I had a very interesting conversation with a co-worker recently. We're both about the same age (early 40's) and have a lot in common at the moment, but the paths we took to get here are vastly different. We were discussing finances and home-buying in the area we live in as I'm looking to buy a home soon.

He was telling me how he worked from the moment he was done with high school and worked hard to pay off all his debts, including his house and cars etc. We were discussing how a lot of people seem to always 'want' things - a bigger house, a newer car, a younger wife or husband......whatever it may be. We were on the same page about material wealth.

I mentioned that my life changed for the better when I gave up chasing things and focused on what I really enjoyed in life - my family, books, hiking and biking. I had a job that paid well but left me little time to do some of what I wanted to do. After getting laid off, I worked to change careers and found myself richer, because my life was more fulfilling. I was harping on my favourite topic of why people focus more on what makes them money than what makes them happy.

He paused and said something like, "I don't know what makes me happy."

We discussed this statement a lot, and basically the answer was, yes, he had never stopped to ask what makes him happy. He had spent his whole life focused on fiscal responsibility - living within his means, paying off his debts, and climbing the job ladder. He is excellent at his job, but when I asked him if that doesn't bring him satisfaction the answer was 'Yeah!.....Well, no, not really!'.

Basically, he felt that there was something missing from his life and he couldn't identify what it was.

We explored various possibilities based on his proclivities, and basically drew a blank.

With everything we discussed (family, hobbies, dreams), he always came back to the discussion of how being fiscally responsible is his focus in life.


I admire the fact that he has done what he has, and is raising a family in comfort and security and is completely-debt free. I am also virtually debt-free, but we did lose the house when I lost my job and I know I'll be taking on debt when I buy my next home, and my wife has her student loans.

Still, I'm not sure I would exchange my life for his. It's my belief that humans need to have a life that fulfills them - with a balance of work, family and goals and hobbies. I also think that we work best when we're challenged. At any rate, I certainly do.

It's not that he's not doing what makes him happy that perplexes me, it's that he cannot identify what's missing -- all the while knowing that something is missing. You can't fix a problem that you cannot identify.


I hope he eventually is content - either with the way things are or that he finds what he's looking for.

At the end of this year, I wish the same for all you gentlemen. I hope you've already found what gives your life meaning, and if you haven't, I wish you happiness and contentment in the years to follow.

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- Yohann
Great read, Yohann. Thank you for sharing.

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Yohann, you and I would have great discussions, together. I look forward to one day having them. Smile

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Love, Laughter & Shaving  Heart

Super Moderator
(This post was last modified: 11-04-2018, 04:10 AM by Marko.)
Interesting. I think we're all shaped by our upbringing. I'm curious what the main focus was in the childhood home of your co-worker. I say this because I have a similar focus. And a similar difficulty in articulating what makes me happy in a big picture sort of way. I was raised in a traditional family home with dad working, a lot and mom at home working a lot. Five kids and it was always emphasized that money was hard earned and shouldn't be easily spent. Be frugal, don't borrow and don't lend and you don't get money for nothing, you work for it. There was a little piece of folk art on the kitchen wall that had a statement (in french) that Good times are made of the bad times we don't have. I always thought that viewing happiness as the absence of misery was a pretty bleak outlook on life. I went to work after high school and then in my early 20s the economy went south, I was laid off from my union job and wound up taking a job at half the pay and I was lucky to have a job. Lots of people lost their jobs, their homes, marriages broke up and suicides spiked - it was awful. This reinforced my view that debt was bad and so down the road when I got working again I made sure that I paid off necessary debt (mortgage) as soon as possible, I was frugal and no matter what the job situation was we always had a home and food on the table. So I had a Ford and not a BMW, my wife drives a Honda not an Acura and our starter home is our current home in retirement. My kids graduated from university with useful degrees and no student loan debt. I've never carried a credit card balance and I've made sure my kids won't either. I won't say that I've been obsessed with financial responsibility but its been important and it has certainly allowed me to sleep at night.

What gives me happiness has been small things, my family first. I married a good woman and we've raised two great kids - I consider those kids my life's greatest work (in progress). I think they are kind and decent human beings and I feel blessed to have had a hand in guiding them in life. I sacrificed advancement opportunities at work in order to make sure that I could be home for dinner with my family and able to attend all the various activities kids get involved in - dance recitals, basketball practices and games, music recitals, karate and numerous other activities. I happily attended all parent teacher interviews and volunteered whenever I could. My own parents were too busy to do any of that stuff for me and my brothers and sisters and it was important to me that I be able to do those things they couldn't.

I enjoy a good cup of coffee and making delicious meals for my family and friends - I'm best at breakfast but I'm no slouch around the grill and the smoker. I like spending time in nature and our family trip rafting through the Grand Canyon last May was definitely a high light. I enjoy a nice shave in the morning as well.

In my career I found that I got the greatest satisfaction from helping people solve their problems or, even better, prevent those problems from arising in the first place.

I think I'm happy. I have no regrets.

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Marko - I think you've hit on it. He didn't seem to have had a difficult or financially strained upbringing, but he did mention that fiscal responsibility was drilled into him at an early age.

Unlike you, he doesn't seem to have ever taken the time to ask what makes him happy. Knowing him, I had always assumed that excelling at work made him happy, but it doesn't seem to be the case (or not enough to satisfy him). He does enjoy training people, and finding ways to complete jobs well and efficiently.

I would not be so perplexed if it wasn't for the fact that he 'should' be happy - he has a nice family, is valued at his job, has no debt and makes enough money to be very comfortable while saving for the future. However, it seems that something is missing.

He's still young(ish), and he has time to find the meaning he's looking for. I believe he will find that it's already there, but that he has not taken the time to notice it. Or maybe that's just my optimism showing through. Smile

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- Yohann

Central Maine

I think people need a moral underpinning to be happy. So many today are missing that. No "house" can stand without a foundation.

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Brian. Lover of SE razors. Maker of Krampert's Finest Products.

Super Moderator
San Diego, Cal., USA
yohannrjm, my upbringing was a bit like Marko’s in that fiscal responsibility was strongly discussed and expected.  My parents lived through the Great Depression as youngsters and it left a lasting impression on them.  I can even remember one of my 7th grade teachers telling us that if we saw a camera in a shop and that camera was $35.00, unless we had the cash we could not buy it because purchasing on time was a way to get into debt that one might not get out of.  That teacher, too, regaled us with her experiences of teaching through the Depression years.  Those lessons, for whatever reason, made a huge impression on me.  The only things I have ever purchased on time have been my cars and even those loans have always been paid off early.

Because of that debt free existence, I have been able to sleep peacefully at night.  I am far from rich but, at this stage of my life, don’t need to be.  Like everyone else, my life has had its ups and downs but looking back at the last 72 years I can honestly say that my life, overall, has been one of contentment.  For my age I am reasonably healthy and can travel, take a long or short walk, or just relax at home.  For me, that contentment has been my happiness.

I obviously do not know your co-worker but assuming he has a good strong family life (notice I didn’t say perfect) he may realize one day that what he has done for his family and himself is the very happiness he may not think he has.  Happiness is not the same as perfection but I wonder how many of us confuse the two.

Thank you for this thread.  It has been a most interesting and thought provoking read.

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Really cool topic. Great original post and replies.

I believe one can choose to be happy.

I worked at a pharmaceutical/chemical company when ML and I first had our daughter.  My lab colleague was a young single female living with her folks by choice. She had a great job, great car and gobs of money since she had no living expenses. She was also one of the smartest people I knew. And that is saying a lot in a research based environment!! But she was never really happy.

She often commented on my demeanor. She said I was happy no matter what life threw our way. Our daughter had health issues that required money and time to manage. Just typical part of being a parent. My lab partner saw them as major problems but really they were just every day life obstacles.

She asked me why I was always in a pleasant mood. I told her it was sometimes a choice. When I wake up I could make a choice to see the joy and blessings in my life and appreciate them. Or I could wallow on the negatives. I chose the good.

My lab mate was completely skeptical of this. Happiness is not a choice!!! I told her it could be and she herself sometimes made the choice to be happy. She denied this behavior.

I told her I heard her say she would be happy when she got a new car. Or when she got a pay bump. Or when the cute new researcher would ask her out. She, herself, was planning on being happy when certain life events happen. So if you can plan on being happy for the big things then why not be happy for the little stuff? Each and every day.

Simple really.

I believe I gave her a lot to think about in that 15 minute discussion.

And I realize that some people have true chemical/physical/mental issues/imbalances that cannot easily be overcome. But overall I still believe happiness can be a choice.

Of course I have the love and support of a wonderful wife. Seems to me every time I wake up I am starting on the plus side just having ML in my corner.

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Distracted by Sharp Shiny Objects
North East Wisconsin
Misery is Optional

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