Happiness is an Early Retirement

What is happiness?

The Beatles said that Happiness is a Warm Gun. Ummm…. next!

Linus told Charlie Brown that Happiness is a Warm Blanket… better…

Mr. Money Mustache says that Happiness is the Only Logical Pursuit… I like that!

The best definition from the Merriam Webster online dictionary is 2a: a state of well-being and contentment. Sounds about right.

Happiness is indeed a pursuit or a state of mind that we would all like for ourselves and the people around us. Many books have been written on the topic, and many blog posts, too. As a type of scientist, I like to see evidence based in science.


My wife kindly shared a post with me that combined happiness, science, and action items to increase happiness. As I read the 10 Simple Things You Can Do Today That Will Make You Happier, Backed By Science, I realized how much simpler these things will be when I am retired. I encourage you to read the original article, and the referenced studies if you wish. Here, I will present the 10 items and discuss how an early retirement will make happiness more easily achievable for me.

Exercise more.

I firmly believe that fitness is a key component of a quality, long-lasting retirement, which I’ve written about before. The problem is, exercise is the first thing to be dismissed when life’s schedule gets crowded with other activities.

When I retire, I envision having a fitness routine built in to my daily schedule. I’ll have time to mix it up. Jogging some days, strength training on other days, an occasional bike ride or evening kayak. As it is now, I try to squeeze in as much as I can into an hour or so on random days when I find the time.


lego waterskiing

me on a ski


Sleep more.

I love sleep!

I hate 0515 alarms, which is the time mine goes off every workday. I despise even earlier wake-up calls, and the pager doesn’t discriminate between a.m. and p.m. Twenty percent of the days of my life, I go to sleep knowing that there’s a decent chance I’ll be waking up and going to work long before the sun comes up, and perhaps before I’ve even fallen asleep.

After I retire, there will be no more 0100 labor epidurals, 0300 appendectomies or 0515 alarm clocks for me. I’ll be able to maintain a healthier, more consistent sleep schedule. Just the thought of a consistent good night’s sleep makes me happier.

Move closer to work.

Long commutes and the stress of driving in traffic take a toll. They also take time out of our lives every workday, and can be awfully expensive when you factor in the wear and tear on your vehicle, and the cost of gasoline and routine maintenance.

The original post recommends moving closer to work to reduce the cost and hassle, but I’m going to retire early and outright eliminate them. Bonus happiness points!

Spend time with friends and family.

Last weekend, I was invited, along with my parents, to visit my brother who lives a couple hours away. I had wanted to spend some time getting work done around the house and on this blog, but I chose to do the family thing. We had a good time, enjoyed some expertly smoked pork shoulder, shared some growlers of curated beers, and did a little fishing on a big lake.


sherriff boat florida

not our fishing boat


I made the right decision, but right now, there are only so many hours and weekends I have free. In an early retirement, I don’t think I’ll have to hem or haw before accepting invitations to spend more time with family and friends.


Go outside.

I’m pretty indoorsy these days, and the entirety of my workday occurs indoors in a place devoid of windows. I do like to be outdoors, though. I’m all about camping, hiking, bicycling, canoeing, walking the dog, and horsing around with the kids.

A substantial percentage of the forty-plus hours I currently spend indoors wondering what it’s like outside will be spent outdoors when I retire. I look forward to fresh air.


portage a canoe

i can’t see

Help others.

Well, helping others get through surgery safely and as comfortably as possible is my job description, so I may not be boosting my happiness a whole lot in this department. I will say, though, that I will be much better able to volunteer my time than I am now.

The post also describes how spending on others creates happiness, as does spending on experiences over things, two habits I practice and preach.

Practice smiling.

I’m a pretty happy person. My boys make me smile every day, and most of my favorite movies are comedies. I even smile a lot at work, especially when I’m visiting with patients and their families. I’d like to think that I’ll find more reasons to smile when I’m away from work, but I’m going to have to call this one a draw. 🙂



i’m kinda smiling


Plan a trip – but don’t take one.

This recommendation is based on the fact that the planning and anticipation of an event can bring as much or more pleasure than the event itself. I learned this the hard way when I read several guide books cover to cover before my first Disney World trip as a teenager. The actual vacation was fun, but I had set the bar quite high, and knew what to expect on every ride in every park.

When I’m retired early, I’ll get the best of both worlds. I’ll be able to plan vacations and events, will have more time to plan well, and will also have the time to take the trips. We travel a decent amount now, but with everything else happening in our lives, the trips really sneak up on us, and I’m planning and booking things last-minute. I long for the ability to slow travel with my family.


My experience with meditation can be summed up in zero words. I have exactly no experience with meditation, but my radiologist friend, the Happy Philosopher, hasn’t written about his experiences with meditation and how it has helped him.

I’ll add meditation to the list of new things I’d like to try in early retirement, along with learning an instrument, a second language, pilates, fat biking…

Practice gratitude.

Here’s another habit that doesn’t need to wait for an early retirement. I like to think that I practice gratitude, but I’m not sure I express it as effectively or as often as I’d like. Recommendations are to take note of three things you are grateful for each day, or to write three letters of gratitude in three weeks.

That reminds me; I need to send a thank-you letter to our friends who hosted us out in northern California. I’ve been meaning to do it, but I haven’t found the time. Someday I’ll have more time to practice gratitude, and the whole gamut of happiness boosting activities.

In early retirement.


  • Sounds brutal on the sleep – surely that’s not a 7 days a week situation. Is that only when you’re on call? How often is that? I would think it’s difficult to settle your mind and actually get good rest if you’re thinking about when you’ll be woken up AS you’re falling asleep.

    As for meditation, I suggest you give the Headspace app a try. You might be able to develop a meditation practice before early retirement. Headspace does a pretty great job structuring everything for you.

  • Jon

    Reading your list of scientifically proven ways to be happier, it makes me long for early retirement! I will say that I have done a decent job of fitting exercise into my weekly routine, but sleep and many of the others could use some attention! After 15 years at my corporate gig, I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel and am formulating my exit strategy, so there is hope.

    Good luck incorporating more of these aspects into your weekly routine!

    • Really interesting to think of planning a vacation but not going on it. At first that sounds so odd, but after finishing the paragraph – that makes such sense. When we were young, our parents thought that AAA “TripTiks” and the fat “State” guides with activities/lodging were just the most amazing thing ever! (I actually think they still have those…) They gave a “glimpse” in to activities but now you can experience your whole vacation before you even go (for most places!) You are definitely right about the let down idea. We plan slow travel like you but now I will have to think more about how much “pre-” work we will do not to spoil our “aha” moments… Great Thursday morning thinking!

      • Yes, I think there’s such thing as too much planning, and certainly too little. Like so many things in life, it’s all about finding a happy medium. We really haven’t had the opportunity to slow travel, although some of my locums work gave me a glimpse of the lifestyle.


    • Thank you, Jon, and good luck to you finding the end of that tunnel!

  • I like all of those things! I’ve already put effort into one through five already, and maybe I’ll take care of the rest when I FIRE 😉

    • Sounds like a plan. It will be nice to be less rushed. Having a couple kids adds joy to our lives, but also occupies much of our “free time,” whatever that is. I could add a lot of things to the list of what I would like to start doing or do more of when retired. This is just the list of things shown to make you happier. 🙂


  • I’m a big fan of a lot of those already, and like you plan to do more outdoors activities, and have a rotating fitness schedule of sorts. I get so burnt out “just running” or rowing or whatever i get into for a bit, but being able to change it up and swim a few mornings, and kayak a day or two, and run a day or two, plus hiking. I mean, I can’t wait. We jsut joined a gym since Mrs. SSC no longer has her corporate gym to work out at, and I’ve started swimming there a few nights a week. I can already feel a big difference and it breaks up the monotony of “just running.” I figure if i can use swimming to beef up cardio and my legs with a kickboard i can school that half marathon in October, yeah!!

    My wife tried a meditation app – I think it was headstart, as mentioned before, but she was able to go from a type A, hyperactive doer, to being able to meditate and calm her self and get into meditating and it helped her relax more.

    • Yeah, it’s definitely best to mix it up. Better for the body and mind, I think. I do a fair amount of running, but I’ll add some situps, pushups, pullups, dips, etc…

      Is the meditation app just a bunch of monks chanting “aaaaoooooommmmmm”? I kinda hope so.


  • The part where you describe planning a trip but not taking one made me wonder about the future.With the developments of virtual reality, I’m curious whether vacations will even be needed. You ‘knew what to expect on every ride’ just by reading, imagine if you were actually able to put on a headset and experience the rides!

    • Thanks for the food for thought, frugal familia. I have a hard time imagining vacations being fully replaced by VR. Augmented, maybe. VR could also give people who can’t physically do certain things, or afford to see certain places, an opportunity to have an experience that mimics the real thing as much as possible. I’ve never had an Oculus set or any other VR on my head, but I would have to imagine there are some limitations compared to real life.

      Interesting concept and point, though.


  • Great list! The good news is all of those things are much easier to do once you retire!

    • Absolutely, Mr. Tako! That’s what struck me about the list. I’d like to do more of that, can’t do that, I would if I wasn’t working…


      • Joe

        Life is a lot better after ER, but I’m still running a big deficit on sleep and exercise. I really need to cut down on the blogging front. Next year, I’d probably go down to two posts per week. Blogging takes up way too much time now….

        • You’re giving the Internet Retirement Polics some real fodder there, Joe. It’s important to point out that you are also caring for a young one. When he’s in school full-time, that should open up more you-time.

  • I second you on the sleep! Lately I’ve been putting in 12 hour days, hopefully for the better. Not sure that it’ll help me get to FI faster, but it sure does motivate me.

  • That’s a great recipe for happiness! On the sleep front, I don’t have a consistent early wake-up time, but at least once or twice a week, I have a 5 am flight that requires getting up at 3ish… I will not miss that for one second in retirement! It was especially fun this past week, on the solstice, to try to fall asleep for that early wakeup call when the sun was still high up in the sky. 🙂 And you know I totally agree, too, on all the outdoorsy stuff! It’s so good for all of us, and it’s a major source of sadness for me that so many people these days seem to feel a lot more comfortable indoors, or maybe within the safe boundaries of their own yard. Get out there and experience the natural world, people! It’s good for the soul! 🙂

  • Planning a trip but not taking one is a great point. The impression and/or the thought of something is more important than the actual something in most cases!

    I will have to take a rain check on the sleep portion though because I’m barely starting to enter the workforce later in the summer and will have to prove myself to upper management.. But weekends will be for 10 hours of sleep sessions!

  • Such a nice list. I completely agree, especially with exercise and being outside, preferably at the same time. I work in the ED and we don’t have windows, so when EMS brings in wet patients I don’t know if they’re diaphoretic or if it’s raining!

  • you know, your list looks a heck of a lot like ours. The 4.45 am alarm to help beat the commuting traffic (at least that gets me to the gym), the general rushing around that leaves little time for thinking or planning. We’re also looking forward to some slow travel to visit family in the UK – without needing a vacation when we get back to get over it!
    Ah yes. Happiness is……..

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