Happiness Revisited: did early retirement have an impact?

Revisiting Happiness and Early Retirement

Three years ago, I started tracking my happiness using Jim Collins’ system that he devised and spoke about on The Tim Ferriss Show.

Last year, after a request from a reader, I launched the Happiness Tracker Spreadsheet, so that you too can track your happiness.

Why track your happiness?

Tracking my happiness has helped me to ensure that I am doing the things in my life that make me happy. It also helped me to realize that I wasn’t happy working as a CEO any longer – and ultimately led me to engineer my exit.

Tracking my happiness, has helped me to ensure that I am doing the things in my life that make me happy.

Scoring is really simple:

  • 2 is a great day
  • 1 is a good day
  • 0 is a so-so day
  • -1 is a bad day
  • -2 is a really bad day

So if you have two bad days (-1) and two good days (+1), they will cancel each out and you will have a happiness score of a 0.

The goal is to have as high a score as possible, but the simple act of measuring has helped me to increase my happiness over time.

If you track your happiness long enough using this method, as I have, then you will eventually start to see the patterns in your good days and bad. From there you can start to make some tweaks.

Happiness Revisited: A look back at 2021

There’s no point in tracking anything, if you aren’t going to review and make changes accordingly.

It’s been awhile since I’ve updated and analyzed my overall happiness over the summer. So…it’s time right?

When I first rolled out my Happiness Tracker Data Visualization, there was a discernible difference between pre-retirement life and post.

My happiness did indeed improve by a large margin. In fact in March of 2021 my happiness was up 56% YoY. It wasn’t hard to see why (hint: no more lockdown & no more work).

But how about now?

Visualizing Happiness

Now that I’ve been tracking my happiness for nearly 3 years it is really starting to get interesting. To keep things simple, I am going to display only 2020 and 2021:

 

2021 by all means, was a huge improvement over 2020!! This is thanks to early retirement. Let’s look a bit closer:

Terrible days: Similar to 2020, I thankfully had zero of these!

Bad days: The orange days really have become few and far between. I only had 6 total in 2021, a 50% reduction from 2020!

I think the main reason is that even if something happens that drags the day down, I have the freedom to recover from it. I think this is where we are seeing the real power of FIRE.

76% of the time, I had a “Good” or “Great” day. This is what time freedom is all about.

Good days: So many of the so-so days have melted away, and most of my days tend to hover and stay in that light blue “good” zone (+27.87% YoY).

Overall, I tend to be able to find a way to do something enjoyable or productive. Be it a great meal, writing on AR, or a fun moment with my wife or kids, I pursue these with abandon.

Not every day is good, but 64% of the year, I managed to have a “good day.”

Great days: I had an increase of 10% total for great days. In reality this was only 4 more great days in 2021 than 2020.

But that’s ok. Early retirement is not perfect. You still have problems!

Happiness in early retirement

I’m still a parent.

I’m still a spouse.

It’s not always rainbows and unicorns.

Your happiness is not dependent on all of your problems going away, just the same as your happiness should never be dependent on people or things.

AR guest post on Budgets are Sexy

If there is one large lesson I have learned in the last year, it is that though my happiness has continued to improve, I still have to choose to do the things to make me happy.

FIRE affords you the freedom to stack great days together, but you don’t have to be retired to get the benefits of focusing on happiness one day at a time:

https://twitter.com/caitmackcs/status/1486349784369745920

What I love about Cait’s approach is is that she is working on building great days and stacking them together. She is consciously working on her happiness every day.

This is the power of tracking your happiness it is the first step in making a conscious choice to work on your own happiness.

Happiness is a conscious choice

Happiness isn’t something that can be improved overnight. You have to work at it, day after day.

Happiness is a choice.

You have to choose to do the things that make you happy.

You have to choose to be the person that you want to be.

You have to accept reality for what it is.

You have to manage your expectations.

For me, tracking happiness by giving it a value has helped me to emphasize my happiness day after day:

  • I make better choices.
  • I start each day fresh.
  • I choose to do more things that make me happy.
  • I choose to be more present in the moment (because that makes me happier).
  • I choose to do things to make others happy, because I now realize that it makes me happier as well.

Tracking your happiness is a small step towards improving your overall self.

Hopefully, I have convinced you to give tracking your happiness a shot!

But don’t take my word for it

Over this last year, I’ve received feedback from others who have picked up the practice of tracking their happiness. Here is what they have to say:

I’ve been keeping up with filling in your happiness tracker template and it helps me think with daily reflections. Thanks a lot for showing me how to use it.

– Richard

 I tracked my happiness for ~5 months this year and analyzed the results. It was really illuminating!

– Amanda

I am finding that the practice of focusing on the good things in the day, and knowing that I am working towards happiness means that I am more likely to reset myself when I am drifting downwards, so my incidence of bad days is much lower than it would have otherwise been (which in a roundabout way means I probably am happier!)

– Peter

Thanks to everyone who has corresponded with me about happiness in the last year!

If you have been tracking your happiness, I’d love to hear how it has helped (or not)! Let me know in the comments below.

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4 comments

  1. Interesting! I like this. Has it at all prodded you to do more things that you might not feel like doing (like working out, eating healthier, challenging yourself) and that are painful in the moment sometimes but that ultimately make you happier at the end of the day? I mean, a focus on happiness alone could lead people to just binge Netflix all day… (sorry, reading Dopamine Nation right now and rethinking the need to pursue some level of pain rather than just pleasure/happiness)

    1. Yeah for sure. If anything, I have found that I am more aware that sitting around and watching NFL football on Sundays actually doesn’t lead me to have the best days. In fact, sometimes I really feel like crap between my body not feeling its best and my mental state. So it certainly has helped me to realize that “hey, sitting around for 8 hours a day doesn’t make me happy, but doing some manual labor actually does.” With anything it really just helps you realize and figure out a way to find the right balance. Some days you do need/want to sit around the entire day, but not every day and not most days.

      1. Funny you mention sitting around and watching football all day, because that is probably the activity that I feel most excited about but am often relatively unfulfilled by the end of it, probably due to the lack of activity I engage in on those days.

        Great visuals–I am still flirting with the happiness tracker and not keeping consistent enough records. I always regret my lack of tracking when going through a particularly down period. Similar to when investments go down, zooming out helps you see that the down times are few and far between compared to good or even great days.

        1. Yeah…I find that once you get in the habit, happiness tracking is pretty fulfilling. I try to recount the Top 3 things from every day and that usually always makes me realize that even during the crappy days, there were some redeeming things that happened. So there is both the assistance of the macro by zooming out, and the micro, that there are good things that happen every day. You just have to look for them.

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