and it’s important for us to analyze where we’ll be putting our energy after early retirement.

One can easily get caught up in the rhythm of things and continue to hustle on the side without realizing that those actions might not necessarily make us happier. We don’t want to end up living the dream sold by the American Banker in the Fisherman Parable.

We don’t want to substitute our working hours with other working activities or projects just to make money. The whole point of retiring early is to enjoy the things that we currently don’t have time for. So we’ll be careful not to fill our time with more work that might take away from living truly happy lives.

While we’ll be looking to stay active after retirement working on a few fun projects, we’d definitely choose leisure over labor like Go Curry Cracker. Besides staying physically active and having time for hobbies, we’ll continue to nourish the relationships in our lives and, of course, invest in the right relationships.

Early retirement will be a time for us to stop, clear up the schedule from a work agenda and make conscious decisions as we think to ourselves: “Are the actions that we’re about to take going to make us as happy as we can be?”

What makes you truly happy? What did you think of the study? Were you surprised with the findings?

Featured image by Kathy and George

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Mr. Enchumbao

Mr. Enchumbao retired at 44. He worked for 13 years at Vanguard, primarily as a Communications Project Leader in the Institutional Division, helping people save for retirement.

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