Houston, we have a FIRE problem… Check out the results below of a recent survey:
Are you as shocked as I am!!? 43% of people said they would rather be financially independent and miserable vs. broke and happy. Ouch! Why would anyone want to be miserable vs. happy? Since when does a big bank balance trump happiness?
I don’t know the survey respondents, but I can only assume that the 43% of people who answered “FI and miserable”…
- Are not yet FI, or don’t have much money currently. If they did, they would already understand that money doesn’t change who you are, your values, your friends, your attitude, your interests, or most of your regular activities. Being FI only makes ‘working’ optional (spoiler alert – working your current job probably already is optional).
- They are most likely already miserable today. Financial Independence is only as good as the freedom it brings to life. Happy people already feel and understand freedom whether they are FI or not, and they wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Good News & Bad News:
The good news is we don’t have to decide between just these 2 options. This survey was just a thought provoking question that doesn’t mean anything. In reality we each get to design our personal path to FI and our custom life afterwards.
The best solution (which you probably already answered) is to be financially independent AND happy. But to achieve this, both of these things will need to be worked on individually.
The bad news is that many people will actually end up being miserable in retirement. And evidently, the % of unhappy people is growing.
Why is this? Well, nobody really knows. Happiness, just like the path to FI, looks different to everyone. But I do have a few theories as to why many people end up miserable when they retire or achieve financial independence.
Happiness Needs Work. It’s a Choice:
To become financially independent you need to have a plan. Every day people wake up in their 40’s and 50’s and realize they have no money. It’s because they never planned, paid attention, or learned how to save/invest money. You can’t rely on luck to get rich.
Happiness should be looked at the same way. People don’t magically wake up one day and have a perfect life. You can’t rely on luck. Many people retire (or reach FI early) only to realize they are miserable. It’s because they never planned, paid attention, or learned how to be happy.
One of the top 5 regrets of dying people is “I wish I had let myself be happier”. It’s sad that people wait until their last few months on earth to understand that happiness is a choice. It doesn’t matter if you’re broke or a billionaire, happiness comes to those who choose to work on it. This is one of the reasons I work on my happiness daily!
(Interesting side-note: Another top regret is “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard”, and nobody on their deathbed mentioned anything about wishing they had more money)
Waiting Too Long & Miserable Work:
A common reason people pursue Financial Independence is because they’re not happy with their current job. They see FIRE as a permanent solution to bad workplace problems, and develop tunnel vision on “retiring early”.
But financial independence can take decades to achieve. Is it worth staying in an unhappy work environment just to achieve FI faster? My opinion is HELL NO!
Unhappy workplaces are harmful in so many ways. The biggest damage (sometimes irreversible) is the long term toll it takes on your attitude and mindset. The longer you stay in a miserable environment, the more you are training yourself to be miserable.
Alas, some people believe the opposite… They think with more misery and delayed happiness, the sweeter the juice will be when they are rich. Unfortunately, these are the people that end up unhappy in retirement – Because it’s the only way they have learned how to live.
“Invest early, invest often.” – This is both a financial principle as well as a life and happiness principle.
To me, FIRE is not a destination as much as it is a lifestyle. Pursuing financial independence lets you start living your best life as soon as possible, regardless of your age or how much money you have.
So, what should people do if they are unhappy at work? Leave. Take a break. Take a mini-retirement. Change jobs. Change careers. Start from scratch. Pursue more meaningful work. Change your mindset. Change your habits. Do anything BUT stay in a miserable place.
True or False?: Money Can’t Buy Happiness.
We’ve all heard the saying that money can’t buy happiness. And I think most people would agree that this is a logical statement.
But no matter how many times this statement is said, there will always be a large group of people out there are trying to prove it wrong. They will waste a lot of time and effort only to come to the same conclusion as everyone else. Money can’t buy happiness. Once you’ve got enough money to cover your necessities, pursuing more money becomes kinda pointless.
Ask the penniless kids playing in the street what makes them happy. Ask the billionaires with Yachts and Bentleys what makes them happy. Question any financial independence blogger (no matter what wealth stage they are at) what makes them happy. They’ll all probably tell you it’s the small and simple things in life. Money can’t buy them.
So, What Do You Reckon?
I love reading financial independence blogs and books. To me, underneath all the money tips, financial advice, and lessons is an underlying message about long term happiness. But maybe not everyone sees it that way?
I’m interested to hear how you would respond to the question and your thoughts around it. Would you rather be broke and happy or financially independent and miserable?
9 thoughts on “Financially Independent and Miserable :(”
Choosing happiness is easier than choosing financial independence. I bet the people who chose misery/FI are already choosing happiness and think that if they got in to a position of FI/misery, they could quickly convert to FI and happiness.
Good point, I guess it could be a temporary situation that you can work from.
Aggggh – I was one of those people who woke up in their 40s and realized that they didn’t have plan (on set by a ‘divorce’), and then took ages to get one. I have also gone through the miserable at work and you are right – its a choice to be a happy. you can actually change your mindset AND change the job you are actually working in, if you know how.
Great post Joel
Always love a thought provoking graph
I’m really liking reading your blog and postcards. You’re truly a positive person and spreading really good inspiration around. Keep it up, people need it!
I’d rather be financially independent AND happy. I don’t understand why there’s a distinction between being wealthy and happy – as if the two aren’t allowed to coexist. Most of the unhappy folks I know are still broke as adults.
Amen. Some of the wealthiest people I know are the happiest. They are very generous too I’ve noticed as giving relates to happiness.
Really enjoyed this post Joel. Thank you again. Broke & Happy if I had to choose.
I think that no matter how much people say, “Money doesn’t buy happiness” that deep down we believe it does. I think when people see the choice “FI and miserable” on an emotional level they automatically link having money to being happy so much so that the part about being miserable doesn’t even really sink in.
Yep, I agree. Deep down I am guilty of hoping that more money will make me happy. And I even get a little disappointed when it doesn’t, even though I know better.
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