Happiness Cliff Notes

By | May 30, 2016

It’s my duty to be happy. I can’t be the first one to think that. This is why I spend so much time gazing at my navel, contemplating how to make it so. There’s a lot of research out there, but here’s my takeaway so far:

Thriftygal’s Cliff Notes on Happiness

I. Necessary, but not sufficient:

  • A happy place to lay your head at night
  • Easy access to good, healthy food
  • Any of II, III, or IV below alone

II. Pleasant interactions

III. Feeling of control

IV. Sense of purpose

I. Necessary, but not sufficient

  • A happy place to lay your head and access to good food

I was born in a lucky spot in the universe and I have never had to think about these two items. You probably are too. When you stop to smell the roses for a second, you begin to realize how auspicious you are. You have the Internet. You’re reading this. You don’t just subsist. That’s more than a shocking percentage of the world can say.

If you’re hungry, it’s pretty hard to focus on anything else. Chronic hunger means your whole life is in crisis mode. I can’t even imagine. This is just the cliff notes. I want to write more about poverty soon.


At one of the Smithsonian museums in D.C.

Once you have the basic necessities, you can only dwell on the gratitude for so long before you begin to wonder what else is on. That’s where point three comes in.

  • Any of II, III, or IV below alone.

It’s all about balance. I think.

II. Pleasant interactions

If your day-to-day interactions with other people aren’t stressful, but rather fun and comforting, your life will be better. Good relationships are important. I suppose you could add co-workers to the list below, but since I don’t have a job, I won’t.


My first cousin once removed and I giggling at something or other.

Happily for me, that lucky spot in the universe included the best family in existence. Awesome Mom, Dad, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles galore. I know everyone can’t say that. I read about an entire generation in China who have no brothers and no sisters; whose children will have no cousins, no aunts, and no uncles. What a lonely thought.

If you don’t have a great family, that’s not your fault. You can however, surround yourself with good friends. Hanging out and doing things that are fun and that interest you with other people who are fun and interesting makes you fun and interesting. Honest!

Knowing how to make friends has done heaps for my happiness level. Heaps. I don’t know how to quantify it. I’ve written a bit about it though.

  • Inner ally

I’m human though and there are several aspects of happiness that I struggle with. The one person I hang out with the most is definitely the most annoying. Interactions with myself often suck. “Be nice to yourself” is one of the life tips that seem so obvious to me when I write it on my to-do list, but I am shockingly bad at doing on a day-to-day basis. Perfect strangers who read my neurotic blog (you) have pointed out that I’m hard on myself. I’m constantly complaining about myself to myself and then complaining to myself that all I ever do is complain. I’m lazy. I’m antsy. I don’t have common sense. I waste too much time. I’m not enough. That’s really not constructive at all, brain.

Sigh. Yeah, I just said “sigh” and didn’t actually sigh. Self compassion is such a valuable trait and one I wish I could master. Sadly, there are enough people out there who are eager to tear you down and tell you how awful, uninformative and worthless you are. Why join the chorus? Why not be a voice of calm and tenderness in the deluge? Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults.

If you succeed in doing this, tell me how. Research shows that when the voice inside your head is a friend and not a bully, you’re more likely to:

  1. try new things because failure doesn’t automatically come with scoldings;
  2. have more self-confidence;
  3. empathize with other people because you understand that everyone fails, everyone struggles; that is what it means to be human;
  4. be healthier with better immune function;
  5. take care of yourself because you don’t want yourself to suffer;
  6. accept blame for your mistakes because, again, failure doesn’t automatically come with scoldings;
  7. be better than me.

I see literally zero downside to being nice to yourself. All anybody wants is acceptance and love. I know it starts with yourself. I am not a bad person. I am a good person who has done some bad things. And the bad things I beat myself up over probably aren’t that bad. For instance, the guy I shot in Reno just to watch die was also really rude to his waitress.

I have a rule that I’ve been trying to implement for years and the article I linked above reminded me of – don’t say anything to myself that I wouldn’t say to a friend of mine. Whenever I do say something mean to myself, I have to stop and say something nice to counteract the negativity.

Like most things in life, I’m really terrible at it.

But it’s one of those resolutions that I keep putting on my resolutions chart because I know life would be so much better if I were better at it. I don’t have any words of wisdom on this bullet point. Sorry. I’m still trying. Go read an article I wrote about making friends.


This bag of milk makes me giggle.

III. Feeling of control

Having enough money lets me control my schedule. I cannot emphasize how big of a deal this is for my happiness level. I just wrote a bunch about this recently and a little less recently.

Life gets unbearable when your expectations of what you can have falls so far outside of what you actually have. Money = options.

IV. Sense of purpose

I’m still struggling with this piece too. Focus is my biggest problem. I’m still not sure what I *should* be doing. Whatever that means. I’ve been told more than once that I can’t waste my life having fun. Or at least, I can’t ONLY have fun. No, those both sound wrong.

I think it has to do with something outside yourself. For some people, it’s religion. For some people, I imagine it’s raising their children. Maybe it’s their business or their jobs? I hope to stumble across this at some point, but I want to say it’s some version of the campfire rule. Leave the place better than how you found it.

Here’s a quote by Howard Thurman that I think about a lot.

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

I haven’t quite figured the alive part out, but I have a running list of things that make me feel dead. I’ll keep you updated as the experiment continues. Even if you don’t want me to.

What have I missed?

15 thoughts on “Happiness Cliff Notes

  1. Simon Kenton

    Please, try to get it right. I shot the guy in Reno. You shot the guy in Vegas.

    Granted you are a terrible person, you are a witty writer: “Like most things in life, I’m really terrible at it.”

    See the Dunning – Kruger Effect. Go thou and sin no more.

  2. Dominick

    A few notes on positive/negative self talk in case they help.

    1. I try to think about how much more I could accomplish if I had a cheerleader following me around all day telling me what a great job I was doing at everything. How much more powerful, competent, efficient, and confident I would be? For me, the answer is a lot more! Why not be that cheerleader for myself?

    2. Practice. Like most things in life, you won’t change a habit overnight. Try finding one thing you did well today. Then actually tell yourself how great you did and how much you appreciate it. See how it feels. If it feels good you are likely to repeat the behavior.

    3. Since, in general, we could all do better at this for ourselves, it a great idea to do it for each other. Find things the people around you are doing well and tell them! It’s good for them, and good practice for you.

    If everyone gave more compliments to each other and themselves, we would probably all be better off. Couldn’t hurt…

  3. Paul

    Going all introspective here. Enjoying your adventure and financial writing more.

  4. emily

    I have a calm kind voice 90% of the time. When it starts acting up, I go to bed!
    Ps thanks for your blog! Love it.

  5. wishicouldsurf

    Great post. As I enter into what I hope is the final stretch to financial independence, I’ve been thinking about what makes me come alive and how I might spend some of my newfound time and energy quite a bit. Keep us readers posted about what you figure out!

  6. Brittany Murphy

    Great post and I really like what @Dominick said.

    I think a positive inner dialogue is essential for happiness. Sometimes it feels like I might be deluding myself or building a false sense of self, but telling myself positive messages has helped me push through challenging moments and turned them into times of personal growth.

    I agree too about complimenting others. Once you’re on a roll making an effort to make others feel good about themselves, you’ll feel good too and probably be a little nicer to yourself afterwards.

  7. Jason

    That’s not your first cousin once remove. That’s your first niece once removed.

  8. Michael

    I have been doing training on personality types and what is apparent is that different things make different personalities happy, and this can change over time. So what might make me happy, may not make you happy, and may not be what makes me happy at some other point in my life. You can group the basic needs like this:

    1. need for purpose (being part of something greater than ourselves)
    2. need for competence (being good at what we do and recognised as such)
    3. need for fun (getting/doing things we like)
    4. need for action (having things happen)
    5. need for connection (with other people, recognition of ourselves as people)
    6. need for contemplation (being alone)

    Another well recognised classification in the psychiatric literature (that overlaps with the above) is the three happiness types

    1. Calm, satisfaction, beauty (eg. seeing a beautiful sunset, getting a compliment, meditating)
    2. Excitement, sensory gratification (eg. sex, shopping, parachuting)
    3. Connection (friends, family, pets)

    Interestingly the 3 types are associated with different neurotransmitters – gaba, adrenaline, oxytocin respectively.

  9. zeejaythorne

    Having pleasant interactions with roommates would definitely change all of my lifestyle.

    For me, having enough to eat is the number one source of happiness. A childhood of want left that mark on me. Happily, it turned my adulthood into joy. I have enough. Everything is just gravy.

    I think access to clean water and air should be up there and not subsumed into housing. The safety to walk freely in your neighborhood without your lungs suffering is important to long-term happiness.

  10. KruidigMeisje

    Lovely overview. Thanks.
    I am working towards FI, and this kind of thinking is usually missing in any blog on that.
    I would add that the happy place to lay your head would have proper access to medic(s) and clean water, and be save (Maslov’s lower layer). Nitpicking, possibly, you covered most things. And for us richies a bit superfluous, I admit. But it selects out a whole bunch in this world :-(.

    And do you account for F*(cked *(P bodies(sick, handicapped) in any way? They can be happy, but may have to do a bit more effort to do possibly. As I am over 40, this aspect also influences my future outlook: will my body influence my happiness (in a downward way) when I am FI? And how can I adjust for it? (besides living healthily obviously)


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