This is part of an ongoing series on happiness. I’m going to continue sharing everyday moments, experiences, and activities where I feel most happy. Since I believe the pursuit of happiness is something that binds humanity, and since one of the major reasons to attain financial freedom in the first place is to improve one’s happiness, I find it important to share aspects of my life where I feel like the pursuit of happiness is most successful. I hope to show through these regular insights that not only does it not take much (or any) money to improve one’s happiness but also that financial freedom provides additional opportunities (via more time) to boost happiness.
Money doesn’t buy happiness?
I used to think that was a sham.
Of course money buys happiness!
I grew up extremely poor in Detroit. Every dollar counted back then. I used to cut grass in the summer, shovel snow in the winter, and come up with all kinds of ideas just to make money to buy food. And I can tell you I was much happier after earning $5 to cut grass than I was beforehand – being hungry versus being full certainly had something to do with that.
Fortunately, those days are long behind me. I no longer starve or worry about whether I’m going to live another day.
But as I’ve gone on to become a thoughtful and experienced adult, I’ve learned that money actually doesn’t buy happiness.
However, there’s a huge caveat to the idea that money doesn’t buy happiness.
It’s that an infinite amount of money doesn’t buy an infinite amount of happiness.
There’s elasticity at play here. Specifically, the law of diminishing marginal utility tells us that more money does not necessarily mean more happiness. Actually, more money can lead to less happiness, by way of the decline in marginal utility that someone derives from the consumption of each additional unit of something.
It’s like pizza. I love pizza. I consider myself a pizza aficionado. However, an infinite amount of pizza at any given time doesn’t give me unlimited happiness. I’m happy after a slice or two. I’m even happier with three or four slices. But I then become slightly ill if you give me eight slices. At some point, enough pizza will just end up killing me.
And so it works somewhat similarly with money, although I am simplifying things for the sake of brevity.
It’s taken me time to really experience firsthand how that works. Unfortunate or not, most of society still doesn’t really get it. Instead, most people seem to believe that more money automatically equates to more happiness. But that’s another subject for another day.
So now that I have food in my belly, a roof over my head, and all of my basic needs covered, I’ve learned to really focus on the little things in life that operate somewhat outside the bounds of the marginal utility of money. I spend much of my time these days on experiences that cost very little, if anything at all, yet provide me with a noticeable improvement in my personal level of happiness (while keeping in mind that there’s marginal utility to just about everything).
And isn’t this why we’re after financial freedom in the first place? To improve our happiness and overall quality of life? Is it a coincidence that the pursuit of happiness is an example of an unalienable right in the United States Declaration of Independence? (By the way, this site’s tagline is financial freedom, the pursuit of happiness, and living a purposeful life. Notice anything familiar there?)
Well, I’ve taken that right to the extreme, making it somewhat of a personal goal to maximize my success in the pursuit of happiness every single day.
With that in mind, one experience that seems to offer me more success than others is when I spend time with dogs in general and my two Chihuahuas specifically.
Dogs are known to be man’s best friend. In my experience, this is pretty accurate. Funny but true, I’ve often found dogs to be kinder, wiser, funnier, and more loyal than most humans I’ve met.
I’m particularly close to Kiwi, our female Chihuahua seen in the picture above.
This little girl is never far from me. In fact, she’s sitting right next to me as I write this article.
She provides me immense happiness. Sure, she barks here and there. And sometimes she excretes where she shouldn’t. So it’s not all roses and rainbows; life is never perfect.
But most of the time she’s showing me unconditional love, which is perhaps life’s greatest gift. It doesn’t matter what I do. She loves me, no matter what. I can yell at her for doing something wrong; she’s giving me kisses just seconds later. And I can say for sure that every time I come home, she greets me like it’s been years since we last saw each other.
Maybe her greatest personality trait is that she doesn’t care about money at all. She really just wants the simple things in life: a little food and water in her bowls, intermittent time outside in the sunshine, an occasional (or maybe more than occasional) treat, plenty of sleep, and lots of love and attention. I could give her money, but she’d just give it a quick inspection with her nose and walk away.
And what’s wonderful about financial freedom – how this all ties in – is that I’m able to spend far more time with her than if I were still working 60 hours per week in the auto industry. So that means I’m receiving substantially more unconditional love than I otherwise would be. It’s not difficult to figure out whether more or less unconditional love is better for one’s well-being and overall happiness.
Back when I was still working those crazy hours, I’d come home around 6:30 at night. I’d spend a little time catching up on things, looking over investments, and managing the blog. I’d then eat something quick for dinner, hit the gym, and take a shower. By the time I actually had time for Claudia, let alone a dog, it was almost bedtime.
But these days I’m able to really soak up all of the love she sends my way. I sometimes spend 20-30 minutes at a time just snuggling with her, petting her, and goofing around with her. It eases me. And it takes my mind off of all the serious stuff I’m often contemplating. Moreover, she makes me a better person. Knowing this little dog is capable of showing unconditional love means I have to do a better job at it myself. If she can do it, why can’t I?
So whereas other guys my age are still in the rat race, chasing after whatever it is they’re chasing after, I’m spending a lot of time receiving one of the greatest gifts life has to offer in unconditional love. This has the effect of improving my quality of life dramatically, while simultaneously lowering my stress levels.
Best of all, it’s practically free. Kiwi was a rescue that we picked up last summer. And she costs very little to keep, although that’s not something that really crosses my mind anyway.
Others can have their sports cars, fancy suits, and big houses.
I’ll take Kiwi over any of that any day of the week.
What about you? Love animals? Do you find that pets help you in your pursuit of happiness?
Thanks for reading.