I didn’t have the best childhood. That’s something I’ve been pretty open about over the years.
But it was still quite awesome in many ways, even factoring in all the circumstances that I had to deal with. I think that says a lot about the magic of childhood – even with my father leaving, my mom being addicted to drugs and alcohol, and growing up in a neighborhood where most people didn’t like me because of the color of my skin, I was still happy just to be a kid.
Why is that?
Well, let me count the ways.
Getting Back In Touch With Childhood
No real worries about money/bills. Responsibilities are kept to a minimum. Spring breaks. Summer breaks. Christmas breaks. Time outside, where I could be active. Enjoying the simple things: riding my bicycle, playing arcade games, and learning new things every day. Every day was an adventure (sometimes not a great adventure, in my case).
Children tend to be pretty happy.
There aren’t these huge aspirations. No thinking about the McMansion you just have to have, which happens to require a very large McMortgage. A child doesn’t need to have the nicest car around – a kid can’t even drive. So on and so forth.
It’s indeed unmet aspirations that is provided as an explanation for the U-shape that exists when researchers look at happiness as we age. Indeed, our happiness tends to peak in our early 20s, dip significantly for much of our lives, and then peak again at almost 70 years old.
So we’re happy when we’re young… and when we’re old. I don’t think it’s lost on any of us that youth and old age share a lot in common (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button examined this with deft.)
But we’re not happy when it counts the most – which is most of our lives. I’ve explored this concept before, showing how we have the least amount of time precisely when many of our various capabilities are peaking. U-shapes abound. And it’s the opposite of how life should truly be lived.
Now, I believe that owning your own time is the biggest benefit of all to financial freedom. Being able to do what you want, when you want, with whom you want is a luxury that far exceeds the greatest material luxuries I can think of. These days, I’m able to wake up without an alarm clock, hit the gym when I’m good and ready, take my puppy for a walk, write, read, and generally do whatever I want. It really is the little things.
It’s wonderful. Many of my capabilities – be they physical, mental, emotional – are peaking, or perhaps have already peaked. And I have more time than I’ve ever had… except when I was a child.
So in this sense, I feel like I’ve been able to be put back in touch with my childhood.
Summer break? Who needs one when your whole life is a summer break?
As such, I think the additional time to concentrate on the things you really enjoy is how financial independence can put you back in touch with your childhood and increase your happiness in the process. This helps straighten that otherwise drab U-shape most people are setting themselves up for. You’re able to live life a lot like you were back when you were at the first peak of that U.
In addition, one is able to escape a lot of “bummers” that adulthood usually comes with.
You don’t really need to constantly worry about money, bills, and work. Financial freedom largely alleviates one of these worries, which just melts the stress. You walk through life a lot like a child. Just like a child takes on challenges that aren’t dictated by money (like seeing how fast you can climb a tall tree), the challenges that one takes on once they’re financially free should be chosen on their individual merit and enjoyment.
However, there’s another huge aspect to the puzzle. I’m not even sure I realized this aspect until I started researching the science behind human happiness.
That aspect is unmet aspirations – and the lack thereof.
See, most people who are out there working a lot and spending a lot are filling their lives with aspirations. Some of these aspirations are surely great. And some are surely not. I’m not here to judge. And I think aspirations can be a great thing. Indeed, I believe the key to really enjoying early retirement or financial freedom at a very early age is to seek out and conquer challenges regularly – perhaps even daily.
But it’s unmet aspirations that’s used as the reasoning behind the U-shape in life happiness as we age, as noted earlier.
However, I believe that someone who attains financial independence early in life is able to combat this dip in happiness on two fronts.
The first front is the fact that financial freedom is in and of itself a huge aspiration to attain and enjoy.
And it’s an aspiration that isn’t really all that difficult to meet. I mean, you simply have to live below your means and invest intelligently. The money part isn’t that hard. It’s really just up to individuals to put in the work and climb that mountain.
The second front is the lack of huge aspirations from the get-go, which means they never go unmet (because they don’t exist).
Someone who’s aiming to be free at a young age is going to see the light early on, just like I did. You’re going to see the folly of chasing fancy material possessions that won’t actually add to your long-term happiness, and you’re going to jump off of the hedonic treadmill. Moreover, you’re going to realize that lasting happiness is achieved by focusing on higher-level needs that allow us to strive toward our potential as human beings.
I think most of us have fond memories of our childhood. Life was easy then. We had lots of time. We were able to fill our lives largely with activities that made us happy, rather than worrying about what made us the most amount of money.
Well, I think financial freedom allows us to live a lot like that… in adulthood. I can think of a lot worse ways of approaching life.
Best of all, we can avoid the U-shape in life happiness that plagues most people.
No need to have this big dip in happiness if you’re able to live a lot like you were back when your happiness was still at a peak. Furthermore, avoiding unmet aspirations (that are probably unrealistic anyway) helps us avoid that dip by giving us a different sense of self-worth. Besides, financial independence is, in my opinion, one of the biggest life aspirations that someone can have!
What do you think? Can financial freedom put you back in touch with your childhood? Can it help you avoid the big dip in happiness that most people experience from their early 20s to their late 60s? Want to have a one-on-one discussion about this? Check out my coaching service.
Thanks for reading.
Image courtesy of: digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.