Being happy is a fairly universal goal.
No matter who you are, or where you live, you want to be happy. Nobody wants to be miserable.
Unfortunately, a lot of people are chasing after happiness in the wrong way.
It’s something that people try to buy their way into, adding products or services to their life in an attempt to “get happy”.
This methodology is at the heart of consumerism and marketing.
“If you just buy Item X or Experience Y, you’ll finally be happy!”
So people buy Item X and/or Experience Y, only to find themselves right back where they started after a short-term rush of joy. They then have to buy more and more in order to get the same fix. This is the hedonic treadmill at work.
It’s a broken model.
But I believe a lot of happiness can be found by approaching it in the complete opposite way.
This advice is coming from someone who achieved financial freedom at 33 years old, retired very early, and is now living a wonderful and very happy early retirement lifestyle.
I used to have a job I didn’t like and a bunch of stuff I didn’t need. And I was unhappy.
I now do what I want, when I want, every day. I have a lot less stuff in my life. Yet I’m very happy.
The early retirement lifestyle is one that almost anyone can have, as I lay out in 5 Steps To Retire In 5 Years.
There’s a very simple logic that I’m going to lay out for you today.
It’s not always what you do or buy that matters, but often what you don’t do or buy that matters more.
Knowing this sets you up to actually spend less money and become more happy.
Let me explain.
Learning From Charlie Munger
I’ve learned a lot from Charlie Munger.
The guy is basically rationality embodied in human form. I admire that. And I try to emulate it.
While Warren Buffett (rightly so) gets a lot of credit and attention, Charlie Munger’s wit and wisdom is unmatched by anyone I’ve ever studied. It’s just that Buffett is much more approachable and affable. Munger can be, by comparison, slightly caustic. He doesn’t mince words.
One of my favorite quotes by Munger puts both his caustic nature and wisdom on full display:
It is remarkable how much long-term advantage people like us have gotten by trying to be consistently not stupid, instead of trying to be very intelligent.
I love this line.
Now, he’s referring to investing here. He’s basically saying that successful long-term investing is more about avoiding being dumb than actively being incredibly smart. Look for the one-foot bars and step over them.
Don’t try to be a genius. Likewise, avoid being an idiot.
If you can consistently be just 1% better than the average person, that cumulatively puts you far, far ahead of the pack. It compounds over time.
A lot of people can’t seem to help themselves when it comes to making poor choices. And these poor choices have a way of cumulatively putting them far behind, compounding in the opposite direction.
Munger is telling us that it’s not always about what you do that matters. It can be just as often about what you avoid doing.
Well, I’ve applied this logic to investing. And it’s turned me into a wealthy guy at a young age, even with incredibly modest means. I don’t hit home runs routinely. But I don’t often strike out, either.
I’ve also applied this logic to the rest of my life.
Saying “No” To Things That Make You Unhappy
If you can become relatively smart by simply avoiding being dumb, the same goes for happiness.
What I’ve done is, I’ve said “no” to that which makes me unhappy.
And by avoiding these things, I’ve basically eliminated this form of gravity from my life that kept a lid on how happy I could possibly be.
If you’re constantly being dumb, you can’t be smart.
And if you’re constantly struggling with things that make you unhappy, you can’t be happy.
Instead of trying to outsmart happiness by buying the things that you believe will make you happy, simply avoid being dumb and get rid of the things in life that make you unhappy.
Most people chase after joy. Instead, simply avoid misery.
Buying Item X or Experience Y might give you a temporary shot of joy. Sure.
On the other hand, you might have dozens of items or experiences in your life that routinely bother you and weigh on your sense of satisfaction in life.
You have to decide if you want to buy into a short-term sense of elation, or avoid a long-term sense of malaise.
Most people do the former. I’m saying you should do the latter. Be 1% smarter.
The other issue is, buying Item X or Experience Y might end up actually forcing you to spend even more time with these other things in your life that make you unhappy. This totally works against your ability to be content over the long run.
For example, you might strongly dislike your job.
Instead of trying to come up with a lifestyle solution that totally eliminates this job, too many people instead try to cope with this unhappiness by, say, buying a new car. They’re addressing symptoms instead of treating the underlying disease.
Sure, they might feel temporarily better about their job situation when they’re tooling into work in a nice, new ride. But that sense of elation wears off quickly. Yet that job isn’t going anywhere, especially when you now need that paycheck even more than ever in order to pay for that car you just bought!
You end up right back where you were. And the cycle repeats itself all over again.
This would be the opposite of what Munger is saying you should do. And it’s the opposite of how I’ve gone about building my own lifestyle.
Simply put, you can automatically become happier by saying “no” to the things that consistently bother you.
I’ve said “no” to so many long-term drags on my happiness, instead of saying “yes” to temporary shots of joy. This has a way of naturally lifting my quality of life up and creating a byproduct of additional happiness.
I have a long-term advantage to my quality of life and happiness by not being dumb and avoiding that which makes me unhappy, rather than trying to outsmart happiness and buy things that might make me feel temporarily better.
Create A List Of Things You’ll Say “No” To
I’ve found it incredibly helpful to create a list of all of the things that make me unhappy in life.
That has a way of putting things in perspective. And it offers you a clear path forward, so that you start to figure out exactly what you should aim to eliminate.
Whereas a lot of people create “bucket lists” of the things they’d like to buy or things they’d like to do, I’m saying you should create a “no list” of things you don’t want to have and things you don’t like to do.
Then set out to realize this “no list” by eliminating all of that from your life.
By eliminating this gravity from your life, you’ll feel a weight lifted off of your shoulders. Then you won’t find it such an attractive idea to go out and buy your way into happiness, because you’re already relatively content.
My “No List”
I have my “no list”.
But that’s not to say that it’ll have anything to do with your “no list”.
It’s not important what I’m saying “no” to. What’s important is what you want to say “no” to.
But I want to provide my very own “no list” to you readers so that you have an idea of where I’m coming from on this.
This is a good chunk of my “no list”:
- A job
- A boss
- Cold weather
- Waking up early
- Having children
- High taxes
- Repairing things
- Owning a house
- Owning a car
- Having a bunch of bills
- Spending time with toxic people
I’ve eliminated all of these things from my life. I’ve said “no” to all of it.
And I’m much, much happier as a result. I’m very content with my life.
By eliminating what I don’t like, I’m able to instead focus and spend my time on what I absolutely love.
It’s addition through subtraction.
Subtracting these things from of my life adds quality of life.
I’m not trying to be a genius. I’m simply avoiding being dumb. It’d be dumb to spend a great deal of my time around stuff I don’t like. So I don’t do that.
It’s simple. But it works.
It’s almost like trying to make a heavy car go faster.
You can add horsepower. Spend a bunch of money and time on overcoming the weight.
Or you can eliminate weight.
I’ve eliminated “dead weight” from my life.
Take some time to put a “no list” together for yourself.
Write down all of the things that bother you.
Then start out on a path to a lifestyle that largely eliminates these things. Create addition through subtraction. Get rid of dead weight in your life, eliminate this heavy gravity, rise above it all, and get happy.
I’m flying high these days. But not because I expend a ton of energy (or money). Rather, it’s because I don’t have gravity weighing me down.
You have to decide, right now, if you’d rather chase short-term joy or enjoy long-term contentment.
Like Charlie Munger said, success is not about being incredibly intelligent. It’s instead about not being dumb.
If it’s dumb to spend a lot of your finite and dwindling time on Earth around stuff that bothers you, it’s time to get 1% smarter.
It’s time to get happy.
What do you think? Is Charlie Munger right? What’s on your “no list”?
Thanks for reading.
P.S. If you’d like to be happier and freer in your life, check out some awesome tools and services that I personally used on my way to becoming financially free at 33!