By age 30, I had grown my net worth to $1 million dollars through a combination of an excellent salary, a 50%+ saving rate, a bull market, and lots of luck. Surprisingly, my happiness wasn’t higher after I tallied up my assets and found out I had become a millionaire.
Rather, I was feeling miserable because I was working 60+ hours a week at a job I no longer enjoyed. The pressure to do well every quarter with clients was intense, so was my chronic back pain. I kept wondering whether there was something better to do with my life than helping institutional investors make money.
It was only after I broke free from the corporate grind at age 34 that my happiness meter ticked up a point or two. Although my active income had plummeted by 80%, I now had 100% control over my time. Finally, I was beholden to no one but myself.
The Pursuit Of Being A Millionaire Doesn’t Bring Happiness
Trying to become a millionaire is a worthwhile pursuit. Just don’t make it the end-all pursuit. Due to elevated inflation, a million dollars is no longer what it once was.
In fact, to replicate $1 million of purchasing power in the 1980s, today you’ll probably need closer to $3 million. With the way inflation is going, $4 million might be the new $1 million by decade’s end.
That said, having a $1 million net worth is still a handsome sum. At a 3% – 5% rate of return a year, $1 million in investments can generate $30,000 – $50,000, which is enough for most Americans to live off.
Unfortunately, once you become a millionaire, your excitement and happiness will only be temporary. Thanks to hedonic adaptation, you will likely revert back to your normal state of happiness and look for the next net worth hurdle to conquer.
4 Ways To Achieve More Happiness
Since 1999, I’ve been on an exciting journey towards financial independence and building enough passive income to cover my family’s desired living expenses. Out of all the ups and downs I’ve experienced, here are four things that have created far more happiness than money ever will.
1) Do something you love
A 2021 Gallup poll highlighted only about 30% of American workers were “engaged” at work probably because most workers aren’t doing what they love. Instead, they are working at a job out of necessity to pay their bills, take care of family, and receive subsidized health insurance.
Although I was afraid to leave my banking job behind, I took the leap of faith because I had stopped liking my job about 10 years after college.
The key to my leaving was negotiating a severance package that paid for several years of living expenses. Further, I had something I loved to do that was waiting for me: writing on Financial Samurai, this personal finance site I had started during the global financial crisis in 2009.
After I left work, every morning was magically transformed from the Monday blues to feeling like Christmas as a kid! I woke up excited and eager to see if I had received a comment about the latest article I had written. It was pure joy to connect with people from around the world who faced similar issues.
Although my personal finance site was making less than 10% of what I had earned in finance, I was just thrilled to be doing what I wanted.
Since 2009, many readers have shared stories about how they got their first jobs, bought homes, started families, overcame disabilities, and started their own businesses.
It’s as if I’ve grown up with millions of readers all trying to navigate through life’s many mysteries. And many Financial Samurai readers have become millionaires as well.
2) Transform from a player to a coach
Eventually, our skills will fade. When they do fade, we might feel sadness or even depressed because we no longer feel as productive to society. It’s one of the downsides to early retirement. The key to overcoming this melancholy is to transition from being a player to a coach.
Let’s say you were a competitive tennis player. However, at age 35, you’ve slowed and realized you are no longer competitive. Bowing out gracefully and becoming a tennis coach may rejuvenate your purpose, which in turn, will elevate your happiness.
In 2018 and 2019 I helped coach a high school tennis team to two Northern California Sectional titles. In the school’s 50-year history, it had never one a single NCS title, let alone two.
Even though I only made $1,200 a month for the four-month season, the joy I experienced coaching was priceless. The excitement on the kids’ and parents’ faces each time they won felt just as good as if I had won.
One of the reasons why I wrote Buy This, Not That was so that I could encapsulate 23 years of financial knowledge and life wisdom for my children. The book not only dramatically increases your chances of becoming a millionaire, it also gives you more courage to make difficult choices.
Whatever skills you do possess, find a way to mentor others so your wisdom doesn’t die with you.
3) Consistently do hard things for greater happiness
At age 34, it was rather scary to no longer have a steady paycheck. But, it was also exhilarating to try to survive as a solopreneur. By challenging myself to survive only from what I created drove me to constantly experiment with new things. It felt like I was a new college grad again, eager to launch and take on the world.
Identify three of the hardest things you’d like to do and go do them! The challenge of pushing yourself out of your comfort zone will make you come alive.
For me during the pandemic, it was writing a new personal finance book and doing interviews on live TV. Now that was a nerve-wracking experience!
Next up will be entering 4.5 pickleball tournaments across the Bay Area. It’s always exhilarating to go into battle against an unknown enemy. All the practice, dieting, and conditioning comes down to this one win-or-go-home moment!
Take on a new difficult challenge every couple of years to keep your fire alive. This way, you will better appreciate what you have and minimize your regrets for not trying new things.
4) Create an inner network of family and friends
At the end of the day, nothing matters more than family and friends. You will do anything for the right person. There is no task too tall or no expense too high for your inner network.
The people you love will give you meaning for staying alive. Not only will you want to live your longest for others, you’ll also want to create the best version of yourself.
Many parents come to this realization once their first baby is born. While others come to this realization after great loss or a near-death experience. For millions, going through a pandemic has made people question their purpose.
Giving your time, money, and wisdom to those you care the most will make you happy. If you’re feeling lonely, work on your emotional intelligence so that more people will like you.
For More Happiness, Put Relationships Over Money
Be careful about making more money at the expense of your relationships. I know too many people who became multi-millionaires by age 40 and are lonely because they neglected to find love. They would give up all their millions now to find their life partner.
Do your best to accumulate more wealth so you can be more free. However, if you are doing something you love, are a mentor, take on new challenges, and have a wonderful partner, you don’t need to be a millionaire to be happy. You already have everything you will ever need.
Make the most of what you have in each and every moment!
Untemplaters, if you are a millionaire, did achieving this financial milestone make you happy? What are some other things that have made you happy?
When I was younger, pursuing money was a big goal of mine. I wouldn’t go out and say that to anyone, but I wanted to build financial security and independence. As I got older, the lure of money faded and I started to seek other ways of fulfillment and happiness. I think you’ve really nailed it with our list.
The only thing I would add to your list would be enjoying fresh air and sun. Being cooped up in an office without any freedom to leave can be very soul sucking. So I think it’s really important for everyone, working or not, to make time to get outside when the weather is good. Feel the sun on your face! I’m sitting outside in the sun right now taking a coffee break from work and it has totally improved my mood. It’s hard not to feel happy on a gorgeous day when the sky is blue, the birds are chirping, and the sun is shining!
During the main part of my career, I found a lot more happiness when I pivoted my role to primarily project based assignments. It didn’t happen by itself though. I had to self advocate and prove that I could do it and would add value.
In that new role I also went from being a player to a coach and that also increased my happiness. Unfortunately, my workload and the work environment changed a lot in the years that followed which I couldn’t do much about.
Thanks to your severance negotiation book I was able to pivot my career once again several years later and found happiness once again. Much more happiness in fact.
I also resonate with your fourth tip. My network of friends dwindled and dwindled as the years went by after leaving college and then later my traditional career. And then of course the pandemic happened. Fortunately the last year has brought new, great friends into my life. And I’ve reconnected with some great past friends too. It’s definitely increased my happiness as well.
I’m glad to hear that you’ve found so much more happiness in your life from your pivoting experiences as well. Thanks for sharing your insights!