Some people spend years and years searching for happiness, plodding along to hopefully someday become financially independent.
For some lucky other folks, which include me and today’s guest author, you realize at some point in your late thirties that you actually have this thing called financial independence, and the biggest challenge is figuring out what to do with it.
I met the man behind Life Outside the Maze over tacos in Denver with Mr. & Mrs. 1500 earlier this year. It turns out that we happened to overlap as students at the University of Minnesota, at the same time as our blogging friends Karsten of Early Retirement Now and Peter Anderson of Bible Money Matters.
It’s a big school and as far as I know, our paths never crossed back then, but it’s fun to connect years later.Golden Gophers aside, what “Mr. LOTM” is working on now is defining happiness in this post-FI life. I’ll let him take it from here.
Searching For Happiness When Financially Independent
When I reached FIRE, my motto was that rather than working for others to achieve financial independence, I can now work for myself to achieve happiness. One of the challenges to the question of what makes us happy is that happiness is subjective and short term happiness may actually cause longer term life unhappiness.
However, an unprecedented and extraordinary Harvard study has followed the lives of over 700 men for close to 80 years now and provided rich detail about these men’s lives and how the choices they made have impacted them.
The study director (of which there have been 4 over 80 years!) and researchers have gone through the data looking for predictive trends and they report one of their main findings to be that good relationships keep us happier and healthier.
Fame, wealth, and high achievement did not register nearly as important to satisfaction levels along a number of metrics over time as close quality relationships did. In addition, the biggest predictor of health at age 80 was how happy the person was with their relationships at age 50.
Those with strong and quality relationships were buffered from physical pain, had sharper memories for longer, were physically healthier, and lived longer than those who were less well connected. At the same, time loneliness and living amidst conflict showed to be really bad for health.
Relationships and Happiness
Good relationships are the most important thing for finding happiness.
That’s right. I am going to go out on a limb supported by research data above, common sense, and the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and just say it. To me, this means that treating people well is not just the golden rule but it is actually good for you personally.
Some relationships are better off ended and marriage may not last forever in this day in age and that is OK. However, if you find yourself moving from friend to friend like the changing of fashion or seasons, it might be worth some self examination. Same if you have a series of dysfunctional romantic relationships.
For most of us, our spouse or partner is the dominating relationship in our lives. It certainly does not have to be and I am open to all kinds of alternative lifestyles just as I am living my own right now (FIRE).
However, considering the importance of good relationships for our own happiness and for that of the world, the relationships that we invest in should be at least as important as a financial portfolio and be maintained, analyzed, rebalanced, optimized, and cared for as well, right?
Working on Relationships
When I was much younger, I used to put my marriage on a pedestal as exemplary and immutable. I was happy to have the luck of finding such a great match so soon and thought that meant that I could focus my energies on other things while other friends went through the drama of extended dating for many years.
Oh foolish younger me, how you neglected a good thing. Sometimes the things you never doubt become the ones you take for granted. Over more than 20 years together, we have had our great times and our hard times and we have certainly changed so much that we have been several different people.
I now know that staying connected takes work like tending to a garden or an investment portfolio. I also know that my relationship is just as vulnerable as any. With this in mind, I had the pleasure of recently completing another item on my bucket list in attending a relationship workshop with my lady:
The workshop that we chose was based on 50 years of research by a well known husband and wife team studying couples, what works, and what strains relationships.
It was a lot of fun to see their passion and humor in person and this workshop really resonated with my wife and I as data-driven sort of people. As a nice bonus, this also meant that we got to spend a weekend together just us two in Seattle which was awesome:
My Relationship and Achieving My Dreams?
I have been thinking quite a bit lately about how to make our dreams come true together with my lady. In a bit of perfect alignment, I rolled into this relationship workshop thinking that I would be spending the whole thing working on understanding my partner, building a positive perspective, and managing conflict.
However, on the 2nd day, we built on these things and did some exercises around making our dreams come true and creating a shared life vision. I thought it interesting that this model based on years of research built dreams and life vision on a foundation of solid relationships.
Can you be in close relationships and not include that person or those people in your life vision and still reach it? If you have great relationships, does this bring more focus to your life vision and foster achieving one’s dreams?
Is Being Financially Independent Good for a Relationship?
One of the things at our workshop that was presented in passing was that the most common fight among couples is money related issues, however, that these fights are actually not about money but about our personal relationship with money.
I googled this later and found this blog post where it is explained a bit further. This is a bit Freudian but the basic idea is that money conflicts are actually about “our dreams, our fears, and our inadequacies.”
These things are rooted in our upbringing. For example, if you had alcoholic parents who spent the food budget on vodka growing up and you never knew if you were going to get dinner that night or if mom and dad would be too “sick” to cook, you might have made a promise to yourself that expensive and good quality food is more important than retirement.
Meanwhile, your spouse today is angry at your $300 grocery bills. Hence, if you can understand each other’s world better and communicate better, the supposed money problems become simpler to navigate as a couple. I thought this was an interesting perspective and at least somewhat rings true to me.
Being financially independent and in a relationship may also mean that one partner may presently work a traditional job for non-financial reasons while the other doesn’t (my current situation), or that both are suddenly not working traditional jobs anymore because they no longer have to and don’t want to.
With the first situation, this means two people living different lifestyles and in the second it means two people both suddenly with extra time on their hands around each other all of the time.
Perhaps both of these issues do not mean that financial independence is bad for relationships but rather like money arguments, they uncover and exacerbate existing relationship concerns. More independence is more power and as Spiderman’s uncle said “with great power comes great responsibility.”
Tend to Your Partner as Well as Your Money
I have discussed and linked to some resources in this post but I want to stress that I am not being compensated in any way nor do I fully subscribe to any one research group’s view on relationships.
What I am saying is that good relationships in life are one of the most important things for happiness and should be considered at least as much as a financial portfolio.
There are many ways to do this from facilitated weekend workshops to getting a couple of good books from your local library and spending a weekend as a couple tending to your relationship portfolio, re-balancing your focuses for the best returns on happiness, selling out of some of the bad patterns that aren’t working and buying into some with a promising prospectus.
As a younger man, I used to put my relationship on a pedestal. Now I know that it is only as strong as I nourish it to be each day or week. It yields returns commensurate with how well it is managed and cared for.
Learn more about today’s guest author or follow along as he navigates Life Outside The Maze.
Do you spend more time managing your stock portfolio than your relationship? What relationship benefits or challenges have you encountered in FIRE? Do you agree that money fights are often not really about money? Let us know in the comment box below…