Happiness is the Only Logical Pursuit

happybeerdwarfIf you set aside your fancy adult concerns for just a moment and think deeply, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that this entire world is really just a giant zoo. It is a giant zoo packed with silly animals, and we’re just the one who takes itself most seriously.

Every speck of life exists simply to make copies of itself, from the simple gooey process by which single-celled organisms split in half every few minutes, up to the angst-ridden mating dance of complex letters that tomorrow’s world leaders are currently crafting in their college dorms and emailing to their boyfriends and girlfriends if they have the courage to click ‘send’.

As humans, we’re stuck at the top of this pyramid. We have become so complex that the reproduction part is just a footnote in our lives, so we move on to get caught up in interest rate predictions, celebrity magazines, war, philanthropy or fantasy football. We have created all of this complexity, a sloshing sea of ideas and activities completely unrelated to raising babies, and it’s all because of one underlying thing we’re all born with:  The Desire to Be Happy.

People do things, whether it’s making a baby, upgrading a pickup truck, or researching vaccines, because they think it will make them happy. Whether you’re just following a strong and sexy animal impulse, or giving away some money so that people on the other side of the world can live longer, the behavior comes from the same place – a desire to feel good.  But our feelgood activities vary widely because our complicated brains get pleasure for a wide variety of reasons.

Although it’s a little spooky to think about, it is essential to start with the biology: a realization that you are nothing more than a complex machine made of meat. Fleshy chunks, tubes, hormones and electrical signals are the underlying stuff that powers your deepest insights and emotions. So, in much the same way that fear is just a chemical, so happiness is mostly a squirt of Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, and maybe a few Endorphins. If you’ve ever consumed mood-altering drugs including caffeine or alcohol, or found yourself in an inexplicably bad (or good) mood, you have already felt these things in action.

It is very useful to know all this stuff, because it helps protect you from taking your own moods too seriously. Even the deepest depression is just an unfavorable mix of brain chemistry. But it’s a poor gamble to try to solve all of life’s problems with prescription medication alone, when you can get more consistent and powerful happiness by going out and enjoying life in the real world.

When deciding how to make the most of this, it is usually helpful to look at the surprisingly insightful triangle known as Mazlow’s Hierarchy of Needs.


Figure 1: Maslow’s Excellent Triangle

I first learned of this thing in history class when I was about 13 years old, and ever since it has been popping into my mind at the strangest and most useful times. While it was impressive even to my teenage self, I notice its wisdom seems to grow even more with each passing year.

It’s useful because it is so true. The first pleasures in life are the physiological ones that keep you alive: food, sleep, breathing, and so on. If you don’t have these, nothing else really matters. But if you have enough of them, you quickly start looking up the pyramid for the next level: security, or things that help save you from worrying too much.

If you have basic security, you are finally happy enough seek out family, intimacy, and friendship. From there, you move up to confidence, and earning and cherishing the respect of others. If you are lucky enough to have all of that going on, you get to roam around in the exotic land of self actualization, being creative and moral and working on personal growth.

How Consumerism Chips Away at the Pyramid

Oddly enough, the flaw in our rich world is a tripwire that we have set up way down at level 2: security. Our consumer culture encourages us to look upwards and earn respect, sexual intimacy, confidence, and even self actualization with the new Toyota Highlander or Ford F-150, when doing so actually destroys our security. By draining our money, luxuries like cars make us desperately insecure and dependent on constant employment. And by keeping us seated and inactive, they drain our strength and health so our lives become even more precarious.


Figure 2: Effect of Ridiculous Vehicle Purchases on your Happiness Triangle

This is why Mustachianism is mostly about money and health – it’s supposed to be a bridge over the traps laid out by consumerism, so you can step over and move on up to the happier parts of the pyramid: family, confidence, and self actualization.

If you understand all this, you can start to really understand human happiness. To extract the most happiness from your life, your job is to intelligently press the reward buttons at each level of Maslow’s pyramid.

  • You get your first reward (level 1 of the pyramid) by eating enough nutritious food to maintain a healthy body. But you get no more by gorging on dinner and dessert every night in expensive restaurants.
  • Your next reward comes from ensuring safety and security for yourself and your loved ones. But there are no additional happiness points for owning multiple houses and boats scattered throughout the world.
  • Family and friends are the core of happiness for most of us, but there is a limit to how many people you can be truly close to. This is why fame and celebrity status don’t help us with our close relationships, (although they might help as a crutch for increasing self esteem at the next level).
  • At the top level, things get really wacky: some people give away significant portions of their time and money in the interest of helping others. It sounds noble, but it’s actually just another way to press your own reward buttons: by feeling helpful and essential, you complete your own life. The effect is so powerful that even people struggling in the bottom levels of the pyramid feel the joy of generosity. But on average, as we all become more secure, we have less interest in theft and more motivation to be kind to others.

In other words, because full-pyramid happiness automatically includes both feeling good, and being good, it makes sense that happiness is the best thing to work on in life.

But How do I Press The Buttons?

I found that just understanding Happiness 101 as I presented it above is a gigantic shortcut to living a happy life. Suddenly, you can start weighing every decision against that simple chart. On top of that, you can check your decisions against the wisdom of ancient philosophers, who were simply happiness researchers from the era before formal science.

To illustrate this compressed jewel of an answer to the Entire Purpose of Life, let’s throw it into the test arena with some real world scenarios:

Badassity  and Fitness vs. Convenience 

When raking leaves one fall day, you start to feel sweaty and tired. As if by magic, a Home Depot flyer comes in the afternoon mail which advertises gas-powered leafblowers at 50% off. You are tempted. But will this purchase make you happier?

If you are currently more muscular and lean than you’d like to be, and you have been searching for ways to reduce your fitness, then the leaf blower may be a great choice. On the other hand, if you have a shortage of health (which is pretty fundamental down at level 2 on the pyramid), you will generally find more happiness from any activities which increase it – raking, cycling, foregoing all elevators and escalators, and so on.

And physical fitness is not just an optional goal – it’s a fundamental creator of the happiness chemicals noted above. A simple daily walk is more powerful than most prescription antidepressants and artery-scrapers.

That’s an obvious example, but it translates to something much more emotional: the car. Upgrading the reliability of your car might indeed provide an increase in life security. Likewise, getting a more efficient car boosts your financial security, while also providing the self-actualizing benefits of “being less of an asshole to other people”. However, most car purchases are done for the opposite reasons – initial thrills aside, a full-sized pickup truck will bring only pain in the long run.

Novelty, Complexity, and Gadgets

What about novelty, like you buying an Apple watch or me buying a Nissan Leaf? We can justify it under the guise of “learning” or “streamlining our lives with efficient new apps”, but once again, it helps to check if we are really fixing anything in the pyramid.

Learning about a new gadget keeps you on top of technology and may speed up things like checking your heart rate or translating phrases during international travel. But does your life currently suck in any way due to the lack of heart rate data or the difficulty of using Google Translate on your existing phone? If not, you are unlikely to see a happiness boost.

My often-cited Craigslist electric car shopping mission is another good one to test. Buying an electric car would eliminate my spending on gas. But is my gasoline spending currently something I think about? No. It would also provide silent, speedier acceleration. But do I have a problem with the noise and rate of acceleration of my Scion xA? No again. In fact, my only justification for a Leaf is the self actualization it might provide when I wrote about it on this blog and heard that other people had replaced serious gas powered commutes with clean, cheap electric ones. But does my life currently suck due to a shortage of self actualization? That’s the only question I need to ask when deciding if I should buy this car.

In one sentence: Happiness Boosts come mainly from reducing Life Suck.

Producers Have More Fun Than Consumers

Which would you rather be: a dedicated fan celebrating your favorite band by lining up for $100 concert tickets, or a member of an amazing band, feeling the love of thousands of people as you share the grooves that you and some of your closest friends create together? If you’re not that into music, try the same trick on professional sports, founding a great company, writing, art, carpentry or gardening. Creativity sits right at the top of that pyramid, which means the rewards are high. Bonus: producing stuff earns you money, while consuming it costs you money.

Stoicism: The Surprising Life Boost from Embracing Voluntary Hardship

As these techniques get more advanced, you’ll find we move from changing your daily actions, up to training your mind. Stoicism is an easy form of mental barbell lifting that reminds you to appreciate what you have, and make a point of venturing out into unknown adventures and difficult conditions occasionally, just to refresh your appreciation of how good your life currently is. You can start your training on Stoicism by right clicking this article and opening it in a new tab for later reading: What is Stoicism and How Can it Turn Your Life to Solid Gold?

Buddhism: the Advanced Mental Ninja Leap Over Maslow’s Entire Pyramid

Saving the strangest but most powerful happiness booster for last, we arrive at Buddhism. I’m only a few books into this study, but its ideas are valuable even if summarized in one paragraph: Happiness comes from reducing your suffering. And suffering is what happens when you cling desperately to thoughts and observations and wish they were different, rather than just accepting them and letting your inner core remain content.

Another way to put this is in an equation: Suffering = Expectations – Reality.

For example: The beginner would say, “I’m cold! I don’t want to be cold – this sucks!”, while the Buddhist would think, “I feel a cool sensation on my skin. My body registers this as discomfort. That is all.”

Both beginner and Buddhist have thoughts flowing through their heads all day, like waves coming in to crash on a beach. But the beginner notices the negative thoughts and dives in, trying to fight them back: “I have to go to court next week! It’s scary! I might lose! This sucks!”, whereas the Buddhist would think, “There goes a thought about mangoes. And one of opportunities. And one of my court appointment next week. Like waves, each of my thoughts comes, and goes.”

Despite the obvious wisdom of older philosophers, I remain fully engaged with the world, enjoying table saws and craft brews and stock markets along with everyone else. But by simply pausing before each major life decision and comparing it to our real goal of a happy, satisfying life, we can keep the ship moving in a better direction and thus get more from life.

Further Reading: several people in the comments have asked about recommendations for books on Buddhism. I’m a big fan of The Art of Happiness, because it combines a mildly scientific approach with the badass calmness of the Dalai Lama. The link above is to a batch of used copies on Amazon, but you can also get Kindle versions and of course your first choice should be checking if there is a copy at your local Public Library.

Advanced Bonus from a Librarian reader: A service called “Worldcat” lets you search a huge collection of libraries (and find the closest one) for specific books. Let’s try it out for Art of Happiness:


  • FinanceSuperhero June 8, 2016, 10:22 am

    In my experience, most people find their happiness within the bottom three tiers of Maslow’s Hierarchy. Why? Because they rarely push themselves to grow in the areas of the top three tiers. People prefer the comfort and security of the bottom of the triangle over the vulnerability of the top portion.

    To me, the trick is finding happiness and joy in pursuing one’s purpose. I constantly ask myself the question, “What is it time for now?” and generally speaking, if I my current actions are in alignment with the answer to that question, I am darn happy. Of course, all of this requires openness, self-reflection, and honesty, which isn’t easy for all people.

    I would encourage fellow Mustachians to ask that question and observe its impact upon actions and happiness levels.

    • Kyle June 8, 2016, 11:25 am

      Well, while an intimate relationship can make you feel vulnerable, you don’t need that to feel loved and feel like you belong which is very important as we’re highly social creatures. I think you’re thinking about love = marriage, esteem = working in difficult technical fields and self actualization = like starting a business and risking your money, which is all not necessarily the case. Feel free to correct me on your thought process.
      I see it more as we don’t think about accomplishing these areas of who we are but rather when you do well in one area, the next area automatically starts to come together in your life. If you feel secure, you will start to find yourself feeling loved, maybe only in a platonic way by friends. When you feel like you belong, you automatically start to feel esteem, and when you have enough of all those lower levels you automatically start self actualizing and finding out who you really are deep down. Money, marriage and careers aren’t necessarily required to feel achieve any of these things.

      • The Roamer June 8, 2016, 11:36 am

        Kyle I really like how you put it.
        It’s simplified but I think that makes sense. In video game terms Like the doors start to open once you completed the level.

      • FinanceSuperhero June 9, 2016, 8:50 am

        Kyle, I think you make a valid point – that money, marriage, and careers aren’t necessarily required to achieve security, esteem, and self-actualization.

        I was thinking about love, esteem, and self-actualization in much broader terms when I wrote my comment. While one can certainly reach for them via the methods you described, I would agree that love is possible independent of marriage, esteem independent of technical work, and self-actualization independent of entrepreneurial pursuits.

        That said, I would still assert that humans are conditioned to remain in a position of comfort and security. We innately seek to maintain homeostasis, and in my opinion, that homeostasis is more and more threatened as we “level up” on the triangle. On the other hand, the potential rewards are great enough that most people will naturally overcome the inclination to maintain the status quo.

  • J June 8, 2016, 10:25 am

    You’ve hit the nail on the head MMM! To return to your equation (though I’d replace Suffering by the more neutral utility, since your expectations can be exceeded), it shows that if you want to improve your utility you can either: change your expectations or change your reality (i.e. the state you are in). In my experience, a combination of both works best, but people often underestimate the power of altering your expectations. They are always trying to take the right actions to reach a desired state, but they seldom try to change what state they desire…

    • The Roamer June 8, 2016, 11:32 am

      The equation has to do with the teachings of Buddhism in which suffering is kind of a given. Utility is not a neutral as how useful you are or feel is in itself derived from your own expectations.

      Someone volunteering to pick up garbage on the side of the freeway would be feeding into their self actualization I believe and feel happiness from it. But a criminal being forced to do it will be punish, not thinking of themselves as useful. Boiling it down to math again I would assume their utility and the reality is the same. But due to their expectations one of them will feel happiness while the other suffers.

      But maybe I misunderstood what you meant by utility

      • Dianne June 14, 2016, 1:18 pm

        I think that makes perfect sense because what you are saying is what you feel about a situation is exactly what you tell yourself. If you tell yourself something is a chore, then it is.

      • Taryn October 19, 2016, 10:09 pm

        I could be wrong, but this is probably not the sense of utility intended.

        It’s not about the usefulness of a person to the rest of the world (in which case the volunteer and the criminal are providing the same utility to the community).

        Utility is used as a word to describe one’s own personal way of assessing the positive/negative take-aways for any given action to one’s personal life-goals. In which case the volunteer gains a lot of personal utility from picking up rubbish (because it fulfils their need to help) but the criminal only gains a small amount of positive utility (eg maybe filling up one more day of incarceration, maybe gaining some brownie-points with the prison) but also gets the negative utility of hating doing it – for what is probably on balance greatly negative utility.

        “utility” is a way of talking about how a person is keeping score with how well their actions fulfil their goals.

  • Aleksei June 8, 2016, 10:29 am

    I was following your blog for a while. I live in a poorer country than US, so many of your themes like not going in debt and thinking before you spend seem pretty “duh!” to me :) but some of them I did apply to my life – I have a home gym for example!

    I was wondering from the start if with your frugality and stoicism you will eventually arrive to Buddhism :) So glad you did. Are you planning to take any practical courses in meditation? That’s where the real value is. I can share my experiences with that (better to do it in email I think).

    • Erin B. June 10, 2016, 2:34 pm


      I would love to hear more about your experiences. :)


  • The Green Swan June 8, 2016, 10:34 am

    If everyone when through the simple process of asking yourself, “does this purchase help reduce life suck” before making purchases (big and small) it is kind of scary to think how different our world would be. It is definitely something I could benefit from doing. But I also admit I enjoy a few “creature comforts” which I think is only human nature. I don’t need them to reduce suckiness in my life, but more as a luxury to boost efficiency, comfort and convenience which all should hopefully lead to happiness too.

  • Steve June 8, 2016, 10:35 am

    A lot of happiness comes down to attitude. A good attitude can make almost any lifestyle a truly productive one, even if it doesn’t include a bunch of “stuff”. In fact, the less stuff we have…the more we reject consumerism, the happier most of us become.

    Funny how that happens.

    • Doug June 9, 2016, 9:10 pm

      That’s quite consistent with my observations. Once you reach a level of stuff to function comfortably, more does not bring more happiness. Even so, I’m amazed by the number of idiots I’ve met in the places I’ve worked who believe I’m somehow depriving myself because I’m not cluttering up my living space with more stuff I’ll never need. Maybe that’s why I’m retired and they’re probably still working.

      • Lennier June 22, 2016, 6:21 pm

        Same here. Most people I know are slack-jaw aghast that i do not have a 70″ LCD TFT and ten-seater couch in my living room. Their heads nearly explode when they find out that the only furniture I own are tthree desks, a couple of computer chairs, and a bed.

      • JC August 18, 2016, 9:30 am

        That goes well with research out there that one’s happiness does not appear to increase at all with higher income after $75,000. There are diminishing marginal returns to income, but at that point the return on more income seems to diminish to zero!

  • Jeff June 8, 2016, 10:37 am

    This is the first time I’ve really, honestly, looked at Mazlow’s Hierarchy of Needs and considered it in the context of my own life. I’ve been lucky enough to live most of my life, thus far, at the top of the pyramid. I spend much of my free time pursuing creative interests and producing *stuff* ( games, content for my YouTube channel, music ) for others to hopefully enjoy.

    It wasn’t until I read this article that I realized why I’ve really been able to pursue these interests; I’ve already got everything else happily sorted!

    Thanks MMM!

  • Nick June 8, 2016, 10:38 am

    Great article. I find it so easy to get caught up in the trap of wanting things to be a certain way. My family is currently living with my in-laws so each day is a challenge. Practicing the philosophies you outlined above will help us survive.

  • Julie June 8, 2016, 10:42 am

    We’ve found so much happiness in simplifying our life, and having backpacking as a hobby really drills this home. When you have to carry something for over 100 miles, you have a huge incentive to question every. single. ounce.

    • Hollyluja June 8, 2016, 10:57 am

      yes! And I love the feeling when I get home, look at the clothes I’ve been wearing for weeks, and wonder why I have an entire closet of other clothes.

    • The Roamer June 8, 2016, 11:48 am

      (stars in my eyes emojis) this sounds awesome. I hope to get to this some day. I am working on capsule dressing as a starting point to minimize my closet. The kids are ” on capsules” too.

      But there is still so much. I really should just bite the bullet and put myself through the “hardship” of letting stuff go and getting down to i don’t know 60 pieces…

    • Cathy June 10, 2016, 8:24 am

      A few years ago I pared down my winter wardrobe. I gave away most of my sweaters and shirts, making tons of room in my closet. I then purchased 3 grey and 3 black turtlenecks, and 4 black long sleeved t-shirts. I add a pop of color to them with neck scarves(which I can wear all year). I also knit, so have added a few sweaters for layering. That’s all I’ve needed for the past 6 years. Some of the shirts are beginning to wear out and will need to be replaced eventually, but I’ll never need to shell out a wad of cash for a whole new wardrobe all at once. Plus, they go with everything, so putting together an outfit is a quick process. I love the simplicity of the core/capsule.

  • CashFlowDiaries June 8, 2016, 10:46 am

    Happiness to me is being financially free and having all the time in the world to spend with my loved ones. Definitely not there yet but through hard work and passion I hope to be there in about 5 years or so. Really like how you were able to reach your point of happiness through your life style changes.

  • Jimmy June 8, 2016, 10:48 am

    Time and time again MMM, you take the idea of Mustachianism and prove how useful it is in all our lives.

    “This is why Mustachianism is mostly about money and health – it’s supposed to be a bridge over the traps laid out by consumerism, so you can step over and move on up to the happier parts of the pyramid: family, confidence, and self actualization.”

  • Courtney June 8, 2016, 10:49 am

    After coming to the realization about happiness (that after health, safety, comfort and relationships, money & consumer goods don’t add much) we started down our chosen path of happiness/early retirement. We gave away most of our stuff and moved into our Airstream. We’re living (stationary for now since we’re not done working until next year) in a 30ft tincan in 113 degree weather in southern AZ and we’re happier than we’ve ever been. We’re more uncomfortable sometimes, but yet happier. What’s funny is when we realized this I stared researching Stoicism and dived further into my love of Buddhism to help me understand why. This post is incredibly timely. I wonder if a lot of Mustachians start researching down this path once they reject the societal version of what SHOULD make them happy and instead start trying to understand what actually DOES.

    • Seth June 8, 2016, 11:33 am

      Hi Courtney- just curious, when you are done with your day jobs next year what are your plans? Are you going to travel with your airstream? My FI is still about 5 years away but I’m starting the process of deciding what to do with my time after I do the few ‘big’ things. I’m not sure I want to settle in one town like MMM and not having kids gives me tremendous flexibility.

      • Courtney June 8, 2016, 11:45 am

        Hi Seth

        Yup! The plan is to travel for the foreseeable future. Our ER plans evolved over the past few years (you can check them out on my husband’s ER blog ThinkSaveRetire) but we decided that we didn’t want to settle down in one place once we hit FI. In fact we wanted to go all over the place. So we decided to move into our Airstream with our 2 dogs. We plan to live frugally, boondocking and possibly work camping until we’re tired of it or we move on to the next big adventure (whatever comes first). We also don’t have children which does make this decision easier (though there are a LOT of people who full time RV with kids successfully). You should definitely research the option! The RVing community is awesome (almost as good as the FI community ;) ) becoming more varied in age group everyday. We’ve met some awesome people already.

        • Seth June 8, 2016, 12:10 pm

          Thanks Courtney! I’ll check out the blog. I have been fascinated by instagram accounts of folks living out of their vans and RVs and boats and so on. After I get a couple of bucket list trips out of the way I think I may do something like that part time and also do some fun seasonal work like raft guiding or running a chair lift (which I did and loved when I was in college.) I do sometimes struggle with getting bored without a schedule to keep me in line so I’ll have to be careful of that. WHat a great thing to worry about!

  • wynr June 8, 2016, 10:52 am

    This is a kick ass post! Monday I gave my two weeks notice to quit my job, and this post is just what I needed.


  • James Roloff June 8, 2016, 10:58 am

    If we are going off of stoic philosophy – it’d better to read “Tranquility is the Only Logical Pursuit”. I think though at it’s core, your point is made that happiness comes from within, and by being acting based off values, not looking for external sources of happiness.

    Wanting something, in the belief it will make you happy is wrong. However, having something, with no emotional attachment of “wanting” it, or in other words, being completely okay with out it, will bring you much more happiness.

    • Johnny Ro June 10, 2016, 6:06 pm

      For stoicism, please do not skip “Epictetus”.

      Instead, start there.

      1,000 apologies if this is obvious to any or all.


      Start above then buy the book.

  • Kyle June 8, 2016, 11:00 am

    I can not for the life of me remember where I read this (maybe it was here, maybe it was MadFI, or somewhere else). But the gist was, humans really suck at knowing what will make us happy, but we’re very keen on what makes us unhappy. That is why we buy the latest shiny, and it makes us happy for a while, but not for any meaningful length of time. Eventually, it becomes a burden. If we instead focus on eliminating what makes us unhappy, we become truly happier as a result. I would imagine that one of the biggest causes of stress in individuals and in couples is worry over having enough money, which is why Mustachians tend to be happier than the average. The one thing that money can’t buy is more time.

    • Greg June 8, 2016, 2:34 pm

      Interesting that you brought that up. New York Magazine online has a section “The Science of Us” with a recent article about in order to be happier, try focusing on how to become more miserable! It makes sense — as you said, we are excellent at knowing how & why we are unhappy [although we mis-diagnose it often enough]. So a therapist had a group focus on “if I wanted to be even more miserable, how could I achieve it?” and guess what? — the group members reported increases in their levels of happiness. Not like “Wow, I’m totally free of misery” or anything, but notable increases nonetheless.
      How did it work? One hypothesis is that by thinking about how I can make myself more miserable, I see “Oh, look what I do to myself already” and concomitant with that is an inkling of how to stop doing it to myself.

      • Kurt June 9, 2016, 10:33 am

        This is called negative visualization and is technique of the philosophical branch of stoicism.

    • woodnut June 8, 2016, 3:11 pm

      Kyle, it was probably MadFientist’s “Hapiness Through Subtraction” post. This topic is one of my favorite FI blog posts.

      • Kyle June 9, 2016, 7:31 am

        Bingo! Thanks for remembering.

  • Utdelningsseglaren June 8, 2016, 11:02 am

    Thank you Mr Money Mustach – a kick-ass blog post as usual!

    I think we as humans have a special responsibility (due to our great abilities) to pursue a deeper mening of happiness for our own and our fellow earthlings sake.

    Never stop blogging!

    Best regards from Dividendsailor in Sweden :)

  • Schnurrbart June 8, 2016, 11:09 am

    Love your graphics, did you make the poster yourself?

    • Mr. Money Mustache June 8, 2016, 6:46 pm

      Thanks Schnurrbart.. yes, this Maslow’s pyramid and the smashing pickup truck were all done at this morning’s breakfast table, with a combination of markers and Photoshop :-)

  • Kyle June 8, 2016, 11:13 am

    Retirement Savvy also did a post a couple months ago on Maslow’s hierarchy and it is always a deep thought provoking topic. I think about it as it’s not exactly a “ladder” of accomplishing, more like a percent of completion for each phase, but you need a lot of the lower area completed to start trying to move on successfully as you said. I feel very much in the middle, struggling for security and working diligently to improve that and working on love/belonging and esteem at the same time. The reason I started heading towards early retirement years ago is because I yearn for that self actualization which is I believe is extremely difficult for most to reach(me included) without having the funds for retirement behind them.

  • Ben June 8, 2016, 11:13 am

    I am curious, what books have you been reading related to Buddhism? I have done a fair amount of self study on the subject during my college days.

    • Truc June 9, 2016, 8:50 am

      I second this question.
      I am looking for introductory books on the topic, like “A guide to the good life” was to Stoicism


      • Jamal June 10, 2016, 9:11 am

        Buddhism aligns quite well with Mustachianism, even going as far as detailing how one should handle their money ( 1/4 for daily needs, 1/2 for investment, 1/4 savings for emergencies)

        This is a fantastic book that details the different forms of Buddhism:

        My family is Thervada Buddhist- the following website has a wealth of knowledge on the subject:

        I have been a reader of Mr Money Mustache for the last three years and have recommended the site to many people along the way. Just want to say thank you for your immense contribution to correcting the overreach of our consumerist society!

      • Anne July 24, 2016, 2:30 am

        Here are a couple good reads: “The Joy of Living,” by Yongey Mingur Rinpoche; “Loving-Kindness,” by Sharon Salzburg; “Mindfulness for Beginners,” by Jon Kabat-Zinn (listen to the audio version). Other good authors: Matthieu Ricard, Jack Kornfield.

    • Joey Mano June 14, 2016, 2:03 pm

      If you like the “In-Your-Face” style of the MMM posts you might enjoy the book Hardcore Zen by Brad Warner.

  • Semira June 8, 2016, 11:13 am

    Fantastic post. My Mom and I were actually debating this very topic yesterday and I told her a less articulate version of the above. Maybe she’ll listen now that you’ve written it :).

    I also loved the Spire shout out. Washington ciders are yummy. I think I’ll bring some to the next Seattle meetup.

    Thank you again!

  • The Roamer June 8, 2016, 11:19 am

    That’s an interesting analysis on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I wonder why everyone decided to represent it as a pyramid. Maybe I am miss informed but I thought Maslow himself didn’t represent it as a pyramid which you climbed up. I thought towards the top this where more fluid.

    Also why did you choose to skip esteem in your analysis. I am curious as to how you would compare and contrast achieving happiness from building self esteem.

    Finally I was pleasantly surprised by the mention of Buddhism. I have read your things before and felt there where things there that sounded much like Buddhism.

    I did a paper on it in college and I learned a lot about it. I like how you painted it in a bright light. Some people I think would find it depressing. Specially when it states that your entire life is suffering due to impermanence.
    Cool read. You got me curious to read up on it again.

  • Margrit June 8, 2016, 11:19 am

    I liked the post but was particulaly taken by Figure 2. Art is surely one of the highest forms of self-realization!
    Thank you for brightening this day, MM

  • Chloe June 8, 2016, 11:21 am

    I think happiness found this way is compounding–the more I cut unnecessary consumerist behaviors out of my life, the happier I feel, which then makes me want to optimize even more. People always seem shocked when I share my living expenses, yet I’m invariably the one who is happier and healthier! How could I not be, with all my food being homemade and delicious, my self-powered transportation giving me free exercise, and my occasional material wants being satisfied through my local sharing economy? There are few things more satisfying or rewarding than self-sufficiency.

  • JN2 June 8, 2016, 11:24 am

    Kyle, >> The one thing that money can’t buy is more time. <<

    I'm confused. *Time is money* turned into *money is time*. For me. I retired at 57 instead of 65. Money bought me 8 years of my life!

    • Bill June 8, 2016, 3:12 pm

      I was thinking that too. If your time is spent doing something that is not making you happy, and money can get you out of that, then it can buy time.

    • Nick June 10, 2016, 3:36 pm

      Kyle means earned money doesn’t buy more time. With earned money, you’re just banking your time. It’s the interest on earned money that buys us more time.

  • Chris June 8, 2016, 11:25 am

    I’ve been waiting for you to intersect with Buddhism:)

  • Bryan June 8, 2016, 11:27 am

    ah, and here it is, buried amidst the excellent financial advice, frugality strategies, and disdain for consumerism: a foundational life strategy articulated by MMM that i not only disagree with, but i oppose. in short, happiness is not the only logical pursuit, nor is it the only “real” goal. it is actually, the wrong goal.

    the short version riposte is from ralph waldo emerson: “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

    the longer version riposte, from frankl and others, is summed up nicely here: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/01/theres-more-to-life-than-being-happy/266805/

    the above basically summarizes my disapproval of financial independence as a means to “just be happy”.

    • Mr. Money Mustache June 8, 2016, 6:44 pm

      Hey Bryan, I think we are saying the same thing but simply have a different definition of “happiness”.

      In this post, I’m talking about the big picture of life satisfaction rather than just momentary pleasure. For many of us, being useful and honorable and make a difference is a key part of this life satisfaction, a.k.a. happiness. If you read the parts in the article about self actualization and doing good, you’ll see it’s all covered in there.

      • Bryan June 8, 2016, 9:22 pm

        hi MMM,

        thanks for replying. perhaps we do have different definitions of happiness (don’t we all?), but I am saying that life isn’t about how you feel (whether that is life satisfaction, happiness, or any other one emotion/feeling) but what you do – the impact you have on other people and civilization and humanity.

        also, a note on maslow’s hierarchy. a good theory no doubt, and insightful, but not reality. i think the hierarchy is a good example of platonicity (see Nassim Taleb for more on this idea), the tendency to see a model as more true than reality (i.e. the bell curve). specifically, research has shown that people don’t need to progress up the hierarchy (a point missed by a whole generation of social workers overly influenced by a model of reality), but can experience things like love and belonging even without maslow’s foundation levels. a bit more is in this article: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2011/08/maslow-20-a-new-and-improved-recipe-for-happiness/243486/

        • Michelle June 9, 2016, 6:43 am

          yes, yes, you have both grabbed a part of the elephant (so to speak). to bryan, you can do a great deal of damage by going out and trying to do good and change the world without first working on yourself. examples abound. you probably don’t need my help in noting them. i’m a librarian by training and always default to recommending books. to both of you i would recommend three books: epictetus – the enchiridion, zen master jiyu-kennett – roar of the tigress, and eihei dogen/kosho uchiyama roshi – how to cook your life. love, belonging, significance – these are the foundations of life and what people invariably seek, although often not very skillfully (i.e. if it is true that evil is just slightly saddened love, then unskillful ways of seeking love, belonging, and significance are also the source of much that goes wrong in the world).

        • EnjoyIt June 9, 2016, 7:52 am

          I think you listed things that make you happy and therefor are important to you. Not everyone has those same concerns or desires.
          I fully agree that to be truly happy with your own life, you have to be in a position of stability and security otherwise you will always be concerned for those things which distracts you from your other passions in life.
          Going to a shelter and feeding the homeless could be something that you are pain aye about and believ in doing regularly. But how would you be able to do it if you can’t feed yourself first and go home starving, your kids go to school hungry, and you can’t afford heat in the house.
          You need to take care of the basics first.

          • Bryan June 9, 2016, 8:37 am

            it’s an intuitive idea that the poor, who experience exposure to threat, have less resources, less sense of control (and perhaps even less happiness), can’t help others before improving their own situation, which is probably why people use maslow’s heirarchy as exhibit A in making this point. yet, the poor on average are more generous, trusting, helpful, and charitable than those with higher socioeconomic status. the research is here: http://www-2.rotman.utoronto.ca/phd/file/Piffetal.pdf

            • Kyle June 9, 2016, 9:17 am

              I wouldn’t really say there’s a purpose to life, to be useful and impact-ful on humanity can make you happy though. Sounds like a good Christian value I guess.
              I also think there’s misconceptions about what you Need to achieve maslow’s areas of hierarchy. While you are projecting a value of poor onto someone, they may not agree with you and actually feel decently secure and loved and have high self-esteem. It has Zero to do with how much money you actually have, how nice of a place or area you live in or what I think you should do to feel self-esteem. It only matters how the individual FEELS. If they feel decently secure with their family and working McDonalds(or even dealing drugs) in the Ghetto, they can very much love and have self esteem. You could even self actualize. Being generous isn’t really part of this hierarchy either, it’s purely an abstract thing that doesn’t fully have a connection to what we do in the real world. And I think all the “levels” are kind of mushed together, there’s no “completing” a level, you just need to “feel” good enough about a lower level and that will help you towards the higher levels. And I don’t think it’s a path to happiness, just something that naturally happens. That was my thought at least on a lot of this anyway, could be wrong.

          • Patrick August 16, 2016, 6:47 am

            MMM says about generosity: “It sounds noble, but it’s actually just another way to press your own reward buttons: by feeling helpful and essential, you complete your own life.”

            MMM and EnjoyIt, would you say the same about consuming less and having a smaller carbon footprint? I’m getting the vibe that in your opinions generosity is just another way to feel good about oneself while being “green” is an absolute good. I think the reverse is more true.

            EnjoyIt, you say “I think you listed things that make you happy and therefor are important to you. Not everyone has those same concerns or desires.” So if I don’t give a rip about environmental concerns, you’re okay with that? Again, I think it’s very inconsistent to say giving/generosity is just another way to feel good about oneself while being a more green consumer is an absolute imperative.


    • Nate G June 9, 2016, 1:24 pm

      I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on Richard Dawkins’ book “the Selfish Gene” in the context of your definition of happiness/goals/purpose.

      • Bryan June 9, 2016, 2:56 pm

        although it has been positively referenced in many books i’ve read, i confess i haven’t read it. but isn’t “dawkins’ major concluding theme that humanity is finally gaining power over the “selfish replicators” by virtue of their intelligence”? (Wikipedia).

        and, what do you think?

        • Nate G June 14, 2016, 9:40 am

          Yep, that’s the gist of his conclusion, but it’s much more a deep dive into the motivations that are built into us from/because of evolution. Your statement “…life isn’t about how you feel…but what you do” is a great ideal to strive for, but I was just curious if ‘The Selfish Gene’ led into your definition or not. I’m in no way saying you’re right or wrong, I’m just curious.
          BTW, I’m a huge fan of Taleb and rereading Antifragile right now.

    • DavenitUp April 24, 2018, 8:23 am

      Just one man’s opinion…take what you wish and leave the rest:

      I reject the idea of anyone being obligated to fulfill anyone else’s idea of purpose (or obligation in general)…be that of some monotheistic God, patriotic countryman, company man, eco green environmentalist, etc.. Time after time the conventional messaging we are given has turned out to be untrue, manipulative, disingenuous, etc. At this point, aren’t we all absolved of having to believe or do anything but what we choose?

      Earlier in life I was drawn to the unconventional thinking of Ayn Rand. I especially liked the idea of non-coercion and that anything and everything can be questioned using logic and reason…even the most ingrained societal conventions. What I didn’t like was the religious\cult-like rigidness and singular loyalty demanded by Objectivism.

      I fulfill many conventional obligations…because I want to. I’m generally optimistic and have high hopes for humanity (more NPR driveway moments (http://www.wbur.org/onlyagame/2018/03/16/jordan-bohannon-chris-street-iowa-free-throws) and less reality tv). None of which includes anyone being beholden to me, nor I to them. We are all free agents…all the time…vive la difference.

      I don’t think we should force or even expect others to help blaze our path…we should always feel free to say yes or no (guilt-free) when asked and to resist if forced…we just have to maintain our awareness of other travelers and not interfere with their path.



    • DavenItUp April 24, 2018, 11:51 am


      Thanks for the intelligent counter argument. That’s all too missing in today’s society.
      I love The Atlantic (and any other source that elevates our humanity) and enjoyed the article you referenced on purpose leading to happiness.

      What I don’t like is the implied “ought to”. What if it doesn’t? What if, it’s not that people can’t be happy when they pursue their own version of happiness, it’s that they can’t shake the societal insistence that their must be meaning and purpose or the guilt trip that they “ought to” be doing more for others?

      For every one of society’s “ought to’s” there are people entrapped and unhappy. We can all be free if we would just lay our ideas on the table, walk away, and let people decide for themselves.

      The Purpose Driven Life, No Thanks! (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/brook-ziporyn/the-purpose-driven-life-no-thanks_b_8671086.html)

    • DavenItUp April 24, 2018, 2:56 pm

      I don’t think of MMM as an “ought to”. It’s offered up as a “life preserver”…a paradigm that might work for some people feeling caught up in the washing machine of contemporary society and not sure what’s happening. It’s someone saying there’s another way…you don’t have to follow the masses.

      Living “to serve” is all the rage these days and if that paradigm gets you through then I’m ecstatic for you, but if it’s not working for you and you don’t choose it…that’s okay too…you’re still valued and welcome in the world.

  • grenzbegriff June 8, 2016, 11:32 am

    Woo! MMM finds buddhism. I’ve recently fallen into it myself; it seems like a natural next layer of the mustachian philosophy.

    There’s nothing about practicing buddhism that prevents me from being fully engaged with the world. And at the same time, to the extent that my consciousness is changed by these practices, I’m less and less *attached* to being engaged with the world. And at the same time less attached to *not* being engaged with the world.

    Some say the game is to be fully free, simply appreciating and enjoying all that is, and then doing what comes naturally without worrying about it. It just so happens that what comes naturally will be what others consider selfless or altruistic, but no need to think about that because if you’re free and present and enjoying what is, you won’t feel the need to justify or defend anything.

    At least, so far, this has been my experience and it’s friggin amazingly beautiful. Ha!

  • ABinNC June 8, 2016, 11:36 am

    I get my weekly dose of self-actualization as an amateur bike mechanic at a local non-profit bike shop. The proceeds help fund an earn-a-bike program and day trips to mountain biking trails for at risk youth. I’ve found it immensely rewarding to take a donated bike from dirty and broken, to pristine and ready to ride. The only issue I’ve had is spending too much time volunteering at the shop and not enough time working out or making healthy food. Finding the happy medium is always a challenge.

  • Stephan June 8, 2016, 11:36 am

    It may be a fine distinction and a matter of semantics, but I think “satisfaction” may be more important than “happiness”, or at least equally important. For me, happiness is how you feel in the present moment, while satisfaction is how you feel about your current life situation, life history, and life trajectory. A good way to understand the distinction is to think about hiking up a steep mountain trail with a view on top, vs. playing video games at home. On the hike, you’ll be uncomfortable for much of it, but you’ll get lots of satisfaction at the top, and afterward. You’ll call it fun afterward because of that satisfaction, even though many of the actual moments that made up your hike were not fun. Playing video games, you’ll probably be happy for most of your day, but it won’t leave you feeling satisfied because you accomplished nothing. I would argue that the first scenario is preferable to the second.

    Pete, good to see you the other day at Gasworks park in Seattle.

  • Tortoise Banker June 8, 2016, 11:37 am

    Yes, well put re: Buddhism. I appreciate the summary, reminded me of a month-long trip to China/Tibet I took in college. Our professor taught us to meditate each morning, and gave an example of acknowledging thoughts as they enter your mind and imagining they are a bubble that you can simply “pop” with a feather in your hand.

  • Anna June 8, 2016, 11:38 am

    “Suffering = pain x resistance” – Shinzen Young

  • Florida Mike June 8, 2016, 11:40 am

    So I wonder how the feel good aspect relates to experiences and non tangible item purchases?

    I am debt free and try to save where I can but I will easily spend money on travel as I want the experience. I don’t NEED to travel but I WANT to travel. The ultimate personal goal is not having to work but being able to go places.

    Is that wrong? I don’t want the item but I want the experience and the feelings I get long after having gone somewhere.

    • dathan June 8, 2016, 4:28 pm

      I think that is a great plan, I’d much rather spend money on a life experience than a thing. I am much like you, I am pretty frugal with most things, but I am willing to spend money on travel. Although I have to admit I do use credit card miles/points which makes me feel much better about my travels when I return to see hundreds of dollars waiting for me. :)

      • Florida Mike June 8, 2016, 9:10 pm

        I do the same thing! Rack up purchases on the credit card for points, pay it off the next month and either get purchasing power back or a free hotel room for a night or two. Never paid one penny of interest either!

        I teach alot of adult classes so trying to figure a way to do that full time and let someone else pay my expenses to travel and yet get the experience (and some money to pay bills) along the way.

  • roadmanjim June 8, 2016, 11:43 am


    I really LOVE this site. If I were female, I would drive out and give you a big wet one right on the lips! (with Mrs MM’s permission, of course). ;-)
    Thank you for another well-thought out post. I learned of Maslow’s stuff at the university and it still make sense for me today and I teach it to may kids.
    If I may be so bold, I recommend Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now” (audible edition). I prefer the recorded version because it is his words in his voice. I only had to listen to it about 30 times to get the lessons to sink through my thick skull but the has changed my life for the better! LOL
    One thing that I learned on my journey is that Buddhism has to be “translated” in to each culture/language that it is introduced. Tolle does a really good job, for me, if this translation. Frankly, the rest of his stuff, IMHO, is retreaded lessons from the Power of Now.

  • Mike June 8, 2016, 11:45 am

    Sounds like it, but have you have read “The Selfish Gene” by Richard Dawkins? What an incredible book! One of the first chapters lays out the process (one of a few theories) for how life started from nothing due to those unlikely self-replicating molecules. I’ve always heard the vague story of “life from ooze” but with no detail — to hear it fleshed out, even if it’s just a best guess, was amazing.

    • Emily June 9, 2016, 1:49 pm

      I thought of The Selfish Gene when I read that section too! That book blew my mind.

  • Linda June 8, 2016, 11:52 am

    Ha – as I was reading this I was thinking, this sounds downright Buddhist! I think core Buddhist ideas are hard for most people to get their head around, including me. I want to feel attachment. I’m ok with sadness once in a while. I can’t quite part with my “self.” But there are incredible revelations – like your thoughts just being thoughts. And that just desiring less can be such a simple solution to the nonsense we are bombarded with. That you can just decide, and then do.

    • BeNH June 13, 2016, 6:26 pm

      Check out Alan Watts’ “Out of Your Mind.” on Audible, or better yet, check to see if your local library has it uploaded to Overdrive! He does an excellent job portraying Eastern Zen Buddhism in a Western way we can grasp.

      • Linda June 16, 2016, 8:24 am

        Hey – I am checking this out… thank you!

  • Ron June 8, 2016, 12:00 pm

    A nice summary of your life phil which overlaps so much with mine. I’ll share this with my first year writing students in the fall. Our seminar’s theme is “The Art of Living” and we devote quite a bit of time to Stoicism. In the past, I’ve been critical of how you extrapolate from your intensely engineering-centric worldview, so when you draw so heavily from the humanities, I have to give you credit. Here’s to your writing and blurring the lines between science and art.

  • onmyway June 8, 2016, 12:04 pm

    Another great post. As with other posters, the more I simplify and practice frugality ( a greatly misunderstood word), the greater my life satisfaction. Working towards FI in a speedy way. Thanks MMM for all the helpful articles

  • Will Bloomfield June 8, 2016, 12:21 pm

    As usual, an interesting post. I’m absolutely with you on the logical necessity of pursuing happiness. I approach Mustachianism as a Roman Catholic rather than a Buddhist, so I’ll point out some parallels that warrant mentioning.

    Jesus taught that the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul. Flowing from the greatest commandment is the next: to love your neighbor as yourself. Consumerism seeks happiness in things rather than in God, thereby violating the first of these two great commandments; it also often leads us to value things more than people, thereby violating the second.

    Of course, just as the Israelites of the Old Testament, God’s chosen people, regularly failed to keep the Commandments, so do most of us Christians regularly fail to do so and likewise fail to keep the teachings of Christ. How else can a nation of so many nominal Christians have bought into the lies of consumerism?

    But a RIGHTLY ordered Christian should not seek happiness in things, but in God.

    Another parallel: though I no little about Buddhist meditation, many Christian saints recommended the practice of daily mental prayer, i.e., meditation (frequently through the prayerful reading of Scripture that leads to a dialogue with God and resolutions to grow in virtue), to grow in this love of God and neighbor. This is a practice I have employed for the last few years and it has had a profound impact on me. Through these regular turnings from the world toward God, a person grows to love God more and the world less. This regular mental prayer should also manifest itself in growth in virtue and the performance of good works, both of which Maslow would likely term self-actualization.

    A point of divergence, however, is the Christian approach to suffering. Jesus said, “Take up your cross and follow me.” That is, the Christian is not to avoid suffering, but to embrace it for love of Christ. This is not to say that Christians should seek out suffering, but a recognition that suffering can be embraced and offered to God just as God’s son accepted His Passion and Crucifixion as an offering to the Father. This approach to suffering also explains why Christians traditionally practice fasting and mortification as a way of disciplining the body and weaning it from love of things. This is a spiritual exercise that prepares one to embrace suffering that so often occurs in life.

    As always, thank you for your posts. I’m still working my way through your old posts and very much enjoy them.

    • Matt June 8, 2016, 12:51 pm

      Glad to see more Catholic mustachians on here, especially ones who seem so grounded in good understanding of the faith :)

      I’d add that part of the Catholic approach to suffering is that when properly offered, not only is it not to be avoided as you put explained well. On the contrary, it indeed it can take on redemptive character. That seems rather in keeping with MMM’s views of voluntarily accepting hardship.

      • Aisling June 17, 2016, 8:07 am

        If you interested in the similarities between Catholicism and Buddhism read the writings of the Catholic monk, Thomas Merton – he wrote many books on Catholic mysticism – one is called Mystics and Zen masters.

        • stoaX June 23, 2016, 12:28 pm

          Another Catholic mustache here!

    • Ryan Platte June 8, 2016, 2:20 pm

      I came to the Eastern Orthodox Church precisely because I’d been reading Alan Watts and other Buddhist writings. I saw that Christianity wouldn’t necessarily conflict with a lot of the good stuff that was there, but that the evangelical background I grew up in did conflict with it. Then I discovered that the ancient Church was all over this stuff. (We share the first millennium of saints before the break with Rome, so a lot of what Will says is talking about our tradition too.) There’s even a book “Christ the Eternal Tao” that puts Lao-Tzu’s writings into the context of the Christian gospel…and it’s written by a staunch Orthodox traditionalist!

  • Nick June 8, 2016, 12:22 pm

    self actualization with the new Toyota Highlander or Ford F-150… or a Tesla :)

  • Bernie June 8, 2016, 12:35 pm

    Big thanks to you (and some other wise bloggers, Steve above for example!) for helping me getting the momentum on my mindfulness-frugal-stoic-mustachian-simplicity life journey! It’s almost an euphoric feeling when you learn more about yourself and how little you need of status items to be content and happy. Really an upward spiral when it gets going. One of the strongest “wow” feelings I’m experiencing more and more, mostly connected to consumerism, is although I live in a fairly large city in the middle of the lives of other people, as I walk a busy shopping street I can feel that in my mind I’m “zoomed out”, almost flying above, looking down on all the stressed souls hurrying from store to store. While myself I just walk on gently smiling just because the sun is out and I’m breathing, basically. (see Raptitude’s post “How to walk across a parking lot” and you know what I mean :)

    Just today after work I went to this large store with sporting goods, and it felt great to just buy the $15 exercise bands I was targeting and nothing more. And on the way home stopping at the library to pick up a book about Seneca – my first crack at looking into the old (stoic) philosophers.

  • OmahaSteph June 8, 2016, 12:44 pm

    This couldn’t possibly be more timely. Thank you, MMM. You continue to positively impact my life in ways you can’t imagine.

  • Niek June 8, 2016, 12:44 pm

    You talk about your happiness 101 as taking a massive shortcut, but I would rather understand it as stop making a huge detour.

  • Chris June 8, 2016, 12:47 pm

    This is a great post! I am a clinical psychologist and work with people from all walks of life. Most people I see who are dissatisfied and unhappy with their life search for happiness through various ineffective means. They worry about the future and ruminate about the past, and can rarely be in the present moment. It can take several years for some people to realize that the next gadget, newest fashion, and the specific image they want other people to have of them does not bring happiness. Some people never reach this point. What you stated in this post is actually part of what I encourage my clients to reflect on. Once they have the awareness they can seek to make changes that work for them. I have noticed a positive change in their mood, satisfaction and joy with life when they stop getting stuck with image and consumerism. Your post conveys a very strong and easy understandable message which I will definitely forward to others.

  • Mustachian June 8, 2016, 12:52 pm

    I disagree with the basic premise of this post. People are not seeking happiness. People are seeking meaning, to believe that their life matters and what they are doing is part of a larger purpose. People are willing to make themselves very unhappy and very uncomfortable if they believe that their actions are serving a larger purpose, and if they believe that temporal misery makes their life matter in service of this larger purpose. To use an trivial example, I used to drink Starbucks every morning and it made me very happy. I decided to be frugal, so I don’t do that anymore, and it makes me very unhappy to drink homemade coffee, but I derive meaning out of following my beliefs in frugality so I drink homemade coffee unhappily and feel very unhappy every time I drive by a Starbucks. I endure this unhappiness because I believe that consumerism is a socially acceptable destructive addiction, so it’s meaningful to me to reject it in its common forms, like Starbucks, because rejecting it is part of the larger purpose of anticonsumerism in my life. Another example– I signed up for the Army on 9/11/01 because of my strong belief that we needed to take vengeance against the peoples responsible for attacking us (I’m firmly in the Clash of Civilizations camp of international relations theory. I’m also from the southern U.S., so I come from an honor-based culture where taking vengeance is meaningful to maintaining respectability.). I fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it was a very unhappy but very meaningful experience because it served the larger purpose of defending the nation. A less trivial example is missionaries– people who voluntarily make themselves miserable to serve God by providing medical and humanitarian relief. In the 1800s, the Moravian church sent missionaries to leper colonies around the world over the objections of the missionaries’ friends and family and the German government. The German government allowed them to enter the colonies on one condition– they would never be allowed to return home. They would certainly die there, and likely get leprosy and watch their bodies waste away first. These people believed that providing medical services and alleviating the suffering of lepers was more important their their own happiness and comfort, and they were willing to do this even at the cost of their own lives. Another less trivial example is Christians in 4th century Rome. While pagans and stoics fled the city as plagues ravaged the population, early Christians stayed in Rome, caring for the plague victims, and they did this knowing it would often cost their own lives. This caused great unhappiness and death in the majority of those who stayed behind, but they believed that enduring this temporal misery– staying, caring for the sick, and dying in this cause– was part of a larger purpose and it would give their lives meaning in the final analysis. I’m not a philosopher, and these are just a few examples I could think of off the top of my head. I’m sure there’s a philosopher who has already thought of this line of reasoning and has written a book stating it in much betters terms than I can. I would be interested to know if anyone knows of such a philosopher.

    • Michal June 8, 2016, 11:55 pm

      Check Viktor E. Frankl Man’s search for meaning. One of the best books on the meaning of life ever published.

    • Posted On June 9, 2016, 4:56 am

      Mustachian, you disagree with the basic premise of the post, but then go on to give stories and examples from your own life, and others’ lives, that prove you are firmly atop Maslow’s pyramid and, as near as I can tell, you enjoy life in that position.

    • Shrink June 9, 2016, 8:52 pm

      Psychologically, what you’ve described has been classically known as moral masochism – the conscious endurance of suffering for a higher moral good, usually based on a value or ideal.

    • Nick June 10, 2016, 4:05 pm

      I’m definitely not seeking meaning or to be part of some larger purpose. This might be true for you, but it’s not true for everyone. And as such I’d argue that meaning and feeling part of something larger would make you happy, so it is actually an attempt at achieving happiness.

    • Dan June 17, 2016, 8:54 am

      Maybe “satisfaction” is a better word than “happiness”, though deep down they’re both the same feeling of contentedness from that sweet seratonin. All of your examples are people putting up with discomfort to put their worldview ahead of themselves, which fit’s with the whole self-actualization thing at the top of the pyramid.

  • CD June 8, 2016, 12:55 pm

    The Purpose Driven Life by pastor Rick Warren is a good place to start when in pursuit.

    • Hilary June 8, 2016, 9:03 pm

      That book basically says your “calling” is to serve the church – when you get through all the guff.

      • Barb June 8, 2016, 11:45 pm

        Well, but…some of see serving others and serving the church and serving God as all of the same piece, if you will.

    • Barb June 8, 2016, 11:42 pm

      Love the book, also Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger although mustashian it is not.

      • Patrick June 13, 2016, 10:57 am

        Great book. I also recommened Freedom of Simplicity by Richard Foster.

    • FinanceSuperhero June 9, 2016, 8:58 am

      I recommend this as well.

  • Fiscally Free June 8, 2016, 1:07 pm

    Well said.
    There is so much more to life than physical goods, and it is liberating when you truly accept that.
    Our species has come so far, it’s amazing that people still try to fill the holes in their lives with purchases.

  • Nico June 8, 2016, 1:08 pm

    MMM – I really enjoyed this article and like others, find it very relevant to my own life.

    You may have touched on it briefly, but how do actions for the greater good fit in? For instance, if I am looking to purchase a new vehicle, an electric vehicle may be a sound choice for reduced maintenance costs and the reduced gas costs (personal benefits). But it is also going to achieve a reduction in carbon emissions which is a direction we need to go to assure our children will have the pleasures of life that we do.

    Am I correct that this Mazlo’s pyramid is egocentric in that it looks at personal needs to reach happiness? How do future generations of happiness factor in?

    Thanks MMM!

    • Joe M June 11, 2016, 7:35 pm

      Keep in mind that 40% of US electricity comes from coal.

    • Dan June 17, 2016, 8:57 am

      Those things are in the “self actualization” stage. You want to shape the world to be a better place for future generations because you want to be the kind of person who’s making the world a better place for future generations.

  • Jeff June 8, 2016, 1:15 pm

    Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a very valuable model, but it has it’s limitations. Self-actualization is not the pinnacle of existence and happiness is not the end goal of life. Let me attempt to explain. First, there is a clear distinction in my mind between happiness and joy. Happiness is dependent on “happenings”, circumstances often beyond my control which can influence my emotions and even state of well being. On a day or week in my life when a loved one passes away or I or someone I love is told they have incurable cancer, I am not happy. On the other hand, when I experience the birth of a child with my wife or the beauty of a sunset I have many good feelings which I would call happiness.

    Contrasted with the circumstantial feelings of happiness is joy. Joy is not based on life’s immediate circumstances and even one’s feelings or emotions at a given point and time. Joy can be a constant friend when happiness decides to run and hide. I would also argue that joy is a gift given from Above and not simply found by looking deep enough within one’s self. You and I have a limited (and at times very limited) control of life’s circumstances happening around us. We are not smart enough or powerful enough to sufficiently control those fluctuating circumstances. Just as happiness is not the end goal of life, neither is joy. Joy is more of a by product offered as a gift (although I must still receive it daily) when I pursue the Giver of the gift. If we make happiness (or joy) our highest goal in life I believe we will ultimately be disappointed because we are asking more of it than it was created to deliver. But if we receive it as the gift that is was intended to be, it will point us clearly to Something greater and a purpose for our lives that reaches above the tip of Maslow’s triangle.

    • MrFrugalChicago June 8, 2016, 7:12 pm

      This is all well and good until you sit down with your thinking cap and really dive into the Bible and the stories around it. Then dive into other religions with a god. Soon you will realize that they were all cute stories made up by beings who were not able to understand how the world worked. And your entire life of staring starry eyed at the heavens was a lie, and what matters is what you do in this life.

      • joy June 9, 2016, 7:48 am

        Blindly following one religion will close your heart. Studying about different religion will give you a humble heart. A good book to read is “beyond religion” by Dalai Lama.

      • Mike Earl June 9, 2016, 12:16 pm

        You could be right, MrFrugalChicago. But I hope you’ve given a thorough effort at deeply vetting Christianity, rather than having given a cursory look at several stories from the Bible. You should check out the book Cold-Case Christianity, by J. Warner Wallace. Many brilliant people have put their thinking caps on and discovered Christianity to be true.

        • Meghan June 12, 2016, 6:50 am

          I hope that if you have given every other religion and belief system a thorough vetting, as you say, if you are telling people they need to prioritize Christianity.

        • Dan June 17, 2016, 9:06 am

          Same could be said for Islam or Hinduism or any other religion with millions of followers. ;)

          It’s almost like people end up with the truth that speaks to them most.

      • Jeff June 9, 2016, 7:31 pm

        I intentionally wrote my post with no mention of the Bible and only indirect references to a “Higher Power”. Man has looked to the stars as long as man has inhabited this earth with an unquenchable thirst for answers which cannot be found within himself. The story of human history is one of discovery and exploration. The search for truth is much more than a life long journey. Many of the certainties we hold today we will laugh at as absurdities in ten or twenty years. To see how much we have learned in just the past 100 years should give us a lens of humility with which to look into the future. So, my friend MrFrugalChicago you never know when that which you perceive to be a lie today may become your truth tomorrow and that which masquerades presently as truth may soon become a lie. One thing is certain and sure……we don’t yet have all the answers we are looking for because Truth will always be much bigger and more mysterious than any individual human’s ability to perceive it. Enjoy the journey!

        • Nick June 10, 2016, 4:10 pm

          I think man only looks to the stars for answers because he doesn’t like the answer he knows to be true.

  • Jonathan June 8, 2016, 1:19 pm

    This is baloney. Here are the real keys to happiness:

    1. A high-resolution stereo system and a large collection of classical records.

    2. Reading Plato and Homer in Greek

    3. Playing golf, no matter how bad you are.

    4. Solving the Times of London and the Guardian cryptic puzzles every day.

    Now you know……

    • Ms Blaise June 11, 2016, 10:51 pm

      I loved MMs post, but I also agree with 1,2, and 4. You have lost me with no 3.

  • Mr. PIE June 8, 2016, 1:20 pm

    Looking at happiness through the eyes of children reminds us of what we have lost.
    Children do the following so much better
    1. They say what is on their mind. Honesty, truth and whatever comes with it. Adults take this only so far…
    2. They leave the past in the past. Adults can’t.
    3. They do focus on the now. Have you seen the obsessed kid trying to master the Rubik cube? Large heavy duty pliers won’t get that puppy from their vice like grips. Adults need to multi task and make a hash of the prioritized tasks
    4. Kids use their imagination. Adults can’t build homes from cardboard boxes.

    We all have an inner child. Just let him/her out now and again. And again.

    • Edward June 8, 2016, 2:18 pm

      And they are greedy as hell! Greediest little things on the planet next to squirrels.

    • Nick June 10, 2016, 4:27 pm

      It’s not about kids vs. adults. It’s about longing for repeated experiences and feelings from your past that made you feel good, all the while missing out on countless new experiences and feelings that will also make you feel good.

      You can see the same thing in kids… they don’t want to try new food X, they just want food Y because they love food Y and it feels great to eat it.

      Then life’s new experiences are a inverse logarithmic curve for most people, where you have TONS of new experiences while young, but fewer and fewer new experiences every year. The new experiences wane and yet you long for those feelings you once felt while still finding new aspects of those once new past experiences.

      The only way past that is to push your boundaries. But as we age, we get more conservative, realizing that we are actually mortal we take fewer risks, so we have fewer new experiences. It’s hard to realize that. It’s hard to push yourself into uncomfortable territory for new experiences. Society doesn’t make it easier, it’s “irresponsible” to take some risks as you age. You’re supposed to “outgrow” that.

      But new experiences come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. We all have more new experiences every day that we realize. They just get lumped into some category because we generalize. It’s hard to be fascinated by subtle differences, but in reality, it’s all absolutely amazing. When you stop to look at what you’ve done, where you’ve been in life, what that all means… elated is the only word I know to describe it. It’s a sort of happiness children won’t understand until they’re much much older. A happiness that can be so easily missed that many will never realize it they were right there…

  • Acroy June 8, 2016, 1:26 pm

    Nice post, enjoyed reading!
    Maslow’s Theory’s Fatal Flaw: Ignorance of the soul. The unstated assumption that humans are just fancy animals. Ignoring the soul is ignoring a big (possibly the most important) part of the human.
    We were created by Someone, and this Someone gave us a purpose:
    1) “know love and serve God in this world, and be happy with Him forever in the next”
    2) “Love they neighbour as thyself”

    Note that the top level of Maslow’s Hierarchy is very close to the 2nd Great Commandment. Plato and Aristotle derived these from ‘first principles’ well before Christ came and laid it out in simple language.

    Modern philosophers and psychologists are groping in the dark, unaware of (or willfully ignorant of) reality. Start with first principles, basic assumptions about the nature of reality, existence, God, humans, etc, and build from there.

    • stephen June 8, 2016, 1:51 pm

      I dont think God is a basic assumption needed to be happy, rather a man made belief used to control people’s thoughts and actions with fear being the main driver of behaviors

      • Acroy June 8, 2016, 3:00 pm

        It can be misused that way; that is a fault of man, not God.
        I doubt Plato Aristotle, etc all were motivated that way. Read them yourself and decide.

        • Troy Rank June 8, 2016, 7:59 pm

          It’s interesting that Buddhism acknowledges the “spirituality” of a human but not God. Certainly there are many happy Godless Buddhists.

    • Sonny June 9, 2016, 11:58 pm

      No offense to any religious people, but I’m seriously interested in anyone that can prove such a thing as a soul or an all powerful Someone actually exists…beyond just having faith that such a thing exists…thanks in advance!

      • Bethany June 12, 2016, 11:17 am

        Sonny, one of the best books I’ve read on “proving a soul” is written by C.S. LEWIS, called Mere Christianity. Its intellectual and logical.

    • Mr. Money Mustache June 10, 2016, 8:22 am

      Thanks Acroy. There have been a few responses of this type (some much angrier and less well-considered than yours).

      While it’s great that we are all free to follow different belief systems, it’s a little odd that some people feel it is their moral duty to impose their own religion upon me, right here on my own website. Whenever I try to use science/biology to make a point, I get a lot of accusations of “believing in fairy tales”.

      We can fight endlessly about the usefulness of scientific inquiry (and for the record I think it’s the best thing ever), or we can just agree to have our own separate discussion forums, so the scientists can revel endlessly in our ideas and people who prefer biblical stories can enjoy theirs.

      Thus, I pledge not to police every other website I read, and speak up to tell any authors who mentions god(s) that they are wrong. But in exchange, I won’t be using any of the gods from Human-invented religions when trying to explain stuff here on this blog.

      • Florida Mike June 13, 2016, 7:50 am

        Alot of wisdom can be gleaned from the Charlie Brown Great Pumpkin special from years ago when Linus says “Three things you should never talk about are politics, religion and the great pumpkin”. :)

      • Jeff June 15, 2016, 7:12 pm

        Mr. Money Mustache, I really enjoy reading your posts because among other things you are a fellow thinker and explorer at heart. I believe I understand what you are saying in your post above and I fully respect your thoughts. I would ask you as a fellow thinker and explorer to consider these thoughts. Accurate answers (truth) gleaned from scientific inquiry and accurate answers (truth) from responsible theology are not at odds with one another but rather support and validate each other. Unfortunately it has been the irresponsible (sometimes intentional, sometimes unintentional) handling of science and theology which have made them appear to be incompatible with one another. Truth is truth, whether it is first discovered through science or theology. As a teacher of both theology and ethics, few things have grieved my heart more than to see far too many people irresponsibly use both science and theology to paint a perverted picture of God that I or no one in their right mind could possibly ever believe in. No human being has ever or will ever have the ability to “prove” that God does or does not exist. Our lives are journeys and that journey is not about only figuring out what “is” and what “isn’t” but also what “may be.” In other words, on those many questions where there is not an empirically definitive conclusion, we must decide what is the most reasonable possibility based on the evidence available. Many great fellow thinkers and explorers have had remarkable journeys (C. S. Lewis, etc.) that teach us to never close our mind to the possibilities. Keep your writings coming my friend as they are a valuable part of our journeys and a source of discovery of truth for many not yet known.

        • Memorytoast March 1, 2017, 6:25 pm

          Jeff, based on your mention of C.S. Lewis, I’m fairly certain we are of different religious persuasions, but I wanted to thank you for respectfully and eloquently expressing many of the thoughts that I had as I read MMMs posts, i.e:
          -appreciating his style and content
          -noting that Maslow’s hiearchy is limited to happiness vs. joy
          -the notion that science and theology need not be at odds
          – “on those many questions where there is not an empirically definitive conclusion, we must decide what is the most reasonable possibility based on the evidence available”

      • Kristi June 23, 2016, 8:13 pm

        There are a lot of issues with happiness being the only logical pursuit in life… I have so many thoughts on this but I really encourage anyone who is even considering the purpose of life, etc to check out this guy! I feel like I should watch this weekly as a reminder :). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86dsfBbZfWs


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