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:


  • MariaD June 10, 2016, 11:06 am

    I found your blog a few weeks ago looking for a way to DIY inexpensive heating in a house my dude and I are planning to build. Thank you for this post – what an excellent articulation of how consumer culture distorts our priorities from making choices that would really add to our lives.

    It’s funny in a way – I ended up in a frame of mind similar to Mustachianism out of necessity. I have a special neecds child, which has changed almost every aspect of my life. There wasn’t nearly enough of me to address everything, so I took stock of everything I did and thought I wanted, and asked myself what I’d really gain, and started dropping the weight of priorities that weren’t really serving me, or my son. When we started talking about moving to get into a living situation that gave us what we need, we realized that there’s very little out there that would work that is ANYWHERE in our budget. But we also knew that the stuff out there that would was all loaded with bunches of stuff we didn’t need (like the house we have now). Like kitchen cabinets – thousands of dollars for blocks of wood made with dangerous adhesives, all to hide dishes. Shouldn’t we look at something that wouldn’t off-gas? Or can’t we just get some shelves?

    The point I’m making, I suppose, is that I ended up becoming a lot more conscious in my life choices because of a situation where my child was in trouble. I don’t know that I would have gotten to a place where I’m so much happier without that – certainly not for a long time. I love the fact that you share both this philosophy, and it’s practical pieces, and have created a community to spread it. I also thoroughly dig the fact that it provides you and your family income, as that should be the nature of doing something positive!

    Even if some only start on this road because their friends are doing it, I’m guessing that they’ll stay on it because their lives will improve. Bravo!

  • KariVery June 10, 2016, 11:28 am

    There seem to be some very well-read people here, so I am hoping for a recommendation for a book or books about the advent of the consumerist culture, particularly about marketing and the weird psychological hold consumerism has on people. Keeping up with the Joneses….When and why did humans begin to fall into this trap? And why only some humans? It is endlessly fascinating to me how we got to this point. It’s as if there is this strange spell on us all that we can’t seem to find a way to break…I wonder if we can ever break it. I’m grateful to have found this blog and to know there are others who feel the same as I do about this strange human predicament.

  • George June 10, 2016, 1:28 pm

    If you attach your happiness to something temporary your happiness will always be temporary; whether it is a child, spouse, house, car….etc. It’s the attachment to the temporary “thing” that is the driver of the suffering.

  • Erica June 10, 2016, 2:04 pm

    Hi MMM! We librarians love the shoutout to make public libraries your first choice for finding books. When you mention books in your posts, why not include a link from Worldcat, like this one? – https://www.worldcat.org/title/art-of-happiness-a-handbook-for-living/oclc/39223562&referer=brief_results

    That way, people can easily find the nearest library that has the book you’re talking about! Pretty cool, right?

    • Mr. Money Mustache June 11, 2016, 12:40 pm

      Wow, thanks Erica – I had never heard of this Worldcat thing before. I tried it out and it worked immediately, so I updated the article to include a link.

  • Mr Crazy Kicks June 10, 2016, 2:23 pm

    I just left my job, FI. Not having butterflies in my stomache every Sunday night over what’s going to happen Monday anymore. Pretty sure that those butterflies were my primal stress hormones raging. So yeah money – security are definitely tied. Fancy cars are probably an attempt at the higher level of creating esteem but just end up undermining security.

  • SpaarWalvis June 10, 2016, 4:54 pm

    SO, MMM, riddle me this. Back in my second attempt at high school (Catholic school in Belgium, on the taxpayer’s dime courtesy of their voucher system), our philosophy/religion teacher, a Catholic priest, condensed the four largest schools of Greek philosophy into one very insightful chart, which we spent a couple weeks pondering. Obviously, any attempt to pack something that complex onto one page would be a huge simplification, but bear with me.

    One primary difference between the different philosophies was in the source of Ultimate Fulfillment. In terms of Maslow’s pyramid, Epicurians live it up on level 1, delighting in quenching their various appetites. The next two levels are for Aristotelians, with their focus on family, order, justice, and mutual assistance. Platonists, driven toward more abstract issues of the universe and iconoclastic accomplishments, draw happinerss from what you call the “achievement” level . Stoics are shooting for the top level, self-actualization.

    Your post is pretty darn consistent with that. Might be worth thinking about: what philosophy gets you to what point on the pyramid? What could people consider to get past their current obstacle?

  • bcr June 10, 2016, 4:56 pm

    Not buying the goal of life (only logical pursuit) is max happiness. A serial puppy killer is happy killing puppies. Need something more. Meaning helps. A holocaust survivor may have had lots of meaning with each day of survival but little happiness. So meaning plus happiness, that’ll do.

  • Pam June 10, 2016, 7:07 pm

    Really great post, thank you

  • Tony June 11, 2016, 12:47 am

    Thank you so much for this great piece.

    I have been reading your blog for a long time. So glad you are now exploring Buddhism. As other have commented, Buddhist ideas seem a natural fit with the MMM philosophy..

    The most helpful introductory book on Buddhism for me was The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings by Thich Nhat Hanh. This may be the one book that has most impacted my worldview. Clear, easy to read and beautifully written. I would recommend it to anyone.

  • Do c Tim June 11, 2016, 4:51 am

    Overall a good read. The comment about happiness being about decreasing suck is only half true though. It is really about decreasing suck or increasing awesome. There is a viral video of a kid talking about this. I’d say following the rest of the article, increasing the awesome is higher on the pyramid. My dad always used too ask as a coach if we lived to win or hated to lose. We didn’t win much but the wins were awesome and we didn’t let the losses bother us too much.

    I can’t define what the awesomeness is because everyone has to find their own awesome. The main rule is that your awesome shouldn’t increase the suck for others or yourself in the process.

  • Stevo June 11, 2016, 7:32 am

    From the movie
    Hector and the Search for Happiness (2014)

    Hector: 1. Making comparisons can spoil your happiness.

    Hector: 2. A lot of people think happiness means being richer or more important.

    Hector: 3. Many people only see happiness in their future.

    Hector: 4. Happiness could be the freedom to love more than one woman at the same time.

    Hector: 5. Sometimes happiness is not knowing the whole story.

    Hector: 6. Avoiding unhappiness is not the road to happiness.

    Hector: 7. Does this person bring you predominantly a. up b. down?

    Hector: 8. Happiness is answering your calling.

    Hector: 9. Happiness is being loved for who you are.

    Hector: 10. Good food.

    Hector: 11. Fear is an impediment to happiness.

    Hector: 12. Happiness is feeling completely alive.

    Hector: 13. Happiness is knowing how to celebrate.

    Hector: 14. Listening is loving.

    Hector: 15. Nostalgia is not what it used to be.

  • Hernan June 11, 2016, 6:16 pm

    I just finished reading this text and I can tell that its going to be a classic. I believe that this is my first time writing here. I had to this time! Great piece of art my friend!

  • Grant June 12, 2016, 6:57 pm

    You may enjoy the book Peace Is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh

  • Brendan O'Connor June 13, 2016, 5:23 am

    Interesting that only a few days later one of the top UK personal finance sites publishes an article about the relationship between mental health and money.

  • Marie June 13, 2016, 10:04 am

    Thanks Mr M. I really appreciate your perspective. I’m attempting to crack the happiness code. I feel happy after being productive at work! Thank you for sharing all your insight.

  • Beth June 13, 2016, 10:06 am

    It is so nice to see you researching Buddhism since I’m in the camp that it is a natural progression in this path of financial freedom and happiness. If you haven’t looked into neuroplasticity yet, that’s a fun topic to research too on how Buddhism/meditation actually rewires your brain. I think when we buy that latest Apple watch or watch the news, we are actually wiring our brains in a negative way. Just like a workout, it’s nice to know we can workout our brain muscle to strength it in a positive way.

  • Monk June 13, 2016, 1:46 pm

    Another happiness booster could be the Westminster Shorter Catechism written in 1646 and 1647 at Westminster Abbey, the first part of which goes:
    “Q: What is the chief end of man?
    A: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy him forever.”
    It sort of jives with the triangle in that you’re more happy/fulfilling your chief end when you’re less self-focused and more focused outward, in this case on God.

  • Shawn M June 13, 2016, 9:43 pm

    I’ve been studying Buddhism for the past 4 years. If you are interested in a secular perspective on the teachings, check out authors Stephen Batchelder and Jon Kabat-Zinn. You can listen to Stephen’s talks through dharmaseed.org. His latest book is excellent: After Buddhism, rethinking the Dharma for a secular age. Stephen often compares Buddhism to the Hellenistic philosophies. There are many similarities.

    • Shawn M June 14, 2016, 9:42 am

      Sorry, it’s Stephen Batchelor. He’s a scholar in this area. There’s a lot of useful wisdom in Buddhism, but some of the unnecessary religious and mystical stuff turn some people off to it. Supposedly these aspects developed later as the teachings turned into a religion. Stephen does an excellent job of getting to the core of what the Buddha taught. http://www.stephenbatchelor.org

      • Shawn M June 14, 2016, 10:47 am

        Another book I could recommend: Philosophy as a Way of Life, by Pierre Hadot. If you are familiar with Buddhism, you will see many similarities among the ancient Greek philosophies, which were ways of living one’s life. They were practices. Among these are:

        1) Recognizing the value of the present moment. Embracing the present moment as it is. Realizing that joy can only be found in the present moment, not in the past or the future. Recognizing that death is not far away.

        2) Letting go of things we cannot control. These include the past and the future. There is very little we actually have complete control over. Even our bodies are not 100% within our control. Letting go of striving after wealth, fame, glory, status, because these are all dead ends.

        3) Choosing a life of service to our fellow man is a path to happiness, and selfishness is a path to misery.

        Another book that compares Buddhism to Greek philosophy: Pyrrhonism, How the Ancient Greeks Reinvented Buddhism.

  • Kite June 14, 2016, 6:25 am

    When I got to the part about a walk being better than artery scrapers and antidepressants, I thought for sure I’d soon read that MMM had finally gotten a dog!
    Just a few days ago I was talking with an old friend about life and he remarked about the things that brought him indescribable joy. It wasn’t the money, it wasn’t profrssional success, the house, the toys, the cars or even the vacations. It was the dog.
    I know what he means.
    Our stray came into our lives almost a year ago. This little fur ball who needs walking, demands that we take time out of each day to play and wants to cuddle each night provides companionship, activity and purpose. He shines most at the nursing home where he is a patient and loving friend to all the residents in the dementia care unit where my favorite Aunt will spend the rest of her days.

    • Mr. Money Mustache June 14, 2016, 6:33 am

      I can believe this, Kite! Pets are a great source of companionship if you have a shortage of it to begin with. (In my case I have just a bit TOO much and could use more alone time without responsibility so a dog would probably have the opposite effect on my happiness).

      But I just wanted to point out that dogs are not a requirement for going out for a walk. If people adopt my gentle suggestion of NO CLOWN CARS FOR IN-CITY ERRANDS, we will see thousands more walkers and bikers out there immediately :-)

  • Kaz June 14, 2016, 1:49 pm

    Did you know that Maslow added another layer above self actualization just before he died?

    It was self transcendence, which actually is what Buddhism is all about.

  • phred June 15, 2016, 11:33 am

    A really insightful post. By the strangest of coincidence I had written something somewhat similar in my journal about a week before this appeared.
    Most of my guy friends agree with you. However, when I tell my woman friends that their purpose in life is to reproduce, they try to go for the knives.
    Any advice here may be appreciated.

    • kite June 15, 2016, 6:24 pm

      Don’t tell.

  • Leticia June 15, 2016, 8:29 pm

    The Art of Happiness is a good introduction to Buddhism, and I agree with Mr Moustache. However, as someone who doesn’t identify as a Buddhist but does Buddhist things, there are some important notes that can improve your study.
    1. That Buddhism talks about benefiting ‘all living beings’, and that this is paralysing until you apply it to the smallest common denominator in your own life.
    2. That Buddhism encourages scientific thinking. It just also happens to champion compassion and dealing with your own sh*t.

    For people who have been reading the Dalai Lama’s texts, a good level up is Eight Steps to Happiness by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. It’s a more challenging text for non-Buddhists, but excellent for pointing out how to relate some of the Buddhists’ philosophies to your own life.

  • Millennial Moola June 15, 2016, 10:23 pm

    Buying a luxury car is all about showing off your status and lacking a feeling of confidence in your personal life, so you look to show it off in another area of life (what you drive). So many people do the normal consumerist pursuits without thinking about what they are truly capable of if they leave their dead end cubicle jobs for something more, going for self actualization

  • Proto 'Stache June 15, 2016, 10:49 pm

    This post reminds me of the book “The Happiness Trap,” about how our unceasing attempts to avoid negative feelings and seek only positive feelings actually make us experience more suffering. It’s a good book, with lots of ideas of ways to change this pattern, and is usually available in libraries.

  • Andrew June 16, 2016, 12:29 am

    “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.”

    I appreciate your work, but I’m a bit flummoxed by your statement and the overall sense of self-centeredness in this post. It was the Leaf comment that brought it to light, especially considering the environmental conservation ethos you seemed to have espoused in recent posts.

    In the case of the Leaf, doesn’t the decision go beyond happiness derived from your own self-actualization to include the benefits gained by others and the planet?

    By the way, why would you want to pay more for a 2013 Leaf SL over a 2012 SL? Stylistically they are the same car, minus the luxury add-on of a partial leather interior (easily upgradable on a 2012 at leatherseats.com), a hybrid heating system that still kicks in to resistive mode below mid-20 degrees Fahrenheit, fancier speakers, a “lizard” battery, and a 6.6kW onboard charger.

    Just last month my wife and I sold our 2010 Accord, bought a used Leaf and walked away with an extra $1,500. I’m a stay-at-home dad and her commute during the school year is 12 miles one-way. Everything we need for day-to-day living is within a five to 10 mile radius.

    In the end, after months of research and some test drives, we decided the 2012 was the best value. Does it have all the fancy luxury add-ons Nissan engineered into the 2013? No. Are we missing them on our 2012? No. However, we do appreciate driving past gas stations, charging with 100% renewable energy, and knowing that we’re not emitting CO into our only planet’s atmosphere!

    If you’re not already familiar with it, borrow or get a Konnwei kw902 OBD-II Bluetooth dongle and the LeafSpy app. Use it to check the health of the car’s battery before biting on a particular Leaf. 12 capacity bars on the dash can be anywhere between 85-100% capacity remaining. It’s best to know where the battery falls in that range.

  • -Blair June 16, 2016, 9:02 am

    Very insightful. After a big ol’ nervous breakdown earlier this year, I had to do some serious rediscovery of myself. I usedthe meditation app Headspace, and it’s been an unbelievable tool to help me detach self from thoughts and feelings. Streams of thought can be considered akin to a muscle twitching or why you were born with your color of hair. It is a part of you, but not your conscious or actualized self. Maybe that’s just my personal insight, but I’m alright with that. Finding 10 minutes in a day to detach is an amazing experience, and though not the while answer, a great tool to learn more about yourself and be the person you wish to become.

    I looked into Buddhism awhile ago, just a quick read of a few books. Found there are still sects and groups that follow teacher A or believe in theory Z… we humans really, really like to overcomplicate things.

  • JN2 June 16, 2016, 10:01 am

    Another book recommendation: “The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself” by Michael A. Singer.

    Basic theme: happiness is a decision to be happy, no matter what. (ch 15).

  • Bailey June 17, 2016, 4:57 am

    Anyone interesting in learning more about stoicism, good timing: next week (June 19th) the folks at modernstoicism.com & University of Exeter Philosophy Department are running their free online course ‘Sotic Mindfulness & Resilience Training’. Its awesome, highly recommended. Check it out & sign up at modernstoicism.com.

  • Juan June 17, 2016, 6:20 am

    Nice post. I agree that consumerism is detrimental to happiness. The artwork is great too!
    Figure 2 made me laugh out loud! Look forward to seeing more MMM art (like the Duolingo owl with a mustache, or more pick-up trucks ruining life) :)

  • Marie June 19, 2016, 7:37 pm

    Hi! This article is very timely. I am a therapist and this topic is where I spend a lot of time with clients. I am constantly trying to figure out where someone is and go from establishing safety there and moving on. For example a client coming in looking to solve relationship problems, but comes in working a job with 5 kids, a partner in and out of jail…then we need to go back to this pyramid and be honest.

    I am here because I need help with my money. Please comment if you think you can help.

    I have 125,000 in student loans (I know, worst decision ever) under income based repayment I owe nothing per month and have a 6.25% rate

    Our house is free, although I do not own it. I can live here indefinitely.

    I am a private therapist and make around 15,000 per year since I work part time and have a son.

    My husband owns his own business and pulls enough money for bills and food.

    I pay 700 a month for my son’s school so I can grow my practice.

    I live 20 miles from my work and cannot move it closer.

    I live in Hawaii.

    I have 12,000 in a Roth account.

    Other than my student loans that I have no debt (haha, other than that…)

    I really need some good advice.

    • Wyn July 3, 2016, 1:07 am

      In order to pay off that debt, you need to start making more money – try getting some side gigs going. You live in Hawaii, do you have a spare room to rent out? After school day care for your son’s school mates? Carpooling? Sell excess stuff, etc. Brainstorm with your husband for more money making/saving ideas.

      At the minimum, pay the interest on the loan every year. Do NOT let the magic of compound interest work against you!

      Can you refinance that loan to a lower interest rate?

      Don’t give up! If you pay it off in five years, then five more years of investment will give 125000+++.

      Good luck.


  • Rob June 22, 2016, 4:17 pm

    One of my most enjoyable things I do is taking walks in the park during the warm months of the year with my family. It’s free, i get exercise (so do the kids), i get to talk with my wife, take in the sights and smells of the city, watch the boats and barges move up and down the river (river town) and people watch. Of all the things I do, this is probably my favorite. A close second is playing with my plants (flowers, fruit trees, veggies). We don’t talk about winter :) the “dark” season.

  • Nate June 23, 2016, 6:40 am

    Great post! Maslow’s hierarchy is a useful lens for seeing the failures of consumerism, but everyone should also check out Manfred Max-Neef’s matrix of fundamental needs and types of satisfiers. In his framework, it all comes down to the way we meet our needs and whether or not we’re trading the satisfaction of one need for another, making it impossible to meet one whole group of needs by the way we go about meeting another need, or meet a particular need in a way that leads to the satisfaction of other needs as well. Below is a copy of the “types of satisfiers” from the Fundamental Human Needs wikipedia page, but use the wiki link at the bottom to visit that page so you can see the table also.

    Violators: claim to be satisfying needs, yet in fact make it more difficult to satisfy a need. E.g. drinking a soda advertised to quench your thirst, but the ingredients (such as caffeine or sodium salts) cause you to urinate more, leaving you less hydrated on net.

    Pseudo Satisfiers: claim to be satisfying a need, yet in fact have little to no effect on really meeting such a need. For example, status symbols may help identify one’s self initially, but there is always the potential to get absorbed in them and forget who you are without them.

    Inhibiting Satisfiers: those which over-satisfy a given need, which in turn seriously inhibits the possibility of satisfaction of other needs. Mostly originating in deep-rooted customs, habits and rituals. For example, an overprotective family stifles identity, freedom, understanding, and affection.

    Singular Satisfiers: satisfy one particular need only. These are neutral in regard to the satisfaction of other needs. They are usually institutionalized by voluntary, private sector, or government programs. For example, food/housing volunteer programs aid in satisfying subsistence for less fortunate people.

    Synergistic Satisfiers: satisfy a given need, while simultaneously contributing to the satisfaction of other needs. These are anti-authoritarian and represent a reversal of predominant values of competition and greed. For example, breast feeding gives a child subsistence, and aids in the development in protection, affection, and identity.



    • Mr. Money Mustache June 23, 2016, 9:29 am

      Awesome, Nate! That is a really useful perspective so thanks for sharing that here. I’m off to read a bit more on this Neef character.

      • STBJ July 1, 2016, 10:22 pm

        MMM I finally and sadly have caught up with all of your posts from the beginning of time. I think I started reading in Feb of 2016. Ok I have learned a lot and look forward to more posts. I think I am at about a 25 – 40% save rate depending on expenses that crop up. I think in 5 months I have pared back about $400 per month in spending. Funny thing is even with all the other comforts I still have I feel like I have tens of thousands of more dollars at my disposal. Looking forward to more thrift and more savings.

    • phred June 30, 2016, 11:18 am

      Nothing wrong with a little competition. The Olympics wouldn’t be as much fun if the fastest had to be handicapped by carrying lead weights while running or swimming.

  • Mountains_O_Mustaches June 25, 2016, 10:15 am

    For those of you looking for more info on Buddhism there’s an excellent (free) online course through Princeton examining Buddhism through the lens of psychology / neuroscience. It’s definitely worth checking out, especially those of you with a more scientific mind. https://www.coursera.org/learn/science-of-meditation

  • Dividend Family Guy June 27, 2016, 6:03 am

    Can’t wait to be debt free. This article reaffirms the path I am on. Thanks MMM!

  • ZimZamson June 27, 2016, 9:04 pm

    Ok, just finished reading all the posts since the blog began. Really enjoyed this one as well – clear simple wisdom that makes for applied practical happiness tied to Maslow’s famous triangle and links directly to my daily mindfulness meditation. Since I stumbled across this site a month ago (while Googling for articles about the Low Information Diet) I’ve changed banks, killed credit cards, opened a Vanguard account, biked to work, changed insurers, changed utility providers, implemented a 40% savings rate, offloaded dud ‘hot tip’ shares, got the girlfriend into MMM (she’s on board!), began negotiations for 1-2 work from home days each week, quit the gym membership, and started affordable programming lessons at Treehouse (instead of starting an expensive Masters postgrad). Safe to say this blog has been lifechanging. I look forward to the next post and continuing to read this site for a long time to come :)

    • Mr. Money Mustache July 2, 2016, 8:45 am

      Holy Shit Zim! Thanks so much for reading all of this stuff and congratulations on making so many changes in your life!!

  • Evan Drake June 28, 2016, 12:31 am

    “The Master has no possessions.
    The more he does for others,
    the happier he is.
    The more he gives to others,
    the wealthier he is.”
    ― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

  • KMarie June 29, 2016, 12:35 pm

    I’m on board for the most part, but want to ring a little alarm bell on the Buddhism thought process there. I wasn’t quite so hostile towards Buddhism until traveling to Thailand to provide support to safe houses and sex trafficking survivors, then realized the thought process of belittling or even denying suffering, as well as the idea of karma, were largely to blame for the overall cultural acceptance/denial of trafficking and its ability to obliterate lives. Buddhist monks would “bless” the “bars” (aka brothels) in the morning with the phallic symbol to promote prosperity (or exploitation, however you look at it) during its night hours. Karma suggests that victims deserve what comes to them, thereby isolating them from assistance spawned by sympathy or concern. The denial of suffering also causes those who might have otherwise been concerned to turn a blind eye. Seriously, I could walk down the streets of the red light districts watching sexual exploitation occur to young and old all around, but it would be offensive to suggest that any women there were at-risk or being harmed. It would disrupt the “positive energy”…and further foster a perfect cultural incubator for horror and abuse to thrive in. The ideas sound harmless at first, but can pose real threats when fully embraced.

  • Ellen Hertzman July 4, 2016, 6:17 pm

    MMM: I have finally finished my year-long project of reading your every last post; now I feel qualified to comment! Thanks for putting your ideas into the world. I have had a ‘stache since I was a kid–up to and including ironing my first-earned dollar bills. (But I think I was motivated more by a love of ironing…) Having been retired for more than 3 years from interesting and worthwhile jobs that never earned me more than $40,000 a year, I resonate with much you have to say. Keep on putting it out there!

  • Francisco Corrales July 6, 2016, 10:25 pm


    I just finished to real all your blog posts.
    -It took me a whole month to do that. I started June 6, today is July 6.
    -The blog has 463 posts. So, basically I read 15.4333 posts every day.
    -Wow. That was some binge reading…

    Anyway, I’m subscribing, and waiting for the next post!

  • Doug July 9, 2016, 1:23 pm

    First, good post MMM. I heard of this Maslow’s hierarchy of needs many years ago but never took the time to research it and find what it’s all about. Thanks for saving me a lot of effort with this summarized description. It explains a lot, why getting more stuff can bring happiness but only up to a point. For example, why do I need a newer car or more than one car, when the one I have now is in good working order and spends a lot of time sitting around unused? That’s especially true this time of year when I bike a lot for trips around the city. Intuitively I’ve known for years more stuff than I need not only doesn’t bring more happiness but can actually reduce happiness by being a hassle storing it, and managing it such as licensing and insuring extra vehicles. Now I know why. I’m ready to move up to higher levels in this hierarchy and have been for years and have done so by retiring and spending time on other pursuits like hobbies, interests, trying new things, and travelling. For example I’ve travelled to many countries around the world, and have done fun things like skydiving (have my A license), SCUBA diving (have my advanced open water certificate), sailing (have my Cansail 2 novice sailing certificate) and do many other fun pursuits when the opportunity presents itself.

    While I understand this Maslow’s hierarchy of needs quite well now, I’ve seen many people who are stuck at level 2. Many of these people just can’t understand why I “deprive myself” by not trading my time and life energy buying more and newer stuff I don’t even want or need. They are the ones who think I am a fool. What’s going on here? Are some people just genetically programmed to stop at level 2 rather than move up higher?

    Last but not least, when something I own stops working I’ve found it’s far more rewarding to fix it and get another tour of duty from it (when possible) than to just throw money at the problem by buying a new one.

  • Patrick Neugebauer July 9, 2016, 7:08 pm

    // NodeJS
    // node filename healthyLife
    // node filename consumerism

    function healthyLife(){
    console.log(‘Climbing the hierarchy of needs like a healthy person!’)
    console.log(‘You are fulfilled!’)
    } // function hierarchyOfNeeds

    function consumerism(){
    console.log(‘Welcome to comsumerism, lets improve your life!’)
    } // function consumerism

    function buyStuff(){
    var stuff=0; // lets buy some stuff!
    var happiness=0; // that will make you happy!
    var frustration=false; // we are excited!
    var confusion=false; // clear goal=buy stuff, get happy!
    var broke=false; // we have money, now lets buy stuff!
    while (happiness<=1) {
    stuff++; // stuff goes up, happiness has to go up
    happiness=1-Math.pow(2,-1*stuff); // asymptote at 1, never enough
    if (stuff==100) {
    frustration=true; // !!!
    console.log('So much stuff, I am almost there! ARGHHH!');
    } // if stuff==100
    if (stuff==200) {
    confusion=true; // ???
    console.log('I have so much stuff, am I there yet?');
    } // if stuff==200
    if (stuff==300) {
    broke=true; // ohNoes
    console.log('Congratulations, you succeeded at the wrong thing!');
    console.log('You spent all of your money. You are now broke!');
    console.log('You failed to achieve fulfillment!');
    } // if stuff==300
    } // while happiness<=1 (forever)
    } // function buyStuff

    // do stuff!
    // achieve objective!
    } // utility functions

    function main(callback){
    if (callback=='healthyLife') {
    } else if (callback=='consumerism') {
    } else {
    console.log('syntax:\nnode filename method\nmethods= healthyLife or consumerism');
    } // if callback=='x'
    } // function main

    main(process.argv[2]); // call main function with user choice for method

  • Bethany July 13, 2016, 6:16 am

    Many libraries have grants for interlibrary loan. This allows me to get most books even if my local library doesn’t have it, and saves me from buying them! Use your libraries! ;)

  • Toby July 14, 2016, 4:30 pm

    Timely article and Eudaemonic Happiness from the New Yorker. Happy Reading…


  • Sarah July 18, 2016, 3:26 pm

    Hi MMM,

    I really enjoyed this article, and have already been doing a lot of the things you suggested in it, so thank you very much for writing it!

    So, I’ve noticed while making these changes, distance has grown between my friends. That’s not to say I don’t see them at all, but it’s growing harder to relate to them and to keep hanging out with them. Just wondering: Have you encountered this in your life? I’m not much of an introvert. I enjoy scheduled socializing, like hiking trips or going swimming, and the occasional cup of coffee. But the coffee is getting harder to justify because I want to save money (I have student loans, hence my effort to educate myself financially as much as possible) and most people my age (25-30), want to go to bars, get brunch, and see movies. My friends are flexible and enjoy doing the free things I suggest.

    But I also wonder how much of the frugal lifestyle encourages a bit of introverted-ness? I don’t mean that negatively at all either, because I believe, like you said, alone time encourages personal growth and creativity. It’s been great for me to actually make time to read books that have been collecting dust on my shelf, as opposed to watching Netflix (which I now treat myself to only on weekends instead of going out ((I use my mom’s account….)) ).

    I respect your ideas and advice, and have been putting them into practice as best I can since I started reading your blog (I’m a newish reader). Maybe this is just a thing that everyone runs into at this age? Maybe it’s my generation? I find it hard to relate to Millennials on money, there seems to be a lot of gaps in wage depending on industry, but they do all seem to be into the same forms of entertainment. Do you think personality type has a lot to do with how frugal people are/can be? Especially in the context of American society. Would love to hear your thoughts! Thanks again.

    • Mr. Money Mustache July 18, 2016, 3:30 pm

      Hi Sarah, a good set of questions indeed.

      First of all, I would never want you to let money get in the way of genuinely good social ties. So you’d either have to take leadership and bring ALL your friends away from inefficient spending a little bit, as described here:

      And/or just relax and enjoy the fact that you are still doing better than average, even as you allow yourself to burn plenty of cash on coffees and dinners out: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2014/05/29/give-yourself-the-gift-of-not-worrying-about-money/

      Remember, earning more money is always an option as well, so if you can’t get to your desired savings rate without cutting really valuable stuff, you can always focus on earning more as well.

      • Sarah August 8, 2016, 11:11 am

        Thank you for the advice! You’re right about taking leadership, that’s definitely something I’ve been working on. And I will definitely focus on the earning of more money. :)

  • Vijay July 24, 2016, 5:49 pm

    Although I agree mostly with this article, the electric car thing is a necessity and not just something to evaluate on a Maslow chart. We are boiling away the earth and leaving nothing for our next generation. Our electricity at home needs to go solar, and the car we charge through that power needs to go electric completely, so that we are not as citizens of this world contributing to the pollution around us and the greenhouse effect affecting all of us.

  • My Name July 25, 2016, 1:22 pm

    Modern depictions of Maslow’s hierarchy rank sexual behavior up high where it’s a low priority, because mentally ill Puritans want fun and contentedness to be obliterated. When you look at actual human behavior to determine actual human priorities, sex is at the bottom in the same rank as food and sleep. This is where Maslow originally put it. Humans routinely risk disease and getting divorced and fired to have sex.

    However, like budgeting, it’s entirely possible to meet your sexual needs within the circle of a few people you know really well, who are deserving of your trust. I think you’ll find Buddhism is careful to say sexual desires should be expressed in an appropriate and constructive way.

  • Andy August 4, 2016, 6:54 pm

    MMM, what if the pyramid was flipped but each level kept the same? Do you think this would be a fair representation of the ratio of happiness derived from fulfilling the needs of each level?

  • Levon March 12, 2017, 6:00 am

    While I agree that the pursuit of family, healthy, stability, strength, and self-actualization are more important than al of the unnecessary pursuits to many people in the US today pursue, I think that happiness isn’t the only logical pursuit as your title indicates.

    What about happiness from a pill – in reading a Brave New World readers often find the idea of taking the drug Soma unpleasant even though it has no real side effects and simply makes everyone happy. Why is this the case? Why do so many people do so many things in life that make them unhappy, but are still willing to do them and would do them again? It’s because things like meaning, dignity, love, and sacrifice are also key.

    Obviously your post here doesn’t disagree with this – you’re arguing something a bit tangential that can coexist with this understanding of human pleasure beyond happiness. You clearly seem to understand the idea that “things” generally won’t make people happy and that money should be used as a means to an end – money isn’t really the end in and of itself.

    Thanks a lot for the useful and relatively deep content here – as I’m sure you’ve already been told, your writing is accessible, interesting, and very useful (especially in our time of intense consumerism).

    • Mr. Money Mustache March 12, 2017, 10:10 am

      Right, and I loved the concepts brought up in Brave New World partly because they were some uncomfortable: if happiness is really the point, then what is wrong with Soma? If people are really needed to do lower-intellectual-capacity jobs, then why not breed them appropriately?

      I think the core of what makes the BNW suck is the centralized control and lack of personal autonomy. But at the same time, we have also seen the horrible choices people make when left to free self-organization (centuries of brutal war, for example). Anyway, brilliant book.

      Regarding meaning, dignity, love, sacrifice – I agree that those things are valuable parts of life – precisely because they are are contributors to happiness.

  • Alicia Kennelly October 23, 2017, 10:56 am

    I think the concept of happiness needs to be more of a continuum. There are happiness points beyond a lack of deprivation. For food, there needs to be a middle point of adequate nourishing, but plain and perhaps somewhat unvaried food. Less than that either in quality or quantity (living on ramen noodles) is negative. However, more varied and flavorful meals are additional happiness (not necessarily with an increase in calories and no decrease in healthfulness).

  • Chris August 7, 2018, 2:54 pm

    Happy to be reading this, thanks. I’ve always felt behind for taking so long to come around to concepts like this (I’m 36), but am glad I never wrapped myself up in a BMW or a closet full of suits. About 7 years ago I spent nearly $1,000 on professional attire. In May, I wore one of those suits and found it was moth-eaten on the sleeve. I wore it one more time and then tossed it with no plans to replace.


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